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.

Pho­to: Eliz­a­beth Chechevic / instagram.com/chechevic_a

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.

The com­po­si­tion of the liq­uid for the smoke machine is as sim­ple as the device of the fog machine: glyc­erin and water. Some­times min­er­al oils are added to it to make the smoke denser / Pho­to: Eliza­ve­ta Chechevit­sa / instagram.com/chechevic_a

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.

Smoke simul­ta­ne­ous­ly cre­ates an atmos­phere of gloomy mys­tery, sep­a­rates the mod­el with dark hair from the back­ground and col­ors the back­ground itself / Pho­to: Eliza­ve­ta Chechevit­sa / instagram.com/chechevic_a

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.

Add two reflec­tors with light fil­ters to col­or the smoke in sev­er­al col­ors / Pho­to: Eliza­ve­ta Chechevit­sa / instagram.com/chechevic_a

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.

The mod­el in com­plete­ly dark clothes merges with the black back­ground, but the smoke high­lights her fig­ure / Pho­to: Eliza­ve­ta Chechevit­sa / instagram.com/chechevic_a

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.