How to use smoke bombs for wedding photography

Updated: Jan 5

If you are a photographer and have never used smoke bombs before at a wedding you should absolutely try it out and read this to learn about posing, explosions, burns, weather, and disposal. If you have used before, this is also great advice from an experienced wedding photographer and you might learn new and best practices below.


Wedding party holding pink smoke bombs
I'm going to teach you how to create this photo below in a step by step tutorial

Let me introduce myself! My name is Amy, and I'm a wedding and elopement photographer. I love using smoke bombs at weddings, elopements, branding, birthdays, and gender reveals. As a wedding photographer a lot is riding on you to capture the day as the events happen, but it's so fun when you get a chance to create a little of your own magic. I'm going to give some tips and do's and don't on how to properly use smoke bombs with wedding clients so that you and your clients have the best experience possible!










1. "What is a smoke bomb, and where do I get them?"

This is the probably the most common question that I get from clients and other photographers. A smoke bomb is a firework designed to produce smoke upon ignition. You can get them in just about any color including white and black. The smoke bomb brand that I like to use the most for weddings are Shutter Bombs, and I have my clients purchase them though an order on my website so that I can handle everything and they can sit back and relax!


There are a few different kinds that they sell, and my recommendation for weddings and photoshoots are to use the original shutter bomb (EGwP40). I do not recommend the dual vent bombs or the EG18's because wedding clients have most likely never used one of these before and at a wedding your clients might not be fully paying attention, drinking, or you are rushed for time so take it safe and easy with the originals. They are amazing, and a favorite of mine. These emit large clouds of non-toxic colorful smoke that lasts up to 60 seconds. The ultimate tool for smoke bomb photography!


They come in 9 different colors::

Wedding shutter bombs HERE

Rainbow packs HERE


*Important shipping information for photographers*

Orders under one hundred dollars have a $40 have a hazmat shipping cost. I take into consideration when charging my clients for the materials and shipping, or you will end up paying the shipping cost yourself. Orders over $200 have FREE shipping, so the sooner you know if your client wants smoke bombs, the better so you can stock up. I recommend also making a hard deadline of when they need to order these. Their orders ship from the west coast and take 2-7 days depending on where you live. They do not ship on weekends, so take that into consideration when planning your shoot!


2. How to use them for the first time:

DO NOT try using these for the first time at a wedding with your clients. You wouldn't use your camera or a new lens for the first time at a wedding, and this is the same kind of tool. Grab a friend or your spouse and try a few of these out at home first. The first time I used these, I ordered about a dozen and tried different colors to see which ones I liked the best. I took all of the tattoo artists at our tattoo shop out to an empty parking lot and had several assistants helping me to learn how to use them. I learned a LOT from this, and highly recommend trying them out first.


We used masks on the models when I tried these for the first time. We learned that by wearing a costume mask, the smoke can get trapped under your mask and it's very difficult to breathe. From this trial I learned it's best to hold the smoke bomb above your head, and if you do circles or walk through the smoke you should hold your breath while posing. Most of us can hold our breathe for about 30 seconds with no problem. If you breathe the smoke directly in, it will be a lot like standing over a bonfire.


*This photo is from the very first time I practiced using these, and it's still my favorite! I think you have the most fun when you practice things on your own before trying them out on clients. To take this photo I held the smoke bomb in front of me, held my breath and closed my eyes, and walked through the smoke with my camera leading in front.*



3. Safety when using smoke bombs at weddings for you and your clients:

The first thing you need to be aware of is that these get HOT when you are holding them, and you don't want your clients to get burnt on their wedding day! Before you ever hand one of these to your clients you need to show them exactly how to hold the smoke bomb and how to pull it. You start with holding the smoke bomb at the bottom. Remember that the top of the bomb will be burning when you ignite it. I like to tell my clients to pretend they are holding a candle stick. Demonstrate igniting the smoke bomb by facing it away from yourself and AWAY FROM OTHERS in case of an explosion. This is especially important if you have a large wedding party. You certainly don't want your groom to fire off a smoke bomb in the bride's face, or at their own face. After I demonstrate to my clients how to hold them, how to ignite them, and where to point the smoke bomb when they ignite them I put them in the pose and have them practice doing the pose first WITHOUT using the smoke bomb. Running through this one or two times first always works for me. I also take photos of the couple of bridal party while they are practicing so that I can make decisions about lighting and get my camera settings perfect.


