advanced photoshop

Create Photoshop smoke brushes

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Tips & Tutorials, by Adam Smith

Ever wanted to make your own smoke stock? Now you can easily!

Ever wanted to make your own smoke stock, but just don’t have the space?

Well here’s how you can do it with minimal fuss.

You’ll be able to use your own snaps to easily make smoke brushes to use inside of Photoshop!

The Shoot set up

01: Pick the backdrop

Always shoot against a completely white backdrop to enable light to reflect back into the container with your texture.

02: Camera settings

Use a macro or close-focusing lens. Set your f-stop at f32, ISO at 200 and shoot at 1/160th of a second.

03: Adjust the focus

The lens will try to search for focus using the camera’s Auto functions, but you can tweak this manually.

04: Run a test

Check your light and camera settings are optimal by running an ambient test, injecting water into water.

The materials

Begin by filling up your transparent container with water up to an inch away from the lip.

Next, fill your syringe with up to 5mm of milk. Full-fat milk is less dilute and will create a better outcome.

Tap the pump to apply three drops to the water’s surface. This will react with the water’s horizon line, creating the illusion of ground level when the image is flipped.

Now insert the syringe tip into the water, inject a sharp burst of milk then shoot it.

Create Photoshop smoke brushes

Shoot ink

As ink is more concentrated than milk, we’ll only need to apply around 3mm into the water.

Lightly tap the pump to create a hanging droplet, then touch the surface of the water with this to create the illusion of ground level as before.

Next insert the syringe and smoothly inject into the water while slowly pulling away. Afterwards, you can inject 3mm of milk to your water and ink solution to vary the effects.

Create Photoshop smoke brushes

Capture smoke

Shoot a joss stick with a black backdrop in an interior setting to minimise reflection and avoid smoke dissipation.

A Speedlight is perfect for this shot, as it has a tilting head and an in-built bounce board.

Adjust the camera to manage optimum low-light conditions, setting the flash to ETTL, f-stop at f5.6, 1/200th of a second and ISO at 800. This will soften the backdrop through depth of field, while the fast shutter speed will minimise any blurring.

Position the Speedlight head to reflect off the wall, so the ambient flash will illuminate more of the smoke. Direct light cuts through the smoke and illuminates the backdrop, making separation of the two harder.

Create Photoshop smoke brushes

Inside Photoshop…

01: Prepare your image

Begin by importing your photo, set this to Grayscale, then crop and isolate the element you want to work with. Reorientate this into the correct position, using the Edit>Transform and/or Image>Image Rotation options.

Create Photoshop smoke brushes

02: Boost contrast

To split the element from the backdrop, boost the contrast using Levels. You can also control contrast by using the Dodge tool set to Highlights and the Burn tool set to Shadows.

Create Photoshop smoke brushes

03: Create your brush

Edit your element further by applying Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur if it looks too sharp. Finally, make a selection of your layer, invert and choose Edit>Define Brush Preset and name your brush accordingly. This is now saved as a brush style.

Create Photoshop smoke brushes

  • OMG! such a brilliant idea about to create photoshop smoke brushes. thanks for your wonderful work.

  • Adam

    Glad you enjoyed it Kate. You’ll find a lot more techniques and tips like this in our Resource Project, inside the magazine.