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Smoke Art with Steve Purnell


Smoke Art in it’s simplest definition is a form of art which features smoke as it’s main subject or a medium to create something else. Photographing Smoke Art is like a game of trial and error as the smoke can produce astounding results, such as the smoke shaped oddly like objects or human-form, and sometimes they can produce expected results, plain trails of smoke. Most photographers often involve themselves in post production to achieve the result they desire such as adding colours to the photographs of their smoke trails, making them more vibrant-looking.

Today, we sit down with Steve Purnell, a photographer from Wales, whose “Smoke Art” photographs has intrigued  us.





Hi Steve! Tell us about yourself.

I am a self taught photographer and took photography up as a hobby around five years ago. My father was a keen photographer so I had always grown up around photography but was never really serious about it as a hobby until I got my first digital camera. My career was in financial services but I was lucky enough to be able to take early retirement three years ago which has left me with a lot more time to be able to indulge in this fascinating hobby.



Describe what photography means to you in one sentence.

The ability to catch a moment in time and preserve it for a lifetime.



From what we can see on your website, you take photographs of a variation of subjects from products to wildlife. What is your personal favourite subject to photograph?

As you say, I tend not to restrict myself to any particular genre of photography and try to spread my interests over a wide range of subjects. If I had to choose one particular genre as a favourite, it would be Landscapes as this is the reason why I took up photography again. I love to get outdoors and have a wander and it helps that I live in Wales as it is only a small country but there is some magnificent landscape within easy travelling distance of my home.



Moving on, we are particularly interested in your beautiful “Smoke Trail” photographs. How does that work?

It is incredibly easy to photograph smoke trails. All of mine have been shot in the kitchen at my home. The set up comprises of a black background, a small constant light source (on my most recent shoot I used a Gorillatorch with the legs wrapped around a light stand), a flash gun with some barn door type blinkers cut from a piece of card and an incense stick. Be sure to find a stick with a nice smell as my family complained for days after. The light source and the flashgun are placed either side of the incense stick and with the stick lit and reduced to a smoking state, I just turn the lights out and start shooting.

The smoke can be blown or fanned to produce different shapes but each trail seems to have an individuality of it’s own. I then take the images that I shoot into photoshop on the computer and manipulate and colour them from there. I have found that you can get several different designs from one trail although I have started to try to blend a couple of trails together to produce even more intricate images. I’m sure that the possibilities are endless and, as my photoshop skills improve, then I begin to explore these.



How many times did you have to carry out this process to capture your perfect “Smoke Trail”  photograph?

I don’t know if I have captured my perfect smoke trail yet. I am happy with the images that I have captured so far and you can get as many images as you want from one shoot as long as you have your set up right and the trail is in focus. A majority of the images on my website http://thesmokeguru.weebly.com are from my third such shoot although I have returned to the earlier shoots and reworked some of the images from there which were quite simple compared to my latest output.



Who inspires you to be a photographer?

I am inspired by the whole unpredictability of the hobby. You can go out with your camera intending to shoot one subject and find yourself shooting something entirely different. Other times you can see things and maybe have the wrong lens on the camera which only serves to drive you on to try to recreate the image that you may have taken on another occasion. I would love to photograph a Red Kite in flight and remember being on location shooting landscapes with my wide angle lens on the camera. I was with a friend who suddenly said ‘look at that’ and, soaring right above our heads was a Red Kite. Needless to say, by the time that I had changed to a suitable lens to photograph it, it was long gone. I would love to recreate that.



Last question, what is your favourite “Instagram” filter and why?

I have never used Instagram. All of the filters that I require are contained in Photoshop and Topaz.

Text by: ActuallyMAG Team
Images courtesy of: Steve Purnell



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