Don’t be fooled by the feature image. This is not the clichéd mug of tea shot, and this series will not be about shooting warm beverages. As the title suggests this series will cover my attempts at shooting smoke, and that image is where the thought first came to me.

Well technically, this photo is the first shot of the series.

Poor Start

You may notice the conspicuous lack of smoke. The difficulty I had capturing the image in my mind of the smoke is why this series was made.  (And, yes I know it’s just steam, but shooting steam doesn’t sound great does it?)

Call Me Dancing Smoke

When I noticed the wispy smoke coming off the mug, dancing in the gentle breeze of central air, I thought that it would make a great photo. My first challenge was focusing on that thin strip of smoke. Even if there are clearly visible patterns that your eye can see, using a camera sensor with poor settings will make those wisps disappear, especially if you don’t have a macro lens or a tripod.

The more apparent problem was contrast. With a background that included a bright window, a white wall and a lamp, the translucent white smoke was just not showing because it was getting washed out. It’d be like trying to take a picture of a white piece of paper in front of a white wall.

All About Perspectives

Better 1

To fix this I tilted the angle of the shot so that the background was a dark table and mug. This made the more smoke visible, but it’s still not a good picture. It didn’t have the curling wisps that I wanted to capture. The shutter was also a bit too slow to get that momentary curl since most of the time the steam was more like a layer of fog.

I was also still having trouble getting the right focus on the fast moving smoke. The cameras auto-focus didn’t know that the translucent smoke was the subject, and even when the cloud of smoke was large enough to be recognized as a subject, it quickly dissipated before the focus could be locked onto anything.

At this point, I bumped up the shutter speed so I could get that moment where the smoke was curled. I had to bump up the ISO  as well so I could get more light into the shot since increasing shutter speed darkened my shot. (Didn’t know this? Check out my tutorial on shutter speed.) Then I used a focusing trick where I would get the camera to focus of the edge of the cup, and then shift the camera over so that the focused area was now over the steam.


Better 2 with post

With Some Post

Persistence, lol

Now it was just a matter of shooting since these were the best settings I had found for getting the smoke in focus. The only thing I couldn’t control was how the smoke actually moved since I wanted a natural look. After a few more shots, I managed to grab the title shot. Now it could be argued that the image right above is better since there is more smoke in it, but I chose the title shot because I thought was the better clichéd hot beverage picture. Guess I lied.

Sneak Peak Part II:


I know the high production value has got you excited! Check back soon.