How to Shoot ‘Space Nebula’ Smoke Photos at Home

During long periods of cloudy weather, it can be really frustrating for an astrophotographer to wait for the sky to clear up. Over the years, I’ve learned how to deal with long downtime.

It’s a good time to review your old work and see if you can do something new with your old photos. Or you can spend your time creating your own space art in the comfort of your home or studio.

I’ve seen some smoke photography before and really liked the shapes and structures that form in the smoke. I thought it would be a great idea to use this smoke and try to create some “space nebulae” with them. After thinking about it, I came up with the idea of ​​using water in a spray bottle to produce stars. My idea was that the flash could light up the water droplets to make them look like little shiny dots.

After some trial and error, I think it turned out pretty well. Here is a brief summary of how to achieve this effect.

Equipment and setup

First, let’s take a look at the setup with each gear I’ve been using.

My camera was a Nikon Z9 with a Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S lens. This was mounted on a Leofoto LM-323C tripod with an NB-40 ball head.

I used two flashes that were triggered remotely from the camera and one as a slave. My camera settings were 1/125 seconds, ISO 400, and a focal length of 40mm at f/4.

I have a wet towel under the incense to protect the rug.

In the image above, you can see that I am using a black background to get a black background in the image. The flash in the top left corner is used to illuminate the water droplets. I’m using a snoot on this flash so I don’t get any background light.

In the lower right corner you can see my second string flicker placed behind the incense to light the smoke from behind.

I am using a clip to hold the incense in place.

Here is a close-up of the tripod holding the incense and a secondary flash behind it. I am using a black board of cardboard to prevent the light from flashing from my background. I just want that flash to light up smoke and water droplets.

Do not spray a lot of water because many drops prevent smoke.

take pictures

Now it’s time to take the picture. Before you start taking pictures, light the incense and wait until the smoke has subsided a little so that it is more or less traveling in a straight line upwards. You should be in a room without gusts of wind because even the lightest of storms will blow smoke around, and this will give you less interesting structures in the smoke.

When the smoke is ready, fire the spray bottle to produce some water droplets that rain on the smoke. When the droplets reach the smoke, you must take the picture. You want the drops to mix with the smoke. Now just keep repeating this procedure and find interesting formations in the smoke to photograph.

Since the incense is slowly glowing, it will produce some ash, so please put something non-flammable under the tripod holding the incense. I use a wet towel but anything that doesn’t catch fire will do.

After image processing

When you’re done shooting, it’s time to start editing your photos, and that’s where your creativity comes in. I usually go through all the pictures to see which ones have some interesting structures and stars in them. Below you can see two photos, the first is how the photo looked straight from the camera and the second after I did some processing on it.

The original picture
image processing

I usually play with different colors and in different parts of the picture. I usually do this by adding a radial filter in Adobe Camera Raw or by adding a gradient adjustment layer in Photoshop. Play with colors and just have fun.

However, one tip is to try to keep the color of the stars close to white or gray – if they are too saturated with different colors, they will look kind of strange and not space-like.

Another example of space smoke pictures

Below you can see some examples of different images I went through for post-processing from my last session in my studio. The last picture is just smoke without any water droplets in it.

Good luck creating space art!


note You can follow me on Instagram and/or TikTok for a behind-the-scenes look at my latest photo project.


About the authorGöran Strand is a professional photographer from Östersund, Sweden, with a passion for astronomy. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Strand’s work on his website, Instagram, Twitterand Facebook. This article was also published here.

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