Smoke grenades for engagement and wedding photography

I think that it always important to challenge yourself as a photographer. You should try new things and get out of your comfort zone as much as possible. To that end I am always experimenting with new things; using prisms to get crazy reflections and sun flares in my photos, exploring new photo locations, editing my photographs in new ways, and of course, using smoke grenades.

I hope that this guide will act as a how to for other photographers, and act as inspiration for brides to be.

I advertised on Facebook for adventurous engaged couples just before Christmas. We drove out to interesting locations and let our imaginations run free. Here are some of the photographs I captured.

First I'll run through the practical things to think about when using smoke bombs in photography, then I'll talk through some tips.

Items required while using smoke bombs for engagement and wedding photography

  • Smoke bomb (cool burning if possible)
  • Lighter (if not using a “cool burning wire pull” grenades)
  • Water (to pour on the smoke bomb after it has burnt out to ensure safe disposal)
  • Risk assessment

I got my smoke bombs from Just Paintball and they cost me just £25 for 5 including postage. I ordered each bomb individually and chose a variety of colours; Blue, green, orange, purple and yellow. They were Enola Gaye, wire-pull smoke grenades. They are cool burning, although they can get warm once they get going and for a few minutes afterwards. You sometimes get sparks immediately after pulling the wire, but there are no flames or sparks after that. Although it is not recommended, I found that I could hold the grenades whilst they were going off. The grenades I got ran for 90 seconds.

For the risk assessment I spoke to my couples about the possibility of irritation to their eyes or breathing. If they had existing issues with either of those I didn't use the grenade. If they felt unwell or in any discomfort I asked them to simply walk away from the smoke bomb.

I warned them that the smell from the grenade could get into their clothes and hair. In my experience I found that this was similar to being near smoke from a fire, so no real issue. The coloured smoke certainly didn't stain anyone's clothes.

Finally, I warned the couple not to touch the grenade at all. I poured water over it as soon as it finished, and then I would go back to it at least ten minutes later and put it in a bag to carry away and dispose of properly.

Tips on using smoke grenades in wedding and engagement photography

I recommend using smoke grenades in an open outdoors space, away from anything that is overly dry and susceptible to catching fire. Use them well away from the general public. Only use coloured smoke bombs so people don’t think it’s smoke from a fire.

Don’t use the smoke bomb if it is too windy. This is probably the single most important tip I can give.

You can see the effect of this in the photos above. The bottom photograph was taken at Druridge Bay, which is a long, desolate beach on the Northumberland Coast. It wasn't very windy that day, but we were right out in the open, and we were on the coast, so there was a light breeze. It was the first time I used a smoke bomb, and I simply set it off and left it to one side of the couple. What I was hoping for was billowing clouds of smoke that hung in the air around the couple. What I got was smoke that spewed straight out of the grenade and then dispersed in the wind. When the wind changed direction, it didn't even hit the couple at all! It was a pretty disappointing first try.

The second time I tried the smoke grenades was at Bamburgh beach. This time I suggested we go into the dunes, away from the wind. This worked much better, as you can see from the middle photographs. The clouds of smoke still dissipated quickly once they drifted above the height of the dunes and the wind caught them. When this happened, I'd run in and move the grenade to a different position.

The third time I used the smoke bombs was in Chopwell Woods, on a dead still day. There was not a hint of wind at all. These are the top photos and turned out to be my favourites, and closest to what I had in my mind when I suggested using them in my shoots. What I loved about this shoot in particular was the way that the smoke hung in the air for minutes after the grenade had spluttered out, and that added a very specific quality to the photographs.

If I was to use them again, it would be under those conditions. I'd also talk the couple through 3 or 4 poses to move through every 15 seconds or so, so that we could get a range of photographs. I'd also have a similar number of shots in my mind to move through as the grenade went off. A combination of those two variables, plus the randomness of the smoke, should give a good variety of images and the best chance of getting a good photograph.

Now that I've used these smoke bombs in my engagement photography, I'd love to use them at a wedding. Any volunteers?