Flood your scene with smoke using these DIY smoke bombs

Jan 29, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Jan 29, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Fog and smoke can be a wonderfully creative tool for giving your photos and video footage some atmosphere. Both figuratively and literally. While it’s quite easy to do in the studio with a simple fog machine, it gets a little trickier out on location. There’s no place to plug in for power, and battery operated fog machines are expensive and often a little underwhelming outdoors.

That’s when you might have to just make your own. And in this video from the Deadlance Steamvlog, we find out how. It uses some pretty basic materials, just some stump remover and sugar. But the results are rather impressive.

YouTube video

As they say right at the beginning of the video, do not try this at home. Do so at your own risk. It can be quite flammable if you’re not careful, and you’ll almost certainly want to prepare this outdoors on some kind of portable stove. But, with that said, here are the ingredients.

  • Potassium Nitrate (stump remover)
  • Sugar

Yup, that’s it, a pretty short and simple list. You want to mix 3 parts potassium nitrate to 2 parts sugar. You’ll want to make sure they’re mixed very well, then pour your mixture into a pan or skillet (that you plan to never use for cooking food again) on a medium heat. Again, I suggest that if you’re going to try this, do it outdoors. Keep stirring it until the sugar melts and gives the mixture an overall syrupy consistency.

After this, there are a number of things you can do to actually set it into the shape you want. Here, they pour the mixture into tin foil trays. This allows them to create some rather large smoke bombs. I’ve seen a number of people use empty toilet roll tubes as moulds for this, too. I’ve also seen them poured into small cake tins. You could also try silicone moulds, too, which would also probably be easier to remover. Whatever you use, just make sure you’re not putting food anywhere near it ever again.

Then it’s just a case of letting it cool down and harden. This can take up to an hour or more, depending on the size of your smoke bombs. Small ones, obviously, will cool a little faster than larger ones. Once they’re set, just take them out on location.

Do be sure to follow common sense rules wherever you might light them. You don’t want to be starting any forest fires. They’re generally going to be out of the shot, so make sure to put something under them to prevent them from burning the ground. You also don’t want to be in a location where you’re at risk of having concerned neighbours calling the fire department. If that happens, they’re definitely not going to be happy with you.

Other recipes I’ve seen also include baking soda (5 parts PotNit, 4 parts sugar, 1 part baking soda). This stops the mixture from burning quite so intensely but makes it last for longer. A fuse can also help to make them light a little easier as you’re not trying to burn the mixture itself directly.

Just remember to be safe at all times with this. Both the making and the lighting. It can be dangerous. So, you try this entirely at your own risk.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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8 responses to “Flood your scene with smoke using these DIY smoke bombs”

  1. Matthew D Kauffmann Avatar
    Matthew D Kauffmann

    What did you add to get different colors?

  2. Clint Avatar
    Clint

    Use care anywhere smoke detectors…especially in commercial or public facilities. Fog machines and smoke bombs WILL initiate an alarm, and you may be cited or fined. Been there, done that, don’t want to do it again.

  3. Ramon Smith Avatar
    Ramon Smith

    We still have yet to do smoke travel location mission. Stares angrily at* his lol

  4. Chris Avatar
    Chris

    Or you could just use commercial ones that are sold at paintball supply stores that come in various colors

  5. Todd Sipes Avatar
    Todd Sipes

    This fad needs to die.

  6. Wouter Anquer Avatar
    Wouter Anquer

    As a kid we’d buy some lengths of that yellow plastic tubing for electrical wires and stuff 3-4 sparklers in it and light them. Produces an astonishing amount of smoke. Probably shouldn’t breathe it though :)

  7. John LeVan Avatar
    John LeVan

    Super cool that you wrote about my video!

    The smoke bombs we made generated a ton more smoke than commercial smoke bombs, and were also a fraction of the cost.

    We did not get the smoke to do different colors.

  8. John Avatar
    John

    Preparing this mixture on an open flame in the kitchen is irresponsible and dangerous. This stuff is no joke, it will burn your face and your home.