Photography Tutorials

How to do Smoke Photography

Smoke Photography made easy.

Create some beautiful, fun and abstract smoke photography using these very simple methods.

In this tutorial we look at how to photograph smoke to create some striking images that are jam packed with colour. Smoke Photography has an artistic and abstract feel freezing a moment in time that is often not given any attention. This is very similar to water drop Photography. If you have not seen water drop Photography check out the playlist below.

Water Drop Photography

Smoke Photography is easy and can be achieved with a normal camera. No special macro lens is required although, if you do own one, it can give a different feel to the smoke images that you create.

Gear required to photograph smoke

The gear you will need does not form a long list and many of us will already have the items lying around. Firstly you need a camera. Ideally it will be a camera that can fire an external flash. You will also need an external flash with the ability to fire it off-camera. Wireless triggers can now be picked up very cheaply. See the link below for all the required gear.

How to produce the smoke trails

Smoke can be created in a number of ways but I use Sandlewood incense sticks. They smell a bit but produce a nice constant smoke and are relatively safe. You then need a desk lamp to shine at the smoke to assist the camera to focus although the flash will light the smoke for the picture. If you are using a studio flash then the modelling lamp will be fine.

Photo Background

The images work best with a clean black background. Any kind of black material is fine but pop backgrounds are cheap and effective. You will also need something block the light from the flash hitting both the background and the lens as it flashes from left to right. A piece of card will do the trick just as well as more expensive barn door attachments.

Camera Settings

The images will work best with the camera in manual mode. Shutter speed should be set to the flash sync speed, this is often around 1/200 sec. An aperture of f/8 or f/11 will work well to keep the smoke sharp and in focus. ISO at 100. In the video I had the flash power set to 1/4 power but this will be dependant on the distance between the smoke and flash.

With everything set, go ahead and shoot the smoke trails. Waft your hand around to move the smoke to generate some interesting patterns in your images.

Smoke Photography is a good antidote to the winter weathe, but is also fun and creative. The abstract images you create will grab people's attention making them look twice at you work.

In the video we go into the post processing of the images very briefly using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.


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Macro Focus Stacking Tutorial


Get super sharp macro images using the focus stacking technique.

This is the third video in the series covering Macro Photography. Focus stacking is about as complex and difficult as macro photography can get but the results of this dedication can be truly stunning. The first video covers shooting macro photography with budget gear and the second with more advanced gear. This video will assume you are familiar with the techniques described in the previous episodes.

Focus stacking can be used in various areas of photography but is most naturally suited to macro photography. Essentially focus stacking is when we combine a number of images into a 'stack' to ensure sharp focus across the image where it would not normally be possible. In macro photography when we get in close to our subject the depth of field will be extremely small even when using small apertures such as f/16 or f/22. This means that many of our images will have large parts of it that are out of focus. This can be a desirable effect in many situations but for many shots a bigger depth of field is required such as taking portraits of insects. The only way to achieve this is through focus stacking.

Shooting the Image

Focus stacking is shot by taking a series of images with the same composition and gradually changing area of sharp focus. Depending on your aperture setting and the image you are shooting this could be anywhere from a few shots, up to 30+ frames. These images are then stacked in post-processing and the computer extracts the sharp area from each image and combines them to create one image with sharpness across the frame.

It is vital to keep the composition as still as possible between frames so a tripod is virtually essential. There are then a few ways to adjust your area of focus between frames:

  1. Adjust the lens focus ring.
  2. Move the object.
  3. Move the camera.

Only one of these options is truly accurate and effective and will produce good results every time. With many parts of macro photography you will want to get as close as possible to your subject to maximise the magnification. We therefore want to have the lens focused to it's minimum focus distance. If we then achieve focus stacking by adjusting the focus it means we have to initially focus on the furthest part of the subject away from the lens, then, bring the focus further out as we start taking our stacking images. The downsides of this are that accurate micro adjustments of your  focus ring can be extremely difficult. Also, changing the focus causes small adjustments to the focal length even when using a prime lens; this will cause problems when stacking in post.

