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Smoke & Bubbles Photography

Geoff Baylis (GBaylis)

Keywords: how, to, smoke, bubbles, incense, postprocessing, lightroom

This article is for anyone who wishes to get started making artistic images of smoke and bubbles. It covers the basics of how I have produced them, but there are innumerable variables that will impact the type, the colors and the quality of the images – I leave you to discover and manipulate those for yourselves. What I have described here is certainly not a definitive methodology. As with many artistic endeavors, those blessed with patience and perseverance will be amply rewarded. 

Click for an enlargement


Producing pictures of bubbles shrouded by smoke is easy: create a source of steadily rising smoke, create a bubble and steer the bubble into the smoke, then take the picture. Hah! Like many things in this world, the concept here is very simple, but the execution is quite complex and lots of time, patience, trial and error, experimentation and luck are required. 

If you’ve never experimented with either smoke or bubble photography before, then I’d recommend getting some experience of each individual element before trying to put them together.

1. I use incense sticks to create the smoke; these vary enormously in the amount of smoke that they generate and also how ‘lively’ the smoke is – which I think must be a factor of how hot they are burning and how fast they burn.  I have tried a variety of makes, from India, Japan, Thailand and North America, but there does not seem to be any one source that provides the best quantity and liveliness of smoke. At least they are fairly cheap and easily available online, so experimenting to get the best combination is not costly.

2. Another factor to think about is the color of the smoke, as having a blend of different colors makes the pictures more interesting.  Almost all incense sticks produce a light grey smoke, but a few produce a blueish smoke.  Note that the color of the stick has no bearing on the color of the smoke and neither does the scent that they give off.

3. Too much smoke, from using too many incense sticks at once, will over-power the picture and obscure the bubbles; I generally find that two or three sticks burning closely together produce the best smoke.


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John Giglio (jkg0806) on December 6, 2015

 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Fellow Ribbon awarded for his frequent posting with an always positive comment, sharing his knowledge, contributing to the spirit of the community.

Thanks for sharing Geoff, I certainly intend to do some experimenting. The weather here is changing and winter is setting in something to keep me busy on those cold snowy days. I am retired and this will give me something to spend some time on.

Geoff Baylis (GBaylis) on December 4, 2015

Donor Ribbon awarded for his support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Awarded for his generous and continuous sharing of his high level skills with the Nikonians community Writer Ribbon awarded for his contributions to the Nikonians Articles. Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his win at the Best of Nikonians 2107 Annual Photo Contest Winner of the Best of Nikonians Images 2018 Annual Photo Contest

Craig, I'm afraid the bubble isn't held at all. Depending upon the weight of the bubble and the quantity of smoke, the bubble either drops down through the smoke, or it gets lifted up in the rising heat column. You need to get a good feel for where your target area is and hit the remote release when you think you have the best combination in shot. Geoff

Craig Menzies (foamfollower) on December 4, 2015

Looks like a great exercise to do on a day you can't go out for whatever reason. Particularly if you're lacking inspiration for the day! So how exactly does it work for the bubble staying in the smoke? I'm guessing you guide the bubble to the smoke and it's "held" by the moving rising air? And how long do you have to get your shot? I suspect a remote release if pretty handy for this exercise?