How To Use Smoke Bomb Photography To Create Awesome Images

Boaz Eapen - Author Boaz Eapen on Jun 20, 2019

What's the latest craze to explode on the photography scene? Smoke bombs of course! These colorful pyrotechnic canisters are all the rage. But before you start experimenting, a little research can save you some time, money, and improve your chances of capturing some great shots.

What is Smoke Bomb Photography?

Smoke bomb photography is a technique of adding a realistic and unusual effect of smoke to your portrait, street, or wedding photography images. Using colored smoke bombs for photography can produce eye-catching and unique results. The colored and textured smoke makes a great background that can accent the mood of the photo. The smoke bomb itself can make an interesting prop for the model to hold.

Smoke Bomb Photography Model - Pixpa

Smoke bomb photos can be fun for pretty much any sort of portrait session. Many photographers have picked up on this trend and are going all in on using smoke bombs even in wedding photography. From subtle textures in the background to complete clouds around the subjects, colored smoke makes a fun new creative element for photographers to add in photo shoots.

While smoke grenades are fun to use in any composition, themed portrait sessions offer the most fun options. Nearly every theme can benefit from a little drama, and smoke bombs certainly add that!

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Basics of Color Smoke Bomb Photography

Smoke bombs, also known as smoke grenades, are a type of firework or pyrotechnic device. As such, they are regulated by many local governments. This affects not only where you can buy them but also where you can use them. Be sure to check with local authorities before planning a big shoot. National parks, for example, may not allow doing smoke bomb photography.

Besides being used for smoke bomb pictures, these devices are widely used by paintball ranges as special effects. 

Top: Look for wire pull grenades that burn from only one end. Double ended bombs make more smoke but burn out quickly.

It's essential to look for "cold burning" smoke bombs. Other types get very hot as they discharge their smoke, which may make them impossible for the model to hold or challenging to control the trail and shape of the smoke cloud. Different types of smoke bombs and models last different lengths of time, but most bombs only last about 45 to 90 seconds. As such, smoke bomb pictures must be planned very carefully in advance.

The smoke emitted by these devices bothers some people more than others, so make sure only to use them outdoors where you can move to fresh air if necessary. It is still smoke, and you don't want to inhale it. You certainly don't want to breathe the stuff in for long periods. One final consideration is that the colors can stain and discolor clothing. Smoke bombs probably aren't the best shoot for unique heirloom fashion or props. And you might want to keep your photography gear away from the smoke too.

Smoke Bomb Photography Silhouette - Pixpa

Where to buy smoke bombs for photography? 

Amongst photographers, Enola Gaye is probably the most popular brand for smoke bombs. You can buy Enola Gaye and other brands of smoke bombs at fireworks shops, paintball suppliers, and even some Wal-Marts. Online suppliers like Amazon and many specialty stores also sell them.

Once you've decided where to buy smoke bombs, ask the seller for any smoke bomb photography ideas and local rules. They may have some great experience and resources, and they are probably knowledgeable about local regulations and ways to use them.

Our Top 10 Smoke Bomb Photography Tips:

Use the Right Kind of Grenade

Remember to look for cold burning bombs that can be held by hand. Wire pull grenades are far easier to use than ones that must be lit with a lighter. These types of grenades might cost a little bit more and be a little harder to find, but the cost and trouble are well worth it. You'll get more out of your photo shoot if you and your model can easily handle the device.

Remember, Safety First!

Just like any pyrotechnic device, the smoke grenade is explosive. Caution is recommended. Read all included instructions and follow every letter. Even cold burning grenades can malfunction, and sometimes things don't go according to plan.

Use caution when lighting off the grenades. There might be sparks, and they might go off with some force. Don't point them at anyone and keep them away from faces and eyes at all times.

And as with any firework, it's a good idea to make sure you have a bucket of water standing by nearby just in case! Even the cold burning bombs get hot after a while, and once they've burned out, you'll want to have somewhere to dispose of them. Don't leave them on the ground, especially in wooded areas or places with dry vegetation.

Also, consider your surroundings and avoid crowds of people. Smoke makes people nervous, and you don't want anyone calling the fire department on you!

It is possible for these smoke canisters to malfunction. If the outlet becomes clogged for any reason, it could burst. If you ignite a grenade and it fails to emit much smoke after a few seconds, drop it on pavement or in a metal bucket and move a safe distance away.

