Smoke Bomb Photography: How To Get Photos That Pop

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If you like creative portrait and fashion photography, you have certainly encountered smoke bomb photographs. They have a playful, colorful splash of smoke that can enhance either the subject itself or the background.

Colored smoke bombs can indeed produce very unique results that can suit any kind of portrait or even product photography sessions. In this article, we will cover the most important facts about smoke bombs for photography and how to use them safely and effectively.

So let's dig in!

red and blue smoke bomb
Photo by Kamil Feczko

Where And How To Get Smoke Bombs

Smoke bombs are basically pyrotechnic devices and they are regulated by local governments. Make sure to get informed on where you can purchase them legally and what is the best way and location to use them. A little research on local suppliers can save you a lot of time and money.

You should look for so-called cold-burning smoke bombs since they are pretty safe. Other types of smoke bombs can be dangerous for your model and you because they get extremely hot while they burn. This means that it's virtually impossible to hold them and control the trail of smoke.

The most popular brand of cold-burning smoke bombs is called Enola Gaye. If you are in the US, you can find their products even at Walmart. Of course, they are also available on Amazon and at specialty stores like fireworks shops. The seller will give you all the necessary information on local regulations and the best ways to use smoke bombs creatively.

There are also a few other famous smoke bomb brands, such as:

purple smoke bomb
Photo by Mitch Walker

You should consider the following parameters when buying smoke bombs:

Type of product. There isn't only one type of smoke bomb! You can purchase smoke grenades, sticks, and cans, as well as smoke tubes with single and double vents. There are even smoke clouds! A lot of great options that can suit anyone's needs.

Activation. It's best to purchase bombs with a ring or wire pull. They are known to be perfectly safe and functional.

Burn time. How quickly can you photograph the smoke bomb? The duration of colored smoke varies from 30 to 90 seconds. So choose wisely and know the proper camera settings well ahead!

This is the common duration for various Enola Gaye smoke bombs:

  • Up to 90 seconds – Enola Gaye WP40 – Original Size Smoke Bomb
  • Up to 90 seconds – Enola Gaye EG18 Smoke Bomb
  • Up to 30 seconds – Enola Gaye Twin Vent Smoke Bomb (Burst)
  • Up to 30 seconds – Enola Gaye EG18x Smoke Bomb

Opacity. Some smoke bombs are very dense and opaque while others are foggy and misty. Pick one of them depending on the type of atmosphere you want to achieve. Of course, it's probably best to experiment with both types and find out what works for you.

Smoke Bomb Pricing

Generally speaking, smoke bombs aren't too expensive. You will spend $7-$20 depending on where are you from. The price also depends on the smoke bomb manufacturer and the ignition method.

Budget Smoke Bomb Options

If you want to save some money, buying smoke sticks or smoke fountains is the way to go. Smoke sticks are very practical and they can be handheld and lit with a regular lighter.

dark blue smoke bomb
Photo by James Adams

Equipment And Camera Settings To Make Your Smoke Grenade Shoot Fabulous

The Basic Equipment

Luckily, you probably won't have to purchase anything expensive for this type of photoshoot. Props and gear are pretty basic and easily obtainable.

  • One or more smoke bombs, sticks, or tubes
  • A camera that can shoot in manual mode. You need to be to set up the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and focus manually
  • An external flash or strobe light (optional)
  • A fan to help you direct smoke. Try not to shoot on a very windy day as you won't be able to control the direction of the smoke at all.
  • A tripod. Again, you don't need anything fancy, just a regular all-purpose tripod.
  • A bucket with water
rainbow smoke photography
Photo by Pawel Cherwinski

Camera Settings

If you're not an absolute beginner, you won't have any issues with camera settings for smoke bomb photography.

It is definitely better to shoot in RAW so that you can easily fix issues with white balance and exposure in post-processing.

