Smoke bomb photography is one of the most common applications for colored smoke grenades. It involves igniting a smoke bomb during a photoshoot so that plumes of colored smoke fill the frame of your photos. The resulting imagery can be incredibly striking, even beautiful. In recent years, it’s become a popular request during wedding photography shoots.
Of course, there’s a few things you should do before you pull the pin on your first smoke grenade. If you’re interested in trying smoke bomb photography, we’ve put together this guide to help you get started.
Tips when Shooting with Smoke Grenades
Let’s briefly review all the equipment you’ll need for a successful smoke bomb photoshoot.
- Wire-pull smoke grenade
- Safety gloves and goggles
- A metal bucket (and access to water)
- Photography gear (camera and lens, tripod etc.)
If you’re new to photography, it may be a good idea to have a few practice photoshoots before you try using a smoke bomb. This will help you familiarize yourself with your camera and the basics of photography. That way, when you do finally pull the pin on a bomb, you’re less likely to experience any unexpected photography-related issues.
In addition to your camera gear, you’ll also need some safety equipment: gloves and goggles for handling the smoke bomb, and a metal bucket where you’ll place it once it stops smoking. We discuss safety tips and optimal camera settings in more detail below, but first, how do you actually acquire a smoke bomb?
How Long do Smoke Bombs Last?
You have quite a few options to pick from! You can visit the links below to view more about each smoke bomb and it's use cases. If you have more questions, head on over to our frequently asked questions for smoke bombs.
- Original Shutter Bomb
- Dual Vent Smoke Bomb
- Professional Smoke Bomb
- Big Daddy Smoke Bomb
- Discrete Labeled Gender Reveal Smoke Bomb
Where to Buy Colored Smoke Bombs
Shutter Bombs is a US-based, authorized dealer of Enola Gaye smoke products, the world’s leading manufacturer of cool burning, wire-pull colored smoke grenades. Designed in the UK and rigorously tested and approved for use in North America and Europe, EG smoke bombs are regularly used in major film and television productions including Top Gear, The Walking Dead, and The Fast and The Furious films. The grenades come in a variety of colors and types offering different durations and densities.
As pyrotechnic devices, smoke bombs are legally required to be shipped by a certified hazmat courier within the US. This means the shipping costs are relatively more expensive in comparison to products of a similar size. We recommend buying in bulk to ensure you get the most bang for your buck. On the plus side, EG smoke bombs have an excellent shelf life. You can store them in a cool, dry place for up to 4 years.
Where Can You Use Smoke Bombs? Are Smoke Bombs Legal?
Smoke bombs should only be ignited in outdoor areas with good ventilation. If ignited inside, the smoke will have nowhere to go and could cause health issues for anyone in the room. While the smoke emitted by EG bombs is non-toxic, it’s never healthy to inhale smoke. The smoke may also stain the walls and ceiling, and leave behind a lingering smell.
EG smoke bombs use a cool-burning design, which means no external flame is produced, and the cartridge maintains a cooler temperature than a military-grade smoke grenade. However, they are still highly flammable. In addition to smoke, the bombs emit sparks and ash once ignited, and are quite warm to the touch. It's critical that you never ignite a smoke grenade in an area with dry grass, as it could very easily start a fire.
You also shouldn’t ignite a grenade close to a road or busy walkway, as the smoke may alarm or cause visibility issues for nearby vehicles and pedestrians. Besides, setting up in an isolated, outdoor area is not only safer, it can help you avoid any unwanted interruptions during the shoot.
What Camera Settings Should You Use When Shooting Smoke Bombs?
Once you ignite a smoke bomb, you’ll only have a brief time frame to capture your photos; up to 90 seconds, depending on the smoking duration of your grenade. So it’s important that your camera has the best settings already in-place before you pull the pin. If you’re photographing a model or subject, it’s also a good idea to discuss what poses will look best in advance.