Safety for the environment is also important! As a certified leave no trace photographer, I am always aware of the environment and the impact that photographers have on the fragile ecosystem around us. I love that these smoke bombs emit non-toxic colorful smoke for about 60 seconds, but you still need to be smart about where you use these. Do not use smoke bombs in national parks, preserves, or anywhere you might upset and scare away the wildlife. Image that you are a bear living in the woods, and you see red smoke billowing out of your forest. Of course you are going to think your home is on fire and run, maybe abandoning your cubs or putting them into a territory that is dangerous for them as they flee from danger. Just don't do it please. As photographer we are allowed to still shoot elopements and micro weddings in beautiful parks because we take care of them, and I want my couples to be able to return to their wedding vow location in 5-20 years!


Also this is a no brainer, but don't use them somewhere that if you drop them or put them down they can catch leaves etc on fire! A recent 2020 wild fire in California was started because of negligence when using a smoke bomb for a gender reveal. With the right dry conditions and critical fire weather, it doesn’t take much to start a wildfire. Not only will you be cancelled if you do this, but you can also be criminally responsible.


4. Lighting, Weather, and Editing tips!

I personally like to shoot smoke bombs with back lit lighting. I love the way the light comes through the smoke, and the contrast of the client and smoke.


As the wind blows is important! A tip I've learned from shooting at weddings is that there's almost always someone with a vape pen or cigars in the wedding party lol! It's much easier to ask someone to vape for you or if someone is smoking you can see which way the wind is blowing and that will help you to position the clients so that smoke is not blowing in their face. You can also light a match, or do the good old fashioned lick your finger and see which way the wind is blowing trick. I personally have to see to believe and I need to see some fog or smoke before I do my shoots. At a spooky Halloween wedding, we've even lit an invitation on fire to see which way the wind was blowing and got the coolest moody photo of that!


Every photographer is going to have their own editing style, but I can tell you that when you shoot these back lit, that lightening the shadows with your brush is key. Also you can clone and heal some of the smoke to fill in areas that you wish were more "billowy" and dense. I've had to do this a few times because there's always one person in the wedding party that doesn't listen or is easily distracted and they are doing something totally different with their smoke bomb. Adding some more exposure to just the smoke with your brush will also help the colors pop!


5. Stains

Staining clothes: Instruct your bride to hold the smoke bomb up and away from their dress at all times, because they can stain white dresses in a second. The last thing you want is for your bride to be in tears with a large purple stain on the front of their $5,000 designer dress. In the excitement of posing with the smoke bomb it's easy to forget and to put your arm down by your side close to your dress. The smoke will only stain if you hold it directly to your dress, and that's why again practicing posing before you light them is so important. At a recent wedding a bridesmaid was upset because she got pink smoke on her dress, and I felt terrible. But then later when I was editing the photos I saw in my photos that she held the smoke bomb down at her side and it was billowing directly on her dress because she forgot about the instructions while we were posing! It's a lot of excitement going on, and easy to forget or get distracted!


Staining the ground: Be careful at the wedding venue of where you lay them down on the ground at. Laying a smoke bomb down in the grass and having your couple standing in front of it can be a really cool effect....but it can also stain the grass. I like to use a clay pot to sit them in behind the clients. I am not perfect and I learned this from placing smoke bombs down on the ground at a golf course when I didn't have an assistant with me. When I picked them up they had left a huge black burnt stain on the impeccable groomed wedding lawn. Luckily there were no weddings there that week and the grass had time to grow back, but it is technically damaging the property. Laying them down on concrete will also leave a large black stain. I recently put them in my pumpkin for halloween and it left my whole pumpkin black and covered in soot lol!