Finally, it's also a good idea to train your model on how to use these bombs and what to do if things go wrong. They will likely be closer to the item than you are, and they are possibly even holding it. Make sure they know where to put it if it gets too hot to hold or seems to be malfunctioning.

Check the Wind Forecast

Your biggest enemy in smoke bomb photography may be something you don't think about often. Before planning a big shoot, check the weather forecast. Anything over a light breeze and your smoke bomb pictures will be in real jeopardy. Wind will disperse the colored smoke quickly and leave the photos uninteresting.

Even when positioned away from the wind or behind buildings, currents and eddies in the air can make weird things happen to your smoke clouds. There's no escaping it, and it's best to plan your shoots for calm days.

Alternatively, you could use the wind to your advantage to shape and sculpt the smoke. This probably wouldn't work with the wind, but a small battery operated fan can be employed to move smoke out of your model's face or to clear it away from essential photo elements. Just remember, you have to work quickly.

Plan on a Practice Run

You'll probably go through a few devices before you get the hang of controlling the smoke and getting the photos just right. You definitely want to plan your compositions and model poses in advance. The bombs don't last long, and it takes a few seconds to build up to the level of smoke you want in the picture.

The first grenade is usually considered a "throw away" to practice with. It helps you get a feel for the wind and air currents present. Take note of how fast or how slow you need to move the canister around to get the amount of smoke you're looking for. You can also use the first one to get your model comfortable with holding and using the device.

Consider Your Color Choices

The color of the bombs you set off can help set the mood of your photos. Darker colors like deep purples can lead to shady, brooding, or gloomy images. Bright oranges and blues can lighten the frame. Pick out your model's wardrobe with this in mind too. Keep colors from clashing. Use complementary colors and plan them out. What sort of mood and look are you going for in your smoke bomb photos? A little forethought here can go a long way towards planning the perfect image.

Smoke Bomb Photography Landscape - Pixpa

Move the Smoke Slowly

The slower you move the canister, the bigger the smoke trails it leaves behind. The faster you move it, the thinner and wispier the trails are. The effect is up to you.

Play with Your Shutter Speed

Since the smoke billows and moves around as it flows out of the canister and gets moved by air currents, shutter speed can have a dramatic effect on the final image. Most smoke bomb photography is shot with an extremely fast shutter speed usually quicker than 1/800th of a second. This freezes the motion in the smoke and gets clear and sharp billows and puffiness.

Of course, as an experiment, you might want to try exactly the opposite. If you learn to the control the smoke trails carefully, a slower shutter speed would smooth over the smoke and give it a wispy look. This is similar to the technique used when shooting waterfalls or other fireworks. If you leave the shutter open a bit longer, motion blurs for a surreal and mellow look. As always, remember to use a good quality tripod with slow shutter speeds and have your model move slower.

Use Props and Be Creative

While some photographers like to have their models hold the grenade, another technique is to put the grenades into some other object or prop to conceal it. This might make a more interesting photo.

Apply a little creativity here, and consider your model and the photograph you are taking. Steampunk themed shoots could have a blast here. Imagine the smoke coming out of a wide-bore shotgun prop! Could you make the smoke come out of a model airplane? If shooting portraits of a chef, how cool would it be to have the smoke billowing from a cooking pot? By considering the theme of your portraits, you can come up with some genuinely creative options.

The point here is that the options are limitless in color bomb photography. You can use the smoke alone in the background, or you can have your model holding the grenade and shaping the smoke. You can incorporate the grenade into the photo, or you can make it seem like something else is causing the smoke. You are your own special effects artist, so play around with different ideas and think outside of the box.

Light it Up

Don't forget all the other great techniques in your photography tool kit. If you have remote lights, use them to illuminate the smoke cloud. You could light it up from underneath, the sides, or behind. Directional light or shafts of light can be created through the smoke to make eerie or dramatic effects.

Carry Lots of Spares

As you probably gathered from previous tips, you might go through quite a few grenades before landing on the perfect smoke bomb pictures. When you've found where to buy smoke bombs, make sure to pick up a good supply of different colors. You'll want to have a selection on hand and extras in case the wind picks up, or you decide to try different locations.


Smoke bomb photos are a fun new way to set your photography apart. Whether you're just looking to bolster your portfolio, attract new clients, or have a fun day shooting with friends, smoke bomb photos are the ticket. And don't forget these smoke bomb photography tips to be safe.


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