Photographing the elusive movements of smoke poses a serious challenge; smoke is easily disturbed, moving quickly in undulating patterns and shapes that are far beyond a photographer’s control. Among the plethora of online tips and tutorials geared towards helping photogs make that perfect shot, there are stories of dedicated photographers who commit hundreds of hours to mastering the art of smoke photography. And why wouldn’t they? Smoke is dramatic, it’s artistic, it’s easily manipulated in post-processing and, perhaps above all, its variety is endless.

We wanted to showcase some unbelievable photographs utilizing the element of smoke and break down how their photographers managed to pulled it off. Check out these eight photos that impressed us the most:

  1. Thomas Herbich spent three months capturing pictures of smoke with camera flash speeds of 1/10000 to attain the specific shapes he was looking for. This shot is just one of twenty photographs chosen out of 100,000 that Herbich revealed to the world.

    credit: Thomas Herbich

    credit: Thomas Herbich

  2. Stefano Bonazzi is hailed for his smoke photography, which combines digital photos, charcoal drawings and post-processing together into dream-like, ethereal shots.

    credit: Stefano Bonazzi

    credit: Stefano Bonazzi

  3. Montreal-based photographer Stoffel de Roover specializes in smoke photography and used a combination of soap bubbles and smoke to create this fantastic image.

    credit: Stoffel de Roover

    credit: Stoffel de Roover

  4. M. Alberich Mathews shot this stunning underwater photo right after sunset to utilize the blue light from the sky. He later composited his smoke photography and underwater shots together in post-processing.

    credit: M. Alberich Mathews

    credit: M. Alberich Mathews

  5. Irene Müller took advantage of an explosion caused by electricity to generate the smoke needed for this shot.

    credit: Irene Müller

    credit: Irene Müller

  6. In 1985, Steve Raymer took this photo of a woman smoking opium in her small village in Thailand while on assignment for National Geographic.

    credit: Steve Raymer/National Geographic

    credit: Steve Raymer/National Geographic

  7. Chris Schween’s self-portrait had him jumping over tables with a mouthful of smoke to get into the best light for this dramatic photograph.
  8. credit: Chris Schween

    credit: Chris Schween

    8. Nick Sprankle won Gizmodo’s Shooting Challenge back in 2010 with this impressive photo. Sprankle said he used duct tape to hold a Bulleit bourbon bottle at an angle pointing towards an upside-down shot glass he had hanging on a string. The “liquid” in this photo is actually an incense stick, which was lined up behind the shot glass and edited in post.

    credit: Nick Sprankle

    credit: Nick Sprankle

Want to do some smoke photography of your own? This is a great tutorial to start things off.