Working with smoke bombs
Updated: Sep 27, 2018
For mood, drama and beautiful texture.
If you're looking for a great way to add that extra something to your photo shoots, smoke bombs might just be your jam. Yes, they must be handled with care and common sense, but they add so much in the drama department, that the few extra minutes you need to ensure proper safety are TOTALLY worth the effort. At least for me. But then my alter ego is a rock star a la 80's hair band, so I tend to enjoy things that would look good in a music video from that era. And for effects for today's clients, smoke bombs just can't be beat.
I use smoke bombs from Enola Gaye, a company which manufactures them for photo and video use. A box of 10 in assorted colors costs around $60 bucks plus shipping. Each bomb, or grenade, has a "payload" of smoke of about 90 seconds, which doesn't sound like a lot, but it's actually more than enough time to get great images. Here's the link: https://store.enolagaye.com/us
As for safety, you MUST use some basic guidelines: DO NOT use them in any hyper dry (think August dry) wooded or grassy area. ALWAYS have a water source nearby to extinguish any loose sparks. I carry water jugs to outdoor shoots or use the bombs near ponds, etc. HAVE AN ASSISTANT ready at all times to keep an eye on the bombs and get the smoke moving. AVOID waving them in someone's face or eyes. They get hot once the pins are pulled and the smoke starts going, but hold them at the opposite end from the smoke or wear gloves. You might bring along a pair of safety goggles for your assistant, as they produce a lot of smoke very quickly. Here are two YOU TUBE videos on best practices you might find helpful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMOc3yhHuw8 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f064pZ41Fz4
You might also check with your local fire department about any ordinances in your area and just to let them know what you have in mind. And finally, NEVER use them indoors.
It's important to get yourself set up where you'd like to shoot ahead of pulling the pins on the bombs. Get your camera settings dialed in, etc. Then give your assistant the thumb's up. The bombs will sputter immediately after the pins are pulled, but after several seconds, they should start to billow. I have my assistant run around the subject to get the smoke moving and keep it somewhat evenly distributed. If there's wind, of course, the smoke will move on its own, so plan accordingly. Also, smoke sort of has its own personality so it's good to have a practice bomb in a color you're not so fond of.
Generally, once the smoke is pouring out, I'm shooting like a maniac, because I almost always end up compositing these images. I like billows of smoke for best effect, so I take tons of images specifically for that purpose.
Most of the time, I use smoke bombs with senior portraits or for creative shoots. The smoke bombs give me a chance to get edgier images that are a departure from more traditional shots, which I also make a point of taking early in the session. If I have a teen, like Connor above, the smoke bombs highlight a side of his personality that's about black leather and bold statements. For Emily, the smoke bombs were reinforcement of her fun, quirky side that matched the pumpkin t-shirt perfectly. The below image was meant as a creative piece to showcase the dramatic side of Renee, a young actress and model.
Whatever effect you'd like to achieve, a smoke bomb might be a great way to create something different for your portfolio and your clients. Just remember to be safe and most of all, have FUN!
If you'd like to try a session with smoke bombs, let's talk! (206) 779-4284