6. Disposal

You had an amazing time, your photos look great, and now your done! Now what to do with the smoke bombs! DO NOT throw them directly into the trash at your wedding venue. First of all they are going to smell bad and make your wedding venue stinky. Second of all, you could start a fire. Any responsible photographer should bring a Tupperware container with water in it to throw the smoke bombs away. I buy the cheap salad Tupperware at the dollar tree store and bring a water bottle to pour water over them enough that they are soaking. I know this sounds like a pain and overkill, but disposing of them correctly will make sure that the venue allows smoke bombs to continue. After they have soaked overnight I throw the entire container in my trash (not recycling). Don't forget to pick up all of the igniter tags and throw them away as well. I take the caps off myself before giving them to clients so that they are not left behind.


7. Poses

I have found that having my couple in the middle and the wedding party lined up on both sides is the most effective and easiest pose to do with smoke bombs. I love when there is a road or path that we can use because there is plenty of space to walk forward, and it's safe if someone drops or throws their smoke bomb down on the ground. Here is how to achieve this photo below by using all the tips I've talked about above. For the photo below I bought two pink smoke bombs for each person and we only used one a piece and this photo took 60 seconds to take. I get two smoke bombs of the same color per person just in case they don't pull them right, they are a dud, or they explode. That way we have a backup! You can use the extras you purchased on just your couple by themselves after!

Step One: Line your wedding party up and have them practice this whole sequence WITHOUT the smoke bombs. Line up your wedding party and have them hold the smoke bomb facing away from you (I already checked to see that the wind was blowing in that direction so that when they pull the smoke it will not be in their face or eyes). See photo below:

Step Three: Have your wedding party pull the smoke bombs facing by holding them at the bottom and facing them away from their faces and away from each other. Remind them to only look at and pay attention to their OWN smoke bomb. Some people will get distracted and will start watching what everyone else is doing and forget that to point their own smoke bomb out and away (example bridesmaid on far left in photo below who started watching others and stained her dress by holding the smoke bomb down by her side). I remind and make it clear that we all need to listen and do everything exactly as I say for the couple that they love! Let the smoke run for just a few seconds so it can get going. It will start slow at first and then start pumping out! See photo below:

Step four: Have your clients raise the smoke bomb in the air and turn around while holding it above their head. By doing this the smoke is blowing behind them and will never get in front of their faces because we already checked the wind pattern. See photo below:

Step Five: Take a few photos of everyone standing and then have wedding party walk towards you while holding smoke bombs in the air right above their head. I love the walking photos because the smoke trails and billows behind everyone a bit and having motion in the photos are key! As long as they hold it up high they can look at each other and at your without worrying about the smoke! Have your couple kiss a few times and let everyone just have fun and enjoy themselves. Tell them to NOT waive the smoke bomb around. Waiving it will get smoke in the other clients faces and will make it hard to breath or see their face!




8. Now that you have a group photo your couple and everyone will love, try some photos of just the couple with the extras that you bought. Remember that I bought two smoke bombs per each client just in case something happened (explosion, dud, or pulled wrong), so we had 6 extra smoke bombs to use on the couple. Don't forget to still have your couple practice the poses without the bombs, and to do all the proper steps above! Here are some before and after edits:


BEFORE AND AFTER EDITS:


There are a lot of different ways you can pose with these. For lifestyle shoots and branding I love walking right through the smoke and having it encase and encircle around my client. If you are lucky enough to have an assistant helping you out, then you can have them holding the smoke bomb with an oven lit and running around your client. However for weddings I like to keep the smoke away from the client by having it behind them on the ground in a clay pot or holding it away from their faces or above their heads. This keeps the smoke smell out of their hair and dress, which can bother some brides and not every bride wants to smell like a camp fire when they are dancing and hugging guests after! It make the dress easier to dry clean after the wedding as well and lessens the chance that some of the smoke coloration will get on the dress.


Make sure to let your couple know about all of the risks involved before deciding to do this at a wedding, and best of luck to you!




www.thetattooedbride.com



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