If you’ve reached the level of skill where light has evolved from a frightening multi-faced monster into a tool that takes photography to the next level, then start experimenting with it! You can change the nozzles and its color, rearrange it, drawing backlights or dramatic Rembrandt lighting.
But we will go the other way and tell you how to work with space in the frame, change the mood of the picture and achieve cinematic lighting with the help of a smoke machine.
What is a smoke machine and how does it work
A smoke machine, a smoke generator, a fog generator — it’s all about one device that, when you press a button or when a timer goes off, emits smoke from itself. The device consists of a container for a special liquid, a pump, a thermocouple and a sprayer. Its device is so simple that there are many tutorials on the Internet on how to make a smoke machine with your own hands.
The substance is fed by means of a pump into the thermoelement. It warms up there for a while. That is why the smoke machine cannot be used immediately after switching on or used indefinitely — it needs breaks to heat the solution. For example, the Falcon Eyes F‑1200R fog generator warm-up time is 5–8 minutes. When heated, the liquid is pushed out of the atomizer tube, where it comes into contact with air particles and turns into smoke.
Fluid for the smoke machine is purchased separately. It can be found both at large Russian retailers and in local stores with photographic equipment. The price ranges from 700 to 2 thousand rubles.
Fog generators themselves are also quite budgetary. Naturally, there is a professional segment, huge heavy machines that are used in movies or for concerts and shows. But even a model worth up to 3 thousand rubles is suitable for photography.
Types of smoke generators are divided according to the type of smoke they create:
— Light smoke generator. The most common and budget type of device. The smoke from it scatters around the room and does not settle immediately, which gives time to shoot the necessary shots and scenes. Universal option for photo and video shooting. If you want to rent a smoke machine in a photo studio, you are almost guaranteed to be offered this option.
— Heavy smoke generator. Produces thick smoke that quickly settles and spreads across the floor. It turns out to be so dense that it seems to freeze at a height of a couple of tens of centimeters above ground level. Due to its texture, it does not dissipate for a long time and resembles a cloud. The effect is achieved due to the fact that the smoke is cooled below room temperature.
To make the smoke come to life in the frame, move it, you need a fan or an assistant who will swing a cardboard or a reflector. These machines are often used in film production. Did you think the fog in the forest from the horror movies was real?
Heavy smoke generators can be operated by:
1. liquid poured inside;
2. liquids for generating smoke and dry ice. In this case, the liquid for the smoke machine, before exiting, passes through a container with ice, where it is cooled. This produces the densest possible smoke. The downside is that you need to buy not only liquid, but also dry ice, which needs to be stored somewhere;
3. liquids for generating smoke and cylinders with carbon dioxide connected to the smoke generator. The advantage is that you can create real pillars of smoke and “shoot” them at a great distance. Minus — a cylinder of carbon dioxide, which must be transported and transported along with the rest of the smoke machine;
4. water and flue liquid or water and dry ice. In both cases, condensation remains on the floor after use.
— Fog generator or hazer. Creates a light haze. Such devices are made without thermocouples. High pressure fluid is atomized by a compressor.
A versatile and optimal option in terms of price and quality is a light smoke generator. It is affordable, it only needs the machine itself and the liquid for it. In addition, by dispersing the smoke in different ways, you can get different effects, which we will discuss later.
How to use the smoke machine
1. Fill with liquid and turn on the generator. It takes a few minutes for it to warm up and be ready to go.
2. Direct the smoke in the direction you want. You can leave the generator on the floor so that the smoke spreads below, or put it on a chair, stepladder, so that it forms higher. Ideally, if you have an assistant at the shooting — he can spray smoke over the head of the model, walk around the location and raise smoke in the right places, create a smoke pillar by moving the switched on smoke generator in his hands.
3. Press the button, which will release a jet of smoke. Usually this is a remote control with a wire connected to the smoke generator, which you can simply step on with your foot. If you are being helped, then command the assistant to press at the right time. There are also remote-controlled devices and models with timers that themselves release smoke at the right time. However, it is quite difficult to find such a model — they are usually used for concerts and in theaters.
Life hacks and techniques when working with a smoke machine
— To see the smoke, shoot: against a dark background; in a darkened room; at dusk, in the evening, at night or in the morning, until the sun is high.
If you need smoke during the day, in bright light, then keep in mind that either it will be poorly visible, or the generator itself must produce a lot of heavy, dense fog.
— Illuminate the smoke from the side or put a light source behind it — so it will stand out against a general dark background. Especially if the light is colored.
— Create with a steam generator floor fog or light smoke screen. With the help of the simplest and most budgetary light smoke generator, you can get different atmospheric effects. It’s all about where to point the device, how to turn it on for a long time. Let the smoke on the floor — a dense haze effect will be created below. Need a light mist? Blow out quite a bit of smoke and disperse it by simply waving your hands.
— Separate the subject from the background. Smoke machines are often used in cinema even when filming indoors, where, logically, there should be no fog. It is added a little bit to the background behind the characters to separate them from the background, to draw the depth of space. This is especially true if there are many small light sources in the room, the overall scene is quite dark, and the model is also wearing dark clothing.
— Create an atmosphere. Using smoke will add a cinematic feel to the shot. With the help of fog, you can achieve a sense of mystery. Smoke is about poor visibility, veil, understatement, which can also work for a frightening, gloomy atmosphere.
But also the smoke is just spectacular. If you add colored light, you get an epic shot that looks like a screenshot stolen from a superhero movie.
A brutal male portrait, a horror shoot, a languid boudoir scene in pastel colors, or a photo shoot in the style of a noir detective — smoke will look equally good everywhere and work on the atmosphere.
— Add directional rays to the frame, visualize light. The smoke helps to reveal the directional light. Take advantage of it! Particularly well visualized side light. And if you direct the light through a grill or blinds and add smoke, you will see individual beams.
— Remove excess contrast and brighten the frame. If there is enough smoke in the room, the light will be scattered in it. This will not only create spectacular halos around light sources, but also generally brighten the frame, soften shadows and highlights.