The most important advice when it comes to camera settings is to set an aperture at around f/8. You can open up a bit to approximately f/5.6 or f/4 but avoid using a large aperture such as f/1.8 because the smoke and the model won't stay in focus and you will have to reshoot the scene many times. When it comes to the synch speed of flash, it is typically 1/250s.

In case you aren't using a flash, you can increase your shutter speed to 1/800 – 1/2500s. However, if you want to create an unusual look, something wispy and dreamy, you can experiment with long-exposure smoke bomb photography. This type of smoke photography is less common but it's totally worth a try! In this case, just leave the shutter open a bit longer so that you can capture the motion blur of the smoke.

To avoid grain, keep ISO low, between 100 and 400, depending on the lighting conditions.

Additional Tips And Tricks For Smoke Bomb Photography

Teach Your Model How To Use Smoke Bombs 

Both the photographer and the model should be knowledgeable about smoke bombs.

The model will be closer to the smoke than the photographer, which means they need to know what to do if something goes wrong.

You should also teach your model how to pose properly. Avoid taking too many pictures with smoke in front of your model’s face. It's okay to have a couple of artsy shots but the majority of them should still resemble portraiture. Of course, if you're intentionally doing a more abstract shoot you are welcome to ignore this tip. 

Check The Weather Forecast

Before planning your smoke bomb shoot, check the weather forecast. You absolutely need to avoid windy weather. Wind can easily disperse the colored smoke and your photos will look pretty plain as if you haven't used smoke bombs at all. It's best to wait for calm, windless days. Also, always scout for suitable locations and avoid using public spaces for your smoke bomb photography shoot.

dark green smoke bomb
Photo by Roman Denisenko

Crucial Trick: Consider Your Color Choices

Colors are always extremely important in photography and this is true for smoke bomb photoshoots as well.

The key is to coordinate the smoke color with the color of your model's clothing. Use the color wheel and think about powerful combinations. If you're for something less dramatic, use analogous colors and if you want high color contrast, stick to complementary colors.

In any case, the color of the smoke bombs can help set the mood of your photos. Darker colors will yield gloomy, mysterious images while bright and intense colors like oranges and blues will lighten the frame and make the mood vibrant and dynamic.

Ask your model to bring a few different shirts, pants, or dresses so that you can experiment with color combinations. If you're doing closeup shots, the color of makeup and hair will be important too.

Create The Properly Timed Smoke Bombs: Play With Shutter Speed

We need to mention shutter speed once again because it's very important in smoke bomb photography. Freezing the motion and doing long exposure shooting techniques will yield very different results.

Also, you can try to control the direction of the smoke or you can just let it be whatever it is without interfering. While there are no strict rules and you can resort to a hit-or-miss approach, it's usually better to be prepared and have a somewhat clear idea about what you want to achieve.

Don't forget to use a tripod with slow shutter speeds and ask your model to move slower!

Use Interesting Props

The props have this magical power to make every photoshoot more stylish and meaningful. Make sure to have at least a couple of props handy and experiment with them.

So what are the typical props you can use in your smoke bomb photography?

Think about umbrellas, lanterns, balls, or perhaps objects like swords or bow and arrow if you like epic fantasy setting. You can also use an interesting vintage chair or sofa if you're into fashion photography.

Since you would only have 90 seconds to capture the scene and smoke trails, make sure to prepare all your props before lighting the canister. 

light green smoke bomb
Photo by Sierra Koder

Smoke Bomb Pictures Will Attract More Clients

Smoke bomb photography is a wonderful way for photographers to introduce something brand new to their portfolios, as well as to attract a different set of clients. This vibrant and colorful type of photography is great for shooting bands, artists, models, and even outdoor events. Just make sure that you follow all safety protocols and use the tips we mentioned in this article to make your smoke bomb photography truly gorgeous! 

Smoke bomb photos are definitely a fun way to step up your photography game!

Further Reading:

About Author

Jasenka is a photographer with a background in web design. You can find out more about her on her website, see some of her newest images at 500px or get to know her better here.

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