For photography novices, we recommend using a DSLR or mirrorless digital camera that allows you to manually control settings such as shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. These 3 settings are known as the exposure triangle, as they directly control how much light enters the lens and is exposed to the camera sensor. If too much light enters the camera, your photos will look bright and washed out; not enough light, and your photos will be too dark.
Finding the correct exposure is about delicately adjusting these settings until you reach the perfect balance. However, each setting can also have a different visual effect on your photos.
How to Set Your ISO when Taking Smoke Bomb Pictures
Increasing your ISO is a great way to add more brightness to your photos, as it increases the camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. This can be helpful if you’re shooting in low-light conditions, however, you should generally try to keep it as low as possible. If your ISO is too high, your photos will have a grainy visual quality, commonly known as noise. For your first smoke bomb photography shoot, we recommend shooting during the day so that you have plenty of bright, natural light to play with, and can avoid relying on a high ISO.
Best Shutter Speed Settings for Smoke Grenades
When it comes to shutter speed, you can use a slow or fast speed depending on the visual effect you’re trying to achieve. Measured in fragments of a second, shutter speed refers to the amount of time the camera shutter is open, exposing the sensor to light. The faster your shutter speed, the less time the shutter is open per exposure (photograph). A fast shutter speed will help ensure the smoke looks sharp and clearly defined in your imagery.
A slow shutter speed means the shutter is open for longer, and you’ll capture more of the smoke’s movement per photograph. This will cause a motion blur effect, and the smoke will look smoother and softer.
Deliberately shooting with a very slow shutter speed is known as long exposure photography, a popular technique with landscape and astrophotographers. You should always use a tripod when shooting with a slow shutter speed, as even the slightest handheld movement while the shutter is open will blur the entire image.
Camera Settings for Smoke Bomb Photography: Aperture
Aperture refers to the opening inside the lens through which light enters the camera. It’s indicated on your camera by a number called an F-stop. F-stops are technically fractions, which means the lower the number, the larger the opening. For example, an F-stop of f/2.8 indicates a wider aperture than f/5.6.
In addition to allowing more light into the camera, a wide aperture also produces a shallow depth of field. A shallow depth of field effectively means a smaller area of your photograph will be in focus. A wide aperture is often used in portrait or close-up photography so that the subject is the only thing in focus, and clearly separated from the background. Alternatively, a small aperture is used in landscape and wide-angle photography so that everything in frame is in focus.
Many photographers also like to use a camera setting called Aperture Priority mode. Unlike shooting in manual, in which the photographer must adjust all the settings themselves, Aperture Priority enables the camera to automatically change the shutter speed. This allows the photographer to focus on framing their shot and selecting the right ISO and aperture while shooting. As you adjust the aperture, the camera will automatically adjust the shutter speed to ensure the right amount of light is entering the camera for an optimal exposure. Aperture Priority is generally abbreviated as A or Av on most camera mode dials.
Smoke Bomb Photography Tips - Handling the Smoke Grenades
While you can handle EG smoke bombs without gloves or goggles, we still recommend that you use them. Especially if the smoke bomb won’t be in frame anyway. If the smoke bomb will be featured in your photos, ensure that the person handling the grenade is comfortable holding the device, and knows what to expect once they pull the wire.
You should also keep in mind that smoke bombs have the potential to stain clothes in close proximity. This is particularly important to remember during a wedding photography shoot. You really don’t want to be the photographer responsible for accidentally staining someone’s wedding dress. To avoid this, make sure you and your subjects stand at least 3 feet away from the grenade while it’s smoking.
Once the bomb stops smoking, place it in a metal bucket and pour water over the cartridge to make sure it’s completely extinguished. The cartridge can then be recycled, and the metal ring and wire should be disposed of as regular refuse.
Smoke bomb photography is an exciting and visually unique style of photography that’s just as fun to shoot as it looks. By following our recommendations above, and when equipped with the right brand of grenades and correct safety gear, we’re confident you’ll have a blast. Literally.