So, I had a fun weekend! I got invited to tag along on a photoshoot with some insta-friends to try out some Enola Gaye Smoke Grenades (if you haven’t heard of them google them).
Its something I’ve always wanted to try but finally got a chance when Conor (@visualjungle) bought some. Of course an impromptu instagram shoot is needed whenever you get new gadgets like that, and so a gang of us made our way up into the Dublin Mountains.
We spent about 2.5 hours wandering around the Dublin Mountains getting some shots and, being honest, the results were varied between each of the locations we tried. Mainly because I had learned something new on each go.
I did manage to get some decent shots, which I will show later on this post, but first, here are 5 things I learned while shooting with smoke bombs that you may want to consider before you do the same.
1. Plan Your Location And Time
Generally speaking, smoke bombs are not cheap, so you want to make sure you get it right first time. Plan your shot. Think about whether you want a city scene, grungy urban decay or forest looks? Depending on your answer will determine where you should go. We decided to go to the Dublin Mountains knowing that there were both trees and abandoned buildings. Depending on your location there are two main things to consider 1) lighting and 2) weather. If its outdoors I’d recommend shooting in evenings when the sun is low in the sky and breaks through the smoke, creating nice light pillars. I’d also recommend that you watch the weather closely, especially the wind. Do not even bother trying to use the grenades if its windy, it works best when the smoke lingers for a few seconds. If indoors, make sure its and OPEN space, and when is say open I mean OPEN! This stuff will fill a room quickly so you want to get it out of the way as quickly as you can (we learned the hard way).
2. Plan Your Shots
Once you know what shot you want, I recommend taking lots and lots of test shots to make sure that the lighting on your subject works, that your camera settings are correct (see point 3 below) that you plan what path your subject will take. All of this will impact on the shot, and its better to take the time in advance to make sure that you get it right. Once you start the grenade you will have approximately 60-90 seconds of smoke, but you also have the same amount of time to get the shot you want (trust me its not that long), especially if you are unprepared.
3. Camera Settings
This is probably the most important thing for the photographer to worry about. Timing is key to this and you want to make sure that your camera is set up to capture the smoke before you actually have smoke! Here are the main things that I learned when shooting that may help:
- Shutter Speed: Get you shutter speed settings right before hand, you want a short enough shutter time to capture the detail in the smoke, but this can be challenging in low light levels.
- High-Speed Shooting: Turn it on! When you only have a minute of smoke, its important to get as many shots as you can.
- Auto- Focus: consider turning it off! I found that the camera got confused by the moving smoke and was very slow to focus and take the shot. Going manual prevents this but it requires to to set up the shot in advance and make sure that you are always adjusting, particularly if the smoke is moving.
- Spot Evaluation: Turn it on. The brightly coloured smoke can confuse the camera and so its best if you have the camera focusing on a single point and that point is the subject.
- Lenses: I tried varied lenses in my one but I found that I got the best results with the 24-105mm F4 that I have. Its a good all round lens but I also tried a 70-200mm and a 16-35mm wide angle lens. The best results were the ones that allowed me to get right in on the action and at the same time zoom out for the wider shots, hence the 24-105mm.
4. Take (lots of) Test Shots
The above camera settings were relevant to what we encountered on the mountain side, so obviously I will caveat them by saying they may not be the right settings for you and your environment. Therefore I would encourage you to take lot and lots of test shots before hand to makes sure that you have settings that you are happy with. If you chose not to, you risk using an expensive smoke bomb and finding out afterwards that you haven’t got a single shot you can use (it happened me!)
I found that I got the best shots when the subject was moving and when there wasn’t enough wind to blow away the smoke. Having the subject appear through a wall of smoke creates this anarchist look which I liked a lot. Having the subject stand still, didn’t create the same effect and in fact, eventually the smoke blurred the subject to the point where we couldn’t actually see him anymore.
You can see the challenges here though. Having the subject stand still helps with the focusing but doesn’t make for a great shot or else, have the subject move to create a great shot if you can get it perfectly in focus.
And finally, here are some of the shots that I managed to get that I kinda liked.
have you shot with with smoke bombs before? what tips would you offer? Let me know what you think.