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Canon EOS Photo5 Entry 3: “A Tree of Smoke”

October 20th, 2010 by Raj

What is Canon EOS Photo5?
EOS Photo5 is Canon’s annual creative photography competition that begins with a brown box. Inside there are 5 separate photographic briefs to challenge photographers. Visit the Photo5 website here: http://canon.com.au/worldofeos/photo5/

Brief 3: Incense
This is a moody brief. Use smoke from the incense to create ambience and atmosphere in a black and white photo. It’s not just about shooting smoke, but capturing the essence of black and white photography in a dramatic way.

My Entry
I was pretty excited about this brief, it was only recently that I’d played around with some smoke photography because I was interested in it so it was relatively fresh in my mind how to go about setting things up and what I could expect. This time around though I went a little further securing an external flash (a Canon 580EX II) that I borrowed from a friend which I snooted with a cut up piece of cardboard that would ensure I had no light spilling and save any post work cleaning up the images.

I pretty much knew exactly what I wanted to achieve with this shot before any of the others. The concept was to capture a pair of dark or grimy hands interacting with a plume of smoke in an interesting way. In what configuration I wasn’t exactly sure, you’re somewhat left to the whim of the smoke’s desires in most ways but the general idea was to capture something rather mystical looking.

Firstly I focused on getting my hands the way I wanted them, setting up the two lamps as modelling lights, one directly below facing up, the other off to one side angled down into my palms gave me the desired effect of them emerging from nowhere. To ensure you couldn’t see my arms or body I cut a couple of holes in an old black bed sheet to poke my hands through and wore it like a poncho for the 4 hours I took photos. To make my hands look all grimy I bathed them in a watered down drawing ink that settled in the lines of my skin extremely well.

The smoke was relatively straight forward, the snooted flash sat to one side and fired directly across my poncho covered self while the incense stick(s) burning away below the sweet spot for my hands. The problem I had though was the flash over powering the modelling lamps on my hands and completely blowing them out. I had to bulldog clip pieces of cardboard to my poncho to sit almost on top of my hands sheltering them from the flash.

Leaving the camera tethered to my laptop set to remotely fire every 10 seconds all I had to do then was set up different poses and let the smoke do its thing, replacing the incense sticks as they burnt out. Slightly singeing myself a handful of times I continued to have issues with blowout from the flash and ended up almost separating the two elements of the shot completely and doing a small amount of post work bringing the two together. It was nigh on impossible to get the shot any other way.

To me it looks like the old Landcare logo, a pair of well gardened hands holding a seedling or a tree. Entirely up to your own interpretation though, that’s the beauty of smoke photography.

Equipment used & settings
Canon 7D with 18-55mm lens
ISO 200, 50mm, 1/250, f22
580EX II Flash & 3.5m PC Sync lead
2 x Desk lamps with 30W 5500K bulbs
1 sheet of black cardboard cut to snoot flash
1 sheet of black cardboard to absorb flash over hands
5 x Incense sticks
1 black bed-sheet

View the other entries

“Ink Mole”

“Bubble Gum Hair”

“A Tree of Smoke”

“Confetti Explosion”

“Beware of falling lemons”
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