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Lightpainting with smoke and fog


LightPainting with smoke and fog

To make laser or light beams visible in the image, particles in the air on which the light is reflected are essential. In “clean” air, laser beams would hardly be visible. In addition, we use fog or smoke for effects like in the example picture. A light source was placed behind the model, in this case a Fenix FD65 with a blue colour filter. To make the light visible behind the model, I blew some fog into the ruin beforehand. When using smoke and fog, you should always make sure to plan and execute the sequence in the right order. If you want the model to be “clean” and sharp, as in the example picture, you should always light the model in the Light Painting first and only then blow the fog into the scene. Especially in enclosed spaces, it can take some time for the fog to dissipate.

LightPainting with smoke

For the optical effect, it doesn’t matter whether I use smoke or fog in Light Painting. The decision depends on other factors. To create smoke, I use smoke cartridges. These are small and light. So they can be transported easily and comfortably even to remote locations. These smoke cartridges come in different sizes with different burning times and amounts of smoke. For technical smoke cartridges, both are stated and are also in accordance with the facts. 

However, smoke cartridges have one disadvantage: the smoke stinks, and in the long run this is certainly not very good for your health. Smoke cartridges should not be used too much, especially in closed rooms. Furthermore, you cannot switch off the cartridges unless you throw them into water.

I use the following smoke cartridges: Björmax AX-18. The cartridges are also available smaller (AX-9) and larger. I usually use cartridges with white smoke. If necessary, I then illuminate the smoke with coloured light. Alternatively, you can also use coloured smoke. Firework manufacturers often have smoke cartridges on offer. However, these are usually not as precise as the technical cartridges. The burning time sometimes varies a lot within a pack. But they cost a little less. The 5-pack from Nico, for example, currently costs about 9€.

LightPainting with fog

Fog has some advantages over smoke. The fog does not stink and is not as harmful to health as smoke. However, the fog machine does not fit in your pocket. The main problem, however, is that most fog machines run on 240V. So I need a power socket nearby. In some locations this is not a problem. In most lost places, or outdoors, however, it is. Now, you could take a generator or an inverter including a car battery with you, but usually that’s not a good solution, especially because the generator makes noise. Besides, we already carry a lot of luggage with us, and we’re not getting any younger. There are also a few fog machines that run on a rechargeable battery. That would actually be a good alternative, if only these machines weren’t so outrageously expensive and had more power. A simple 240V fog machine with 500W costs less than 40€, the Scotty II with 400W and 12V battery currently costs 715€.


What the Light Painter cannot or does not want to buy, such as the 700€ fog machine, he builds himself. However, in this case there is not that much to build. This solution can be bought almost ready-made. In the picture you can see a powerful e-cigarette. This can be operated without having to inhale the vapour. All you have to do is blow against the side of your head when the fire button is pressed. The yield of fog is almost as big as with the 500W fog machine, if necessary you just take two of these things.

In contrast to the fog machine, the e-cigarette is ready for use immediately and does not need any heating time. The cost is well under 100€. It’s small and light, so you can take it with you on any trip. 

Needed parts

At the moment I use two e-cigarettes in Light Painting. A 200 watt battery carrier with an RDTA with two coils. The second variant is a squonk mod with 90 watts. Both heads are so-called drippers. Only with these is it possible to operate the e-cigarettes without inhaling the vapour. Normally, as the name suggests, you have to drip the liquid from the top of the head. With this method, however, you can only use the part 2 to 3 times for two to three seconds each. After that, new liquid has to be dripped onto the head because the few drops are used up. This can be quite annoying during light painting, especially as half of the liquid is spread over the fingers in the dark. This is only sugar water and therefore not dangerous, but it is not particularly pleasant when you have to continue working with sticky fingers.

The RDTA mentioned above is a dripper with one tank. The wadding reaches into the tank. The capillary action transports the liquid from the tank to the coils. This saves the manual application of the liquid from above directly onto the coils. The tank is filled via a valve at the top between the coils. So you don’t have to disassemble anything. The valve can also be found blind during light painting. The bottle with the liquid fits exactly on the valve. As long as you hold the whole thing straight, nothing goes wrong, and even if it does, the liquid ends up where it has to go anyway, namely on the coils. The whole thing is then operated without a mouthpiece, i.e. with the open coils as shown in the picture. 
When operating with high power, 150 watts or more, and longer operation, it can happen that not enough liquid is delivered to the head. At the latest when flames come out of the head, you should take a break or pour some liquid directly from the bottle onto the head. 

The Squonk Mod has a different mode of operation. Next to the battery is a small bottle made of silicone. By pressing this bottle, the liquid is conveyed upwards through an opening to the coil, in this case a mesh. When the liquid in the head is used up, you simply press the bottle for 3 to 4 seconds and you can continue. To fill the bottle, remove it from the mod. Without pressure, the bottle is tight. So far, the part has not leaked in my pocket. I always transport the mod filled.

I had already tested several other variants before. So far, I like this system best. The only disadvantage is the rather low power of 90 watts. Outdoors or in larger rooms, the amount of fog is often not enough. That’s where the other machine comes into play, or both. So far, I have not been able to find a Squonk Mod with more than 100 watts of power.  However, the market for e-cigarettes is vast. 

