Out of the Notebook and into the blog: How to use Smoke Bombs to create Dramatic Senior Portraits

Monday, June 1, 2015

How to use Smoke Bombs to create Dramatic Senior Portraits

Jade wanted her senior portraits to be unique - something different than the rest.  We brainstormed and I suggested incorporating smoke bombs into our shoot.  The created drama and interesting portraits to fill her gallery with.

First things first is purchasing smoke bombs.  I at first debated making my own following tutorials online.  However, I passed up that idea because using a toilet paper tube looks much less professional than the packaging a real smoke bomb comes in.  The homemade ones also take quite a bit of time to make and end up costing about the same price.  Because I live in Minnesota, a friend and I went over the boarder to Wisconsin to pick some up at a fireworks shop.

These are the two types of colored smoke bombs that I purchased.  I wasn't sure which would be better, and the small balls had more color selections - or so I thought.  The salesman said that the larger (second image) only had red and white in it, but it ended up having yellow, purple, and even blue.

In terms of which of the two I would recommend purchasing?  Definitely the Jumbo smoke Canister.  It lasted long enough to get a plethora of images, the colors were vibrant and and it lasted for a good two minutes.  The smaller bombs that are shown in the first image really aren't worth it.  They last for about 15 seconds and aren't that vibrant.  You'll go through them way too quickly and will need a ton.

For every photo that is shown in this post, only one smoke bomb was used per shot.  If you want a smokier effect, I would throw a second canister in, but just one has a nice effect.

It is extremely important to have a helper with the smoke bombs - someone to light the bomb.  Jade's boyfriend was with her for her shoot, and he lit the smoke bombe when we were ready.  You could also have your senior's mom light it.  The smoke goes away quickly, so having someone else light it gives you more opportunities to get the shot you need.  

Before you light the smoke bombs, go over what poses you want your senior to do.  Practice them beforehand and direct where you want her to be moving, and what you want her to be doing.  There isn't enough time while the smoke bomb is lit to give her directions.  

Before lighting the bomb, do quite a few practice shots to ensure that your settings are correct for the bombs.  You may want to increase the shutter speed by a bit to ensure you get a clear shot, since their are no redo's with smoke bombs!  They literally only last for 2 minutes if you get the good ones - the small ball's that are shown in the first photo last for about 15 seconds - not enough time to make any changes to camera settings.  

When your shoot is done and you are editing photos, I find that burning the smoke creates a more dramatic affect and really brings out the color!

Smoke bombs are a great way to add some non-traditional excitement to your seniors session!  Creating dramatic photos for seniors is a lot of fun, and while their parents often will be purchasing the classic portraits that you take, seniors love having bold and expressive shots for Facebook and Instagram!

Summary of Smoke Bomb tips:

.Stock up - you'll go through more than you expect!
.Going to a firework store is often less expensive than using Amazon.
.Make sure to purchase the longer lasting smoke bombs - often this means you'll be purchasing the colored canisters which are awesome.
.Make sure to have an assistant to light the smoke bomb - your clients boyfriend, her mom, or your own personal assistant.
.Go over poses with your client before you light the smoke bombs.
.Make sure your camera settings are good before the bomb is lit - higher shutter speed helps with the movement to ensure you won't have blurry photos, and creating slightly darker photos than usual will make sure that the color of the smoke isn't blown out.
.When you process the photos in photoshop, burning the smoke can really bring out the color and make the smoke pop.

What's your experience with smoke bombs? Love them for shoots or no?


  1. This was so helpful! Thank you!

  2. Very useful and helpful post! Thanks for sharing :)


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