How to Photograph Coloured Powder Explosions

An explosion of colour powder can make an interesting image in its own right or it can inject some impact into a portrait. But how do you capture it? We have the lowdown. 

Making the colour for the photoshoot

The simplest way to get hold of the coloured powder you need is to order some Holi powder from Amazon. This has a very intense colour so once you have it, mix it with some cheap flour to make it go further.

Alternatively, mix food colouring with some flour or cornflour and let it dry. The easiest way to mix it is with your hands while wearing rubber gloves. If necessary, add a little water to make the mixing process easier, but try not to use much as it will take longer to dry.

Once it’s dry, break up any lumps with a pestle and mortar to create a fine powder. It’s a good idea to pass the powder through a sieve to make sure it’s consistent. 

boy celebrating holi with coloured powder explosions

Powder proof your photo location 

Holi powder should be used outdoors and that’s a sensible precaution if you’re using flour as it can create a real mess! Even then, it’s a good idea to put down some plastic sheeting (painter’s dust sheets work well) so you can clean up the site quickly and easily after the shoot.

Bright colours generally stand out best against a black background, or when you shoot at night and use flash to illuminate the powder. However, there’s lots of scope to experiment and play. Plain white flour can produce dramatic results.

Protect your camera from powdered colour explosions

You don’t want that fine dust getting on or in your camera. If you have waterproof housing, use it, but otherwise, put your bag inside a clear plastic bag with an elastic band holding the opening around the end of the lens.

If you want to use a tripod, put the quick release plate on the camera before you put it in the bag. You should be able to snap it onto the tripod head through the bag. 

If possible, use a long lens so you can shoot well away from the dust. 

portrait of young attractive girl using coloured powder

Best camera settings for shooting powdered colour explosions

Set your camera to continuous shooting and use a fast shutter speed to freeze the movement. Alternatively, use flash to freeze the powder in the air. Or even better, use High-Speed Sync (HSS) flash to allow you to combine a fast shutter speed with flash as this gives you greater control over the brightness of the background.

When you’re positioning the lights, remember that you need to illuminate the cloud of powder as well as any other subject in the frame. 

A second pair of hands is very useful, allowing you to control the camera while your assistant throws the coloured powder. If you can’t enlist someone to help, try using a remote release, preferably wireless, to enable you to trip the shutter while throwing the powder.

If you’re shooting a portrait, take care to avoid your subject’s eye with the powder. As a rule, try to throw it behind or to the side of them to avoid obscuring them from the camera. But as we said earlier, don’t be afraid to experiment!

gothic girl with black powder colour explosion effect

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  • 7 Aug 2018

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