Smoke grenades: foul smelling, clothes staining, and a primary tool for celebrating the birth of our nation. Recently, while in Austin Texas, I was introduced to a model, Valerie who suggested we use smoke bombs during the shoot. I was immediately intrigued at the creative possibilities...First thing's first: where do you find smoke grenades in the off season? Well, it's not as easy as it sounds. A quick search on the web uncovers very few sellers, one of which is a company called Enola Gay. But at $14+ a pop and only 60 seconds of burn time (if you’re lucky), this option quickly becomes an expensive prospect. Then there are the DIY articles showing you how to make your own for next to nothing but after panning through a few search results, I started to feel like the terms smoke, bomb, and DIY were setting off alarms at the FBI. Luckily, I found what appeared to be a well-reviewed product called Smoke Fountains through a website called Sparkle Rock Pop. This particular set included five colored sticks of green, red, blue, white, and orange and promised sixty seconds of burn time-all for $12; worth a shot at that price and in my case, they ended up working perfectly.
Other points to consider are proper ventilation and wind. Smoke grenades are intensely potent and release a very acrid smell into the air that when inhaled, can be overwhelming. At one point during our shoot, the area we had chosen incased the model in smoke making it difficult for her to breathe, let alone pose. Conversely, too much wind completely ruins the effect of the smoke. Despite being very concentrated, even the slightest breeze will dissipate the smoke and ruin the dramatic effect that can be obtained if it is simply allowed to float and envelope your model. Finding a happy medium is difficult but it is unlikely you will nail in on the first try regardless of how well you plan, so just start shooting.
My creative concept for this shoot was to produce something dramatic and edgy. I felt as though the smoke would feature best in an urban environment so I sought out a location that was concrete, graffiti clad, and abandoned in appearance. I brought along my new Xplor 600 strobe which shoots high speed sync and allowed me to underexpose the ambient light for a significantly darker background and a shallower depth of field. In addition, I used a 47” Paul C Buff Octobox, set on an Avenger C Stand, as I intended to shoot full length portraits and wanted the light to cover not only my model but some of the smoke around her as well. For the first shot we stuck with a single stick and because of the enclosed space we were in, the smoke did not have much room to dissipate. It was a bit stifling for our model and the smoke was so thick at times, it was hard to see any of her features or the colorful background.