Using a fog machine

Do you use a fog machine?

Please click on the small images to enlarge them

Stepback shot

Stepback shot

Fog machines are a bit like fisheye lenses, sometimes they’re invaluable, but like aftershave they should be used sparingly…

Ours is a tiny one, as you can see in the setup photo, leaning on a lighting stand to angle it upwards. I can’t imagine any shot where we would need anything bigger or more expensive than the £34.99 that we paid for it. If you’re thinking of getting one, make sure that you get one that uses water-based fluid, you really don’t want the oil-based type for photography!

Anyway, I thought I’d use it to take a shot of the Atom 360. My mind is working along the lines of “Move out of the fog into the light” – or something like that – I haven’t really put any real thought into the tagline yet, as you must have noticed. All suggestions appreciated.

As you can see from the setup shot, I used a flash directly overhead, supported on our heavy duty boom arm. This flash provides the general lighting, it’s at a pretty low power level.

The effect lighting comes from two other flashes, both set behind the subject and angled towards it. One is fitted with a beauty dish and one with a parabolic reflector, both are fitted with a honeycomb (to prevent lens flare) and each has a lighting gel fitted to it, to light different parts of the subject, plus of course the fog.  You can get special clips to attach gels to lights but you don’t need them, masking tape is the best solution, it comes off cleanly and allows the gels to lie flat – and there’s no need to cut the gels when using masking tape.

You can see that the gels are looking a bit the worse for wear, that’s because I’ve been using them for 20 years or so, Apologies to Lee Filters, but it makes no difference if they get a bit creased and battered.

What I did was to take 3 separate shots, and then blend them together in Photoshop. Why?
Well, fog machines do make rather a lot of fog, even when they’ve only been on for a second or two, and that fog can get in the wrong places.

No fog

No fog

So, I started off by taking a shot with no fog, this produces the sharp, clean image needed to replace parts that I don’t want to be obscured by fog. You can see that the Atom 360 isn’t looking pristine, it’s the one that I’ve been using for months, it’s been covered in mud a few times and although it scrubs up well, the shot does need a bit of retouching – and I really ought to take off that plastic protector at the front too…


Fog behind subject

And then I took the shot on the left, shot with the fog behind the subject. When it’s behind it doesn’t obscure any of the subject, the problem is that it doesn’t look genuine either, it looks like nothing more than a digital background.

And then, when the fog had cleared (groan…) I took another shot (below) with the fog in front of the subject.atom_foginfront_blog With the fog further forward, it has picked up the colour from the gelled lights  differently but is making it hard to see the subject fully.

And so I blended those images together to produce this result (or at least I got someone else to do that bit, comping images really doesn’t float any boats with me).

Actually it isn’t quite finished, that quality control sticker can come off, and we don’t want the top of the lighting stand in the shot either, but you get the idea.

Finished shot

Finished shot