Daylight Through Smoke Or Dust – Photography Experiments

Yesterday’s topic was Shoot Some Shadows.

This is the last part of the light and dark, super contrasty experiment mini-series (not its real name). The other parts were Shooting Some Shadows and Shooting Some Silhouettes.

Today we want to add some pizzazz to sunlight photos. Specifically, when sunlight is coming through an opening, be it a window, another window or maybe a door with a window. Or clouds! The key here is you need stuff for the light to bounce off of so we can see it, otherwise it just passes through the air and we can’t capture it.

This experiment is going to be easy, but you might get dirty in some way.





Here’s the experiment you can run:

1) Set your camera on Manual mode, ISO 800. Pick a lens of your suiting. Aperture to f/4.5.

2) You’ll need contrast for this to work. Pick a room or space that is mostly dark. If you have a natural light source, such as light through a window, that will work. Otherwise, grab a flashlight and a book of matches. In this case, I used my iPhone with a flashlight app.

3) Meter off the area where the light falls, not where it’s coming from. If this area is very white or black, you’ll need to use the techniques from Making White Tones, White and Making Black Tones, Black.

Here’s what happens when you meter off where the light is coming from:

ISO 800, 22mm, f/4.5, 1/1250

Not good.

But when metered for the area where the light is hitting, I get ISO 800, 22mm, f/4.5, 1/15.

4) Metering is set? Good. Now light a match or two and blow it out in that space where the light falls. Using a tripod might be a good idea.

5) Take your shot!


Were you able to capture the smoke in the light? Something like this?

This is the basic concept to taking the picture in the examples.

In the case of these image, I metered off the floor and then threw some dirt into the air. Same thing as with the match (blowing it out caused smoke/particulate/dust to come about).

Any time you have a dark area with a strong beam of light coming in, use this technique.

  • Meter off the lit area, compensating depending on its inherent light absorption (black or whiteness).
  • Get some particulate into the light beam. Smoke, dust, dirt, etc…
  • Snap away!

It really is just that easy to make dramatic images. On a larger scale, you can do this with the sun.

Things To Consider

  • Be careful when playing with fire.
  • Be careful when playing with dirt as it can mess up your pictures if it is on your lens or sensor.
  • Be careful crossing the street.
  • Be careful when signing up for online dating.
  • Just be careful. Okay?

Next we’ll tackle Changing Focus Changes Exposure.

Questions?  Pop ’em like Pez in the comments section below or email me at

Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure, and its companion 40 Photography Experiments, are series written by professional photographer Peter West Carey. The series are designed to unravel the mysteries of photography, helping you can take better pictures. Subscribe here to receive all the updates and bonus material. Your comments are always welcome.

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