The inspiration for this photograph came from a camera club friend. They showed me a few photos and I was fascinated. Who knew smoke was so beautiful!?
I decided one afternoon to give the technique a try for myself, and though it took me a little while to dial in my settings I was very pleased with the resulting photos. The only catch: using natural light I was forced to crank the ISO to 4000 to attain my desired shutter speed which resulted in quite a bit of noise.
Thankfully, Topaz DeNoise did a superb job at minimizing the digital grain. By coupling DeNoise with Clarity, I was able to emphasize the details and colors while maintaining the integrity of the photograph.
I’m starting with a photograph that I made in my home studio (aka natural light in my breakfast nook with a backdrop of black foam core). This is alluring, seductive, incense smoke playing through sunbeams.
The photo was captured with a tripod mounted Canon 6D and Canon 24-105 f/4 L lens at 105mm (1/200 second, f/9, ISO 4000).
1. Basic Adjustments in Lightroom
In the Develop Module – Basic Panel I increased the Contrast, increased the Whites, and decreased the Blacks.
2. Preparing for Noise Reduction in Lightroom
Zoomed in to 100%, you can see that there is quite a bit of noise from shooting at ISO 4000.
To prepare the image for noise reduction, I removed all Lightroom default sharpening and noise reduction.
3. Reduce Noise with Topaz DeNoise
From Lightroom’s menu bar choose Photo —> Edit In —> Topaz DeNoise
While you have the option of clicking through the presets on the left, I find that I get the best results by customizing the settings for each individual photograph using the sliders on the right in DeNoise. As you can see from the settings, I had to use a fairly heavy hand with the noise reduction to smooth out the abundant noise from shooting at ISO 4000.
Apply any changes.
4. Emphasize Detail and Color with Topaz Clarity
To correct the slight softening of noise reduction, we’ll head into Topaz Clarity. In addition to bringing back and emphasizing detail, Clarity will also softly enhance the color.
From Lightroom’s menu bar select Photo —> Edit In —> Topaz Fusion Express From Topaz Fusion Express —> Clarity
I started with the “Low Contrast and Color Pop II” preset and then adjusted the Tone Level to bring out the midtones. In the Saturation panel I emphasized the blue and gold hues running through the smoke.
5. Finishing Touches in Lightroom
To finish the photograph I added sharpening with a high Masking value and added a subtle vignette (-11).
6. The Final Photograph
Smoke. No two photos will ever be the same. Its form changes constantly, curving and swirling with the air around it. Photographing smoke was a lot of fun! I experimented with both natural light and off-camera flash, and even employed colored flash gels for some of my images. The creative possibilities are endless. Give it a try!
About Angela Andrieux
Angela Andrieux is a photographer, blogger, and photography coach living in Chesapeake, VA with her US Navy husband, and their cat, Pumpkin. She will photograph just about anything but her love of travel tops it all. Angela also enjoys helping other photographic artists find their creative voice. Whether through her blog, group workshops, or one-on-one coaching, her students’ excitement to learn keeps her inspired.