Secondly moving the subject is unlikely to work unless you have it on something that can make precision movements. Let us discount this method for today. This leaves moving the camera and this is the method featured in this focus stacking video tutorial.

The best and easiest way to do macro focus stacking is to move the camera using a macro slider. The camera sits on top of the macro slider that is mounted on the tripod. The slider then lets us make fine adjustments moving the camera gradually closer to the subject. We start our stack by focusing just in front of the subject, at the minimum focus distance, and then gradually move the camera forward taking the focus across our subject as we shoot each image. Most macro sliders have scales on them to allow fine and accurate adjustments. There are also automated systems available that will move the slider and fire the camera for you. Once the images have been captured it is time to move into post processing.

Post Processing

All the processing is done using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. To get a 30 day FREE trial Click here.

1. Normal Image Adjustment

Assuming the stacking images have been shot in RAW the first thing to do is make your normal image adjustments to each image eg, exposure, contrast, white balance etc in Lightroom. Copy the settings and paste them to all your stacking images.

2. Export JPEGs

Create a suitable folder and export your images as JPEG’s. This will save you a massive amount of time when Photoshop processes the images than if you tried to use RAW. If you have edited the images in Lightroom prior to exporting then you will have already reaped all the benefits of working with RAW.

3. Merge the images

Open Photoshop then go File > Automate > Photomerge. Hit the ‘Browse’ button and select your stacking images. Leave on Auto and uncheck all the boxes at the bottom including Blend Images Together. Click Ok and let Photoshop run the images. It will the load the Merged images into layers in a new document.

4. Create the Stack

Next move down to the layers panel and select all the new layers Photoshop has created. Go to Edit > Auto-Blend Layer and then ensure ‘Stack Images’ is selected under the ‘Blend Method’. Select ‘Seamless Tone and Colours’ and then hit ‘Ok’. Photoshop will then do it’s thing and spit out something close to your final image.

5. Final Adjustments

It’s now time to make the final adjustments to your image as you see fit. You may need to clone out any imperfections you had not noticed or crop the edges of the image as Photoshop may have created some transparent areas of the image where it has pulled the stack together.

Your image should now be a well stacked image with sharpness from front to back. If there are areas of the image that are blurred then it is likely that the adjustments you made during shooting were too large. You can rescue this by cloning bits out.

Good luck and don’t forget to subscribe to the YouTube channel.

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Macro Photography Tutorial - Using Budget Gear


An introduction to macro photography using affordable gear.

In this video tutorial we give you an introduction to macro photography and show you how you can start capturing beautiful macro images without breaking the bank.

Macro photography has a reputation for being expensive as it introduces the need for specialised gear and expensive lenses. Whilst a dedicated macro lens can be extremely useful it is not the only way we can get in close and magnify the micro.

A number of options exist for capturing macro photography with the gear you already own and most cameras built in the last few years will have some kind of macro mode. Many compact cameras, phones and DSLR kit lenses have the ability to focus very close to your subject. This is essentially what achieving macro photography shots is about.

There is much theory out there about what true macro photography is, where you achieve at least 1:1 magnification (where the actual size of the subject is the same as the projected image on the sensor). Often this only serves to discourage people from getting into this exciting world. Very simply we want to magnify small things and make them look larger than life in our final image.

All camera lenses have a minimum focus distance. If you get too close to the subject the lens will no longer focus. This is exactly the same as to how your eyes work. If you hold your finger very close to your face your eyes will not be able to focus on it. Macro lenses are specially designed to focus in very close but there are different, cheaper, types of gear that we can also use to reduce this minimum focus distance.

Let’s discuss a couple of options.

