This is part 2 of the tutorial on photographing incense smoke. Part 1 covered photographing the smoke. (Here is part 1) In this portion of the tutorial, we will start the topic of post processing. For almost all my photography, I post process in Adobe Lightroom, however, incense smoke is an exception. For smoke, I use Photoshop. The example screens shown here are from Photoshop CS5.5, although it should work at least back to CS4. (For those of you who are using Photoshop Elements, I haven’t tried it, but I think it can be done. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll attempt it and post a tutorial for that if it can be done.)
To start, open your smoke photo in photoshop.
Open in Photoshop
After opening your smoke picture in Photoshop, the first thing to do is to duplicate the background layer. This basically just gives you and easy place to come back to in case something goes haywire.
Duplicate Background Layer
Next, we want to adjust the brightness of the smoke to make it pop out from the background a bit more. I do this with Levels. Create a new adjustments layer by selecting Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels.
Adjust the levels
Drag the white arrow directly under the histogram to the left to brighten the image. Be careful not to drag it too far as you want the background to remain solid black.
Adjust the levels
For the next step, you need to decide what kind of smoke picture you want, black background or white background. If you want a black back ground, congratulations! You’re there, you can skip this step. If you want a white background, select Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Invert. This will invert the color palete and your black background will turn white. Your smoke will also change color, but don’t worry, we’re going to set the color up in the next step.
(I wanted to work on a black background so I didn’t invert, but here is what it would look like if I had.)
To change the smoke color, select Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Hue/Saturation.
New Adjusment Layer - Hue/Saturation
(Note that the screen shot above has the Adjustment Layer selected. This is an error. You need to select the background copy layer underneath it, as in the next screen shot.)
Click the Colorize box in the lower right. Now, adjust the sliders to get a color and saturation level that you like.
Change the Smoke Color
And here’s what you end up with.
Well that’s it! It’s really a pretty simple process in Photoshop. Next time, I’ll show you how to make the smoke multiple colors instead of a single one.