Smoke & (camera) Mirrors

Smoke & (camera) Mirrors

Soon after purchasing my Nikon D90 in 2010, I was keen to try my hand at some long exposures. I started playing around in the dark garage, using a tripod, flashlights and laser pointers. I then decided to try my hand at some incense smoke photos, without really having a clue what I was doing. I set up a flashlight on the floor below a stick of burning incense and started snapping away. I immediately had trouble trying to focus. I kept trying longer and longer exposures in the hopes of being able to capture something usable. The photo below was one of my first successes and was made using a 15 second exposure – something I don’t think I ever used again. I got lucky this one time, though. It remains one of my favorites.

A Faerie & A Demon Have A Chat

As I progressed, I began using shorter exposure times by cranking up the ISO on the camera. It made the photos grainier, but it was a concession I was willing to make to be able to capture more detail.

There are other ways of setting up for this kind of photography, including purchasing a special type of external flash, but I was unwilling to spend the money and so I settled for my very crude method. This meant that I had a very low success rate of getting a shot that was focused, let alone getting something that looked like a person or creature or whatever. I would take hundreds of photos and then spend lots of time reviewing and mostly deleting them. Once in a while though, I would capture something very cool and then, a few days, weeks or months later, I would be at it again.

I made several runs at this method between late 2010 and sometime in 2012. After we moved to a rental where the garage wasn’t really a good option, I would wait until dark, put blankets over the curtains of the bedroom and set up my flashlights, boxes, incense and sometimes colored plastic sheets over the different flashlights to add some alternate colors. Somewhere along the line, I learned that I could also add some selective coloring to parts of the image in Aperture 3, the photo editing program I was using at the time. Eventually, I got tired of the amount of work versus low success ratio and moved on to other things. I also got tired of being in a small room choking on incense smoke while trying to focus on elusive wispy images. 🙂

I don’t regret doing it one bit, however. When I got something worthwhile, it was very exciting. I’ll add a few more in this post and if you’re interested in seeing more, I’m adding a gallery under “Jeff’s Galleries” called, “Incense Smoke Images.” See if you see what I see.


Madonna & Child

Mr. Spock

Angel Ascending

Thanks for having a look!

8 thoughts on “Smoke & (camera) Mirrors

  1. Such great work, patience and perseverance! They turned out so magical and eerie! Like everyone else, I said to myself “Madonna & Baby Jesus”!
    Keep up the GREAT art!
    Love, Walter & Susan

    1. That and the Extraterrestrial seem to be the ones easiest to see.
      Thanks very much, Walter & Susan!

  2. I can see how this is challenging and frustrating! The results you picked are great though – I looked at the entire gallery, but “Extraterrestrial” was my personal winner as soon as I saw it. What makes many of them so great is your ability to see shapes and things in them – I wouldn’t have been able to see all that you saw in those, but as soon as I read your titles, it became absolutely clear. Nice!

    1. Thank you very much, Alexander! It’s so nice to hear that the titles help to see the images. I’ve often wondered about that very thing. I’m so glad you mentioned it!

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts as well as your beautiful images!
    Glad to hear that you and Pam are doing well. Matt and I are walking a lot. And working on projects around the property.
    Big Hugs

    1. Thanks, Sarah!
      It sound to me like you and Matt are doing exactly the right thing.

  4. I thought of “Madonna and Child” immediately, too. I love it when it’s that obvious, but that subtle, too.
    I’m not sure I know what you mean about the effect of colored and white light on shadows, but I’m off to investigate.
    Happy Easter to you and John! We are indeed spending a quiet day at home. Thanks for having a look!

  5. How trippy! I was scrolling slowly when I came to the third photo and thought “Madonna and Child”! And then I had John take a look. Same thing! So simple and yet distinct. And a beautiful photo at that.
    Also like Angel Ascending but my guess was Dancing Mermaid (because of the tail).
    These are very interesting, Jeff. I’m glad you unearthed and shared them.
    Are you aware of the effect of a colored light in the presence of a white light and what it does to shadows? I wonder if that’s something worth exploring photographically.
    Thanks for including me. Hope you two are enjoying this quiet Easter.

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