As you can see, the setup is pretty simple. Just a black backdrop, an incense holder, a stick of incense, and a couple of lights. These are special table top lights that I use for product photography, but I have also used an ordinary desk lamp which worked pretty well. Just so long as you have a way to direct the light onto the smoke. I placed the incense holder this way so that I could move it as it burned down in order to keep the smoke between the two lights. Focusing can also be difficult. The auto focus doesn't work very well because the smoke is constantly moving around. So, what I did was place my hand between the two lights were the smoke would be, pressed the shutter half way to focus, then switched the lens to manual focus to lock it in. Hit the next button to see what settings I used to capture the images.
Here, I have set my camera to Manual mode. You can also try Shutter Priority if you would like to concentrate on shutter speed and not have to worry about the rest.
Next, I like to keep my ISO as low as possible to avoid digital noise on my images. It might be tempting to set your ISO very high in order to get a fast shutter speed, but you also risk overexposing your image because the light being reflected off the smoke is very bright.
I suggest your open your lens to as wide an aperture as possible. I used my 50mm lens, so I was able to go all the way to f/1.8. This allowed me to shoot at 1/1000 sec. Plenty fast to stop any motion in the smoke.
Continue on to see a few images from this shoot.
To get the smoke to form patterns, all I had to do was lightly bump the incense holder. I hope you have enjoyed this lesson and will have fun trying it on your own!
To see all of the images from this shoot, please visit my Facebook page.