Inspired by a number of my on-line students at Betterphoto.com, I started experimenting with photographing smoke.
I bought some incense and used a single, off-camera flash placed about 90 degrees to the lens axis to shoot the smoke coming from the incense. I hung a piece of black velvet on the wall as a backdrop, and using the LCD monitor on the back of the camera as a gauge, I adjusted the exposure accordingly by tweaking the flash output (using the exposure compensation feature on the flash).
I got a number of wonderful abstracts, but then I wanted to add other elements to make the images a lot more interesting.
First, I added color to the smoke by making a duplicate layer in Photoshop (Commmand/Ctrl J) and then I applied the gradient tool. When the gradient tool is selected, in the tool bar you can select various multi-colored patterns that become the gradient. After the color was placed on the duplicate layer, I used the 'overlay' blend mode (found in the submenu within the layers palette) to merge the color with the smoke. Second, I used Photoshop's powerful ability to combine images, and one composite is seen below.
I photographed the costumed model during my Carnival in Venice workshop last February. It was an arranged setup and my entire group photographed her in front of a gilded mirror in an elegant, medieval-adorned suite. I separated her from the background using the pen tool, so the edges were absolutely precise.
Jim Zuckerman is a top stock shooter who teaches many terrific online Photoshop courses at BetterPhoto.com, including Creative Techniques in Photoshop , Advanced Creative Techniques in Photoshop and his new Photoshop: Thinking Outside the Box.