Smoke or incense photography is quite an easy project to do that can have interesting and varied effects.

Using a flash – place it approximately at right angles to the incense.  Face the camera to the incense (preferably with a tripod) and focus on the tip of the incense stick.  Ideally use a remote trigger or master/slave – but if you don’t, t hen you can do a longer exposure and trigger the flash manually.


Light some incense and let it burn for a few moments to get going.  If you’re in a completely still room, then the smoke from the incense will burn directly up.  This isn’t very interesting, so add a little draft to it and watch the smoke curl into interesting patterns.

For a completely low key shot – you want to have a clean background.  Have exposure settings to make the ambient light black – so typically at shutter speed equal to the shutter sync speed and a low ISO and in a dimly lit or dark room.  For aperture settings – I’d typically go around F7.1 to F16.  The narrower the aperture, the higher the flash settings to make a crisp incense picture.  So either the flash should be closer to the incense or have a higher power setting.

If you want a clean background – then place the incense with a lot of distance to the background.  This is to avoid light from the flash accidentally illuminating the background.  While the example of setup doesn’t include it – I tend to attach blinkers on the sides of the flash to reduce the amount of light splashing on the environment.

Now to make it a high key shot – simply process in photoshop and invert the image.  This will mean that the incense is still grey – but the background is now white.  Changing the temperature will change the colour of the incense.


Something different –

  • Most incense images I’ve seen are just the smoke itself.  Try putting it in a scene and see what happens.  you’ll have to control the flash a lot more.  What sort of story could you tell with the smoke?
  • I haven’t tried this next one yet – what about using gels on the flash?  Could you even use
  • How about using a dark room so you can do a long exposure and flashing more than once? or flash more than once with different coloured gels? with snoots?