Make Your Own Colorful Powder for Photoshoots

Photo by Nik Thavisone

If you've ever wondered where photographers are getting this gorgeous colored powder for portraits, stock imagery, and dance photos, it turns out it's very easy and affordable to make at home. This powder can be used in endlessly creative ways to add an eye-catching unique and fine art element to your studio or outdoor photography. Clients and followers love seeing these fun images, and it's an absolute blast to photograph.

What You'll Need

You can actually find everything you need to create these powders in your grocery stores baking aisle:

  • Cornstarch or flour  
  • Food coloring
  • Mixing trays or bowls
  • Gloves
  • Water

I purchased both cornstarch and flour to test the consistencies; I ended up liking the cornstarch better because it was more powdery rather than the smoky look the flour mixture created. You can mix both or use one or the other, but I would start with just one to find out what you prefer. 

Supplies for making your own colored powder for photoshoots.

The Simple Process

The cool thing about this project is the process is pretty flexible; you can change the consistency and the vibrancy of the colors based on how much of each ingredient you mix with the others. 

  1. Set up a workspace; you can lay down plastic or work outside or in your garage like I did. Just make sure you're not around anything you don't want food coloring on!
  2. Start with either cornstarch or flour in your mixing container. I would start with about a cup and work your way up by adding more if you're wanting a larger quantity of color powder. 
  3. Start adding drops of food coloring. I started with 5-10. 
  4. With gloves on, start rolling the flour or cornstarch between your fingers to break up the now clumped mixture. You will start to see the color changing as you work with the powder. 
  5. Keep adding food coloring until you have the desired color intensity. Less coloring will leave you with pastel colors and more will create a very vivid color.  
  6. Let the mixture dry; it only took about 30 minutes for mine. If you add water to yours, you will definitely need to allow a few hours for drying before photographing it. 

Optional: You can add water to end up with a larger quantity of color powder. When you add water, it makes it tougher to mix and you have to let it dry for a few hours or even overnight, so I ended up using only food coloring and cornstarch for mine. 

My results.

Photo by Rivata Dutta, Los Angeles.

A Few Tips for Using the Colors

  • Make sure to have an assistant on set; it is not easy to get the shots you want while dispersing the powder yourself or having the model do it.
  • You can simply have your helper throw the powders where you want to see them in the shot, or you can get creative in how they're thrown by using things like empty condiment bottles, party poppers, fans, plastic bags, etc. 
  • Make sure you're shooting with a fast continuous shutter speed and a decent amount of light so you can catch the powder as it flies in the air. 
  • Try your hardest not to get it in your subject's eyes; it is non-toxic but will make their eyes red, and it hurts. 
  • Be sure to protect your gear from the powder.

Behind the scenes photo by Steve Cook

Behind-the-scenes photo from Steve Cook.

Photo by Steve Cook, Las Vegas

Photo by Steve Cook, Las Vegas.

Photo by Nik Thavisone

Photo by Nik Thavisone.

Photo by Ashraf Hussain

Photo by Ashraf Hussain.

If you try it out, be sure to share your images in the comments! And keep a vacuum nearby for when the shoot is over. 

Images used with permission. Lead image by Nik Thavisone. Article images by Rivata DuttaSteve Cook, and Ashraf Hussain.

Warning: There is a flammability hazard with airborne flour and corn starch. Exercise extreme caution and take preventative measures if you use them during a shoot.

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52 Comments

Please be aware that this material is EXTREMELY combustible when airborne. It is the same scenario that causes grain elevators to explode catastrophically when contained grain dust is exposed to an ignition source -- even a spark.
If you use this material, you'll need to be sure there is NOTHING on the set that will ignite it. Frankly, it shouldn't be used (or inhaled), but if it must be used, it should be done only outdoors and with control so the model or others on set don't inhale the material.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Cornstarch is used for baking.... In the oven.... how is it combustible??? can you link me to something!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

wow really interesting, thanks for sharing, I feel like it would take a lot to make this happen accidentally during a photo shoot, but still good to know to be safe!!

gabe s's picture

This was done over a candle. If you have enough of this stuff flying through the air and a customer lights a cigarette, or clicks a lighter, or a pilot light goes on, it could cause extreme harm to people.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Absolutely, we added a warning to not do this around any sort of flame. Thanks so much for the input.

Alex Cooke's picture

Thanks for the info! We added a disclaimer.

Simon Patterson's picture

The results look striking. How long did the cleanup take? I remember having a flour bomb night at a youth group I attended once. I think the church hall we used still has flour-infused wall crevices, decades later!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

After I made mine the cleanup was only about 5 min because I made small quantities, but using a broom is the best way to go because if you get it wet it just smears color all over your floor lol

Simon Patterson's picture

You've done well to make small quantities go such a long way, to make the clean up so easy. Flour bomb fights used bags of the stuff when I was a teenager, hence the big (and not fully successful) cleanup job required back then...

Jorge Puente's picture

Long time lurker and just registered co comment on this. Last year I had a chance o work with this powder for a commercial shoot and after some testing I can say

1- Get the fastest flash duration you can... in my case, profoto pro 10 and set them at the same power level so you get stable freeze throughout the image.

2- Once you start shooting things get messy QUICK, so plan accordingly.

3- You need more powder than you think at first

4- As with everything with color, do cool ones and if you mix, think complementary

5- Forget shooting bursts and concentrate on getting the right moment

6- Plastic covers are your friends ( dust obstructing pack or head fans )

7- The powder we used was brought by a special FX crew, so don't know if was the same as here but washed perfectly leaving no stains or marks

Have fun!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

WOW Great shot!!!! Thanks so much for leaving this comment, very helpful indeed and you should comment more often!!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Have you ever photographed the powder by itself on a black background?

Jorge Puente's picture

Nope, all we did was white :)

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Let me know if you try it!!

Aneesh Kothari's picture

Wow. Gorgeous shots! All I can think about is the mess :-)

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Wasn't too bad when I used it, as long as you keep it dry and use mostly a broom it gets up pretty quickly!

Koen De Clerck's picture

This post is VERY DANGEROUS and should be taken down immediately. Flour is extremely combustible and should never be used for these kind of photos!!! If a flashtube would break during the shoot this will definitely lead to extreme injuries to both the model as the photographer. There are already several cases where people were seriously injured and even killed.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Hey Koen, thanks for your concern but small amounts of flour and or cornstarch are not a risk. Please read this: https://www.wired.com/2008/03/the-explosive-t/

Koen De Clerck's picture

Hi Gabrielle, I am a engineer working in the bulk, grain, flour and pharmaceutical industry for over 30 years. I have personally witnessed the result many dust explosions over the years and can assure you that the amount of material present does not prevent a dust explosion. I have seen a lab blow up with a dust explosion that started with 100 grams of material. It resulted in 3rd degree burns for 3 victims present in the lab. Not the amount of material but the ratio between the amount of dust and the air results in a combustible mix. Problem with dust explosions is that they propagate extremely. This is because the first explosion generates a shockwave that results in the settled dust on the floor to get airborne and thus making an new combustible mixture with the air which ignites a second, third, fourth,… time. Sometimes a dust explosion keeps on going for minutes after the initial spark. Of course the less material present