During long periods of cloudy weather it can be really frustrating as a astrophotographer waiting for the sky to clear up. Over the years I’ve learn how to handle these long down times. It’s a good time to look back on your old work and see if you can do something new with old images. Or you could spend your time creating your own space art in the comfort of your home or studio.
I’ve seen some photos of smoke earlier and really like the shapes and structures that take form in the smoke. I thought it could be a great idea to use that smoke and maybe create some space nebulas of my own. After giving it some thought I came up with the idea to use water in a spray bottle to produce the stars. My idea was that a flash could lit up the water droplets to have them look like small bright dots.
After some trial and error I think it turned out quite good. Here’s a brief run down on how I achieved this effect.
First let look at the setup with all the gear I was using.
My camera was my Nikon Z9 with the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2,8 S lens. This was mounted on my Leofoto LM-323C tripod with a NB-40 ballhead. I used two flashes remotely triggered from my camera, and the other one as a slave. My camera settings where 1/125 sec. ISO 400 and a focal length of 40mm at f/4.
In the photo above you can see I’m using a black backdrop to get a black background in the image. The flash in the top left corner is used to light upp the water droplets. I’m using a snoot on that flash so I don’t get any light on the background.
In the bottom right corner you can see my second slaved flash placed behind the incense to light up the smoke from behind.
Here’s a close up of my tripod holding the incense and my secondary flash behind it. I’m using a black cardboard plate to block of the light from the flash from my background. I only want the smoke and the water droplets to be lit up by this flash
Taking the photos
Now it’s almost time to take the photo. Before you start taking photos, light up the incense and wait for the smoke to settle a little bit so it is more or less a straight line upwards. You need to be in a room free from wind gusts since even the lightest of gusts will blow your smoke around and that will give you less interesting structures in the smoke.
When the smoke is ready, fire of the spray bottle to produce some water droplets raining down on the smoke. When the droplets reaches the smoke you should take the photo. You want the droplets to mix with the smoke. Now just keep repeating this procedure and look for interesting formations in the smoke to take photos of.
Since the incense is glowing slowly it will produce som ashes so please put something non flammable under your tripod holding the incense. I’m using a wet towel but anything that won’t catch fire will do.
When you’re done photographing it’s time to start editing your photos and here is where your creativity comes into play. I usually go through all the photos to see which ones has some interesting structures and stars in them. Below you can see two photos, the first one is how the photo looked straight out of the camera and the second one is after I’ve done som processing on it.
I usually just play around with different colors and in different parts of the image. Usually I’m doing that by either adding a radial filter in Adobe Camera Raw or by adding a gradient adjustment layer in Photoshop. Feel free to play around with the colors and just have fun. One tip though is to try to keep the color of the stars close to white or grey, if they are to saturated with different colors it will look kind of strange.
Good luck with your creation of space art and feel free to follow me on Instagram and/or TikTok to see more behind the scenes material of what I’m doing.
Below you can see some examples of different photos I went on post processing from my last session in my studio. The last image is just smoke without any water droplets in it.