027_CarlsbadFireTrucksSmokeSmoke is used in many songs, like “smoke gets in your camera’s eye.”

The use of smoke as a metaphor abounds.

There are a lot of sayings about smoke, but there isn’t a whole lot to say about it.

Like fire, smoke is ever changing. The constant movement of smoke in the breeze creates unlimited photo possibilities, from the powerful to the sublime.

The presence of smoke can appear as a thick cloud or a light mist filling the landscape. As shutter speeds increase, smoke morphs into a ghostly presence, giving us the opportunity to capture differing expanded moments.

We can utilize the presence of a smoke screen to mask unwanted visual distractions, and at the same time, reveal the essence of our chosen subject.

Smoke can turn an ordinary scene into something mysterious. The changing light caught in the smoke can soften a harshly lit setting, or make an action packed scene seem peaceful.

IMAGE : Fire Truck & Smoke, Carlsbad, NM

  • Mouse over the image above to view the scene without the cloud of smoke. If mouse over does not work, go to Smoke on my blog.

I had photographed the scene of this fire for over an hour. I was down to my last 3 shots. I wanted to capture the fire truck and fire fighters on the street.

A giant cloud of smoke swept across the scene from the ashes upwind to the right. As the smoke passed in front of me, I grabbed 3 shots of the fire truck peeking out of the haze.

The smoke did a great job of hiding the uninspiring aspects of my composition, revealing only the parts that caught my attention in the first place. Mouse over shows the image with the distracting details unhidden by the smoke.

This image is a 1 second exposure shot at f8. A 2 second shot might have given me more to work with, however the low key rendition matches the visual impact I witnessed at the moment of capture.


Of course, finding clouds of smoke to compose an image around is not that common.

But when you do get a chance, be sure to photograph it at various shutter speeds to familiarize yourself with the very different and dramatic effects smoke has to offer.

Also look for shots that use smoke to mask out undesirable portions of a scene.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.


Leave comments on this post to share your ideas and experience, or ask questions.

NEXT TIME : “Fire Revisited”


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2 thoughts on “Smoke

  1. Another masterful treatment of a challenging subject. I just love this image! When you processed this, is the smoky version a combination of two shots or just one? It seems like there is a magical thinning of the smoke to reveal a tad more of the truck. Neat to see the actual billows (waves) of smoke. Great job!

    • Busted! Good spotting. In the smoky version, the truck and fire fighters were not “peeking out of the haze” as much as I would like. So I did blend in a touch of that area from the non-smoky image. Having more than one variation of the scene gave me what I needed to clear the air around the truck and fire fighters. Thanks for your observations and comments.

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