To operate the DIY fog machine, you should make sure that you use suitable batteries. You should only put batteries from reputable manufacturers with reliable information about the maximum current into the e-cigarette. 90 watts at a voltage of 3.7 volts corresponds to a current of 24 amps. The Efest 21700 in the squonker can deliver 30 amps. So that fits. At 200 watts for the RDTA mod, the current is 54 amps. This is operated with two 18650 batteries, so each battery must supply 27 amps. The Sony batteries deliver 35 amps, so there is still a reserve. I originally bought these batteries for a 300 watt mod. However, this recently gave up the ghost. At 300 watts, 80 amps flow through the small machine, so you shouldn’t overdo it with the steam.

Besides the mods, heads, batteries and liquid, you should have some spare parts ready. I always have at least one set of spare coils, some tools and new cotton wool in my luggage for longer trips. With most mods and kits, the manufacturer packs tools, seals and new coils in the box. In addition, you should have at least one bottle with liquid to fill the e-cigarettes. 

The assembly of ready-made coils and meshes (perforated plate) is quite simple. If you want to wind the coils yourself, you will need suitable tools and an electric multimeter or ohmmeter to measure the resistance. The mods all have a protective circuit, but you don’t necessarily have to test it for function. The resistance of the coils is already in the range of an electrical short circuit. The mesh in the Squonk Mod has 0.18 Ohm, the two coils in the RDTA 0.20 Ohm.

In any case, the resistance should be halfway in line with the power of the mod. For the Squonk Mod, this would be 0.154 ohms (3.7 volts / 24 amps). For the RDTA, this would be 0.133 ohms. Regardless of this, you can also adjust the power on the device. I usually operate the RDTA “only” with 150 watts instead of the possible 200 watts. 


200 Watt battery carrier for the RDTA – GeekVape Aegis Legen
RDTA – unfortunately the RDTA I use is not available at the moment – Apocalypse RDTA 
As an alternative this RDTA comes into question, but I haven’t tested it – Thunderhead
Squonk Mod – Vandy Vape Pulse X
RDA for the Squonk Mod – Wotofo Profile
Efest 21700 battery for the Squonk Mod – with the included adapter you can also run the mod with 18650 battery
Sony 18650 battery for the 200 watt battery carrier – two batteries are needed for operation.
Charger for the batteries – XSTAR VC4 – the batteries can also be charged directly in the devices via the USB port, but I do not recommend this because the charging characteristics are not very conducive to the life of the batteries. All kinds of batteries can be charged in the VC4, Ni-MH and Li-Ion, even simultaneously.
1 litre of liquid 100%VG – to get the most stable fog you should use pure glycerine.
Wadding – you can also use normal wadding from the drugstore, but because the ends are pressed together, this special wadding is easier to assemble, the stuff has to go through the coils or under the mesh.
Tool set incl. ohmmeter – for the beginning, tweezers, scissors, a small side cutter and small screwdrivers are also sufficient
10 coils 0.17 Ohm – for the Squonk Mod
10 coils 0.33 Ohm – two parallel in the RDTA
10 Mesh 0,18 Ohm – for the Squonk Mod
Alternatively, you can also install coils with larger resistances. 
100ml bottles for the liquid – there are 15 of them here, you can’t buy them online for a reasonable price.


The battery carrier and head are simply screwed together. The two coils are attached to the clamp connections of the RDTA. The screws should be tightened firmly so that the contact resistance is as low as possible. After all, a high current flows. The protruding ends are then cut off with the side cutter. Then pull the wadding through the coils and bounce it into the tank on both sides of the coils. Dabei ist darauf zu achten, dass die Watte möglichst bis zum Boden des Tanks reicht. Ich habe zusätzlich noch Watte unter die Spulen geschoben damit der Liquidfilm nicht so schnell abreißt. Wenn alles fertig ist befüllt man den Tank und steckt die Akkus in den Akkuträger. Danach gibt man zusätzlich etwas Liquid direkt auf die Spulen und schaltet dann das Gerät ein. When you switch it on for the first time, the battery carrier is probably not set to the desired power level by pressing the + button. 

Squonk Mod with mesh:
Here the assembly is a little easier. First, the mesh is brought into a semi-circular shape. A simple bending device is included in the package. Then the mesh is attached to one side, the wadding is placed underneath and then the second side is screwed on. Again, I spread additional batting around the mesh. Then the head is screwed onto the battery carrier, the squonk bottle is filled and inserted and then the battery goes in. 

If you have assembled everything correctly and the batteries are charged, you can now smoke half the forest. For this picture, I used the RDTA mod at 120 watts. After about 15 seconds of operation, the forest looked like the picture.

Always good light and enough fog in the picture

Sven Gerard

Sven Gerard, Jahrgang 1969, geboren und aufgewachsen in Berlin. Er fotografiert seit frühester Jugend mit großer Leidenschaft. Neben dem fotografischen Erkunden zahlreicher beeindruckender verlassener Orte, widmet er sich seit mittlerweile 10 Jahren intensiv dem Lightpainting. Sein umfangreiches Wissen teilt er auf seinem Blog „“, weiteren Publikationen und in seinen Workshops. Darüber hinaus organisiert er Veranstaltungen zum Thema Lightpainting, wie „Light Up Berlin“. Gerard lebt gemeinsam mit seiner Lebensgefährtin in Berlin und hat einen erwachsenen Sohn. Sven Gerard was born in 1969 and grew up in Berlin. He has been a passionate photographer since his early youth. In addition to photographically exploring numerous impressive abandoned places, he has been intensively involved in light painting for 10 years now. He shares his extensive knowledge on his blog ‘’, other publications and in his workshops. He also organises events on the subject of light painting, such as ‘Light Up Berlin’. Gerard lives in Berlin with his partner and has a grown-up son.

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