A macro photography reversing ring is a very cheap piece of kit and attaches to the filter threads of your lens. Once the lens is detached it can be reattached the opposite way. It then allows you to focus much closer and magnify your subject. However the electrical connection to the lens is broken so you will not be able to adjust the aperture and any image stabilisation the lens has will not work along with auto-focus. Likewise, if your lens is focus by wire, manual focus will also not work. You then have to focus by manually moving further away or move in closer. With some lenses the aperture can be locked before detaching the lens. Do this by setting the aperture as required and then hold down the depth of field preview button whilst detaching the lens. This should not cause any damage to your lens or camera but is not recommended by camera manufacturers. Wide zoom angles of the lens will mean more magnification and zoomed in will show smaller in the frame. This is opposite to when mounted normally.

macro photography

Macro extension tubes are an attachment that adds space between your lens and camera. They have no optics so do not alter image quality but allow closer focusing since the lens is moved away from the focal plane. This allows you to turn many lenses into a macro lens. It works especially well with prime lenses like a 50mm or 85mm. Many macro extenders have electronic contacts so will still have aperture and stabilisation options and auto-focus. Macro extender tubes can also be coupled with a dedicated macro lens to get even closer. This is an excellent option to test the waters of macro photography but is slightly more expensive than the reverse ring. Macro extenders are very simple pieces of kit so please do not waste your money buying the Canon or Nikon versions when £20 versions from Neewer do the job just as well. See link below.

Macro Extension Tube Set for Canon Mount

macro photography tutorial

Armed with this gear it is then a case of shooting and seeing what interesting images can be found.  Apply all the usual rules of composition and you will soon be capturing some great images. For ideas of what to shoot with macro photography please subscribe to my channel where there will be two more videos in this series. The second will be shooting images using a more advanced set up, including a macro lens and a macro flash, and the third will show how to do focus stacking.

In the meantime check out my video on how to do water drop photography that is an exciting use of macro photography. Water Drop Photography Tutorial

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Water Drop Photography Tutorial

Learn How To Shoot Water Drop Photography.

Welcome to the world of water drop photography. In this video we show you how to capture water drops using both a basic set up and a more complex setup using the SplashArt 2 dropper system.

I first started shooting water drop photography a few years ago when I noticed a few popping up on Flickr. I was instantly struck by these amazing moments of nature that we see so often in our lives but never have the chance to study. Fascinated, I decided to see what it took to capture these images and I felt I could produce something original using my own lighting ideas and composition.

Having set up, using something very close to the basic setting featured in the video, my first capture of a water drop was extremely satisfying. I was instantly hooked. I quickly upgraded my equipment and bought the SplashArt 2 kit so I could produce and capture water drop collisions repeatedly. Once in the arsenal it left me more time to play with my lighting setup, composition and drop consistency. In water drop photography changing the consistency of the liquid has a direct result on the final image. Milk is slightly thicker so behaves differently and the different surface tension produces different looking drops. I eventually took this to an extreme adding Xanthan Gum to my liquid. This thickens and smooths the liquid to the point where the final drops have a crystal like appearance.

water drop photography
water drop photography

Understanding the theory of water drop photography is key to giving you the ability to fully explore the creative possibilities. Normally we freeze action by increasing shutter speed and this works perfectly in most conditions. However in water drop photography the action is frozen with the flash. When using flash to light a scene the shutter speed is limited by the flash sync speed of your camera. On most DSLR's this limits you to about 1/200th or 1/250th second which is not quick enough to freeze a water drop. The flash burst is much faster than this so exposes the scene so quickly that it freezes the action. Further, Speedlite flash guns discharge their light faster at lower powers so the lower the power you can manage to use the better your image will be frozen.

After some experimentation I settled on using 1/32 flash power. The shutter speed does not really matter but I set it at 1/200 to avoid any ambient light sneaking into the image. Aperture needs to be as high as possible to ensure all the drop is in sharp focus but needs to be balanced with ISO to obtain a well exposed image that is not too noisy. The majority of my shots have used f/11 and an ISO of around 400.

water drop photography
water drop photography

Hopefully this will arm you with the skills and knowledge required to start shooting your own images. To move things on further you can add extra flash guns and multiple droppers to ensure that every image will be unique.

Once you have captured the images, post-processing them can take them to the next level. I share my secrets in this video -

Once you have created some water drop photography I would love to see some of your images. Please post them to Flickr and add them to the First Man Photography group and I will feature some of my favourites.

For a more detailed guide on how to use the SplashArt drop system follow the link below.

Splash Art 2 Kit