Want to experiment with smoke bomb photography? This is the ultimate guide to buying and using smoke bombs safely for photography.
What is a smoke bomb?
A smoke bomb, also referred to as a smoke grenade, is technically a firework that emits smoke.
They are commonly used in paintball matches (to provide cover), gender reveal photo shoots, movies for special effects, and for a regular photo shoot looking to add something *extra*.
Where can I buy smoke bombs?
The biggest and most trusted seller of smoke bombs is Enola Gaye. They specialize in smoke grenades. I would recommend buying their brand over any other one you might find on Amazon or Google. I purchased mine from a paintball gear website called ANSgear. They sell Enola Gaye smoke grenades at a slightly lower price.
Which smoke bombs should I buy?
I would highly recommend the WP40 Smoke Grenades for both beginners and experts.
The WP stands for “wire pull” which means you pull a ring attached to a wire to ignite the grenade, instead of lighting it yourself with a match or a lighter. They last for a short, but usable amount of time and are safer and easier to use than the double vented burst grenades.
Another option for both beginners and experts is the EG25 Micro Smoke Grenade. It is also a wire pull ignition but releases less smoke than the WP40.
For more experienced people, there are Burst Smoke Grenades (Twin Vent) which release smoke from both ends.
There are many color options to choose from so it all depends on what you are looking for.
Enola Gaye produces WP40 smoke grenades in black, blue, green, orange, pink, purple, red, white, and yellow.
How long do smoke bombs last?
According to the Enola Gaye website, the WP40 ones should last for 90-120 seconds while the EG25 ones last for only 25 seconds.
The Burst Smoke Grenades “provide instant cover in under 30 seconds” but I don’t know how long the smoke actually is produced for.
Unfortunately, some smoke grenades that you might purchase turn out to be duds and do not produce any smoke. To be safe, I ordered multiples of every color in case one didn’t work. Fortunately for me, all 8 smoke bombs that I ordered worked properly.
Are smoke bombs safe?
Grenade and bomb don’t have a “safe” connotation, but if you follow some basic safety precautions and have some common sense, you shouldn’t run into any trouble.
Probably the most important safety tip is this:
Hold the grenade by its base and point the top of it away from your face and body when you pull the ring and wire to light it.
The upper portion of the grenade will get hot so keep your grip to the very bottom portion.
For the Burst Grenades, I would definitely wear hand protection because both ends will get hot.
If smoke doesn’t start to come out within a couple seconds of pulling the wire then you should drop the grenade and back away in case there is a more severe problem.
Try to avoid excessive inhalation of the smoke as it can irritate your throat and lungs.
Also, do your best to keep your eyes away from the smoke because it can make your eyes burn and water. Mine stung a little every time we used one but the feeling went away pretty quickly.
After you are done and the grenade is no longer emitting smoke, it will still be hot and there might be a hissing sound coming from it. My strategy to fully extinguish the grenade was to drop it in water. Therefore, I’d recommend bringing a small bucket of water with you.
Another option is to let it sit for a few minutes until it fully cools off.
Some extra precautions you could take are to wear heat resistant gloves, a mask (preferably one with a filter), and safety glasses.
Where can I use smoke bombs?
Since smoke bombs are considered fireworks, you should consult your state’s laws about fireworks usage. I live in New York and they have pretty strict laws about fireworks so I was very careful about where I used them.
I would recommend using smoke bombs on either your private property or a secluded area where there is (hopefully) no one to bother with the smoke.
Personally, I have used a wooded trail in between neighborhoods and a trail within a town park that didn’t explicitly state “no fireworks” on their list of things prohibited at the park. I didn’t get in any trouble either time, but that’s not a guarantee that you won’t too.
Again, use your best judgement and try to find information online about where you are planning to shoot.
How should I use smoke bombs in a photo shoot?
Obviously, this is up to the photographer and what the model is comfortable with. However, I do have a few suggestions on how to incorporate smoke bombs into a photo shoot.
Try matching the color of the model’s outfit to the color of the smoke. This can create a monochrome look to the photo, especially if you can get close enough that the background isn’t visible.
I tried doing a Halloween themed shoot in October with an all black witch outfit and a black smoke bomb. The summer after I reused my (cheap) prom dress with my purple smoke bombs. I was glad they still worked even though I had kept them in my room for nearly 8 months.
A similar option is to wear clothing in colors that go well with the smoke color. Be warned though, I have heard that the smoke may stain white clothes.
A less clothing-focused option is to use the smoke as ambiance for your photos. What I mean is that the smoke isn’t one of the main points of your photograph, but it adds a little something *extra* to the photo.
You might want to bring someone with you to hold the smoke bomb and moved around with it. Another option is to have the model hold the smoke bomb themselves if you don’t mind seeing it in your photos.
What settings should I use on my camera for smoke bomb photography?
Smoke bombs don’t last for very long so you need to have a plan going in.
As always, if you want to have both the foreground and background in focus (a longer depth of field) you should use a higher aperture (such as f16). If you want only the foreground to be in focus (a shorter depth of field) use a lower aperture (such as f2.8).
If you use aperture priority mode on your DSLR you can control the aperture while the camera decides the rest of the settings, such as shutter speed.
I used auto-focus and auto mode because I was really unsure of how the smoke would effect factors like lighting. I was also using my friend as a photographer who doesn’t know how to change the settings on a DSLR.
A lot of my photos weren’t in focus where I wanted them to be which was disappointing. I’m assuming the smoke confused the camera and it wasn’t sure what to focus on. Thankfully, I had my friend take a lot of photos so there were still some good ones.
However, I did shoot in RAW format (as everyone should). It made the editing process much easier because I could easily change the exposure without decreasing the image quality. I also played around with saturation and contrast to see what I liked best with the texture of the smoke.
To define the texture of the smoke clouds I increased the contrast. I also increased the saturation to bring out the color in the smoke.
I watched Jessica Kobeissi’s YouTube video on her smoke bomb photo shoot mainly for inspiration, less for instruction.
SLR Lounge has a great instructional video that covers a lot of what I said in this post. Unfortunately, I never saw this before I tried using smoke bombs but hopefully it will give you a good visual of what I’ve been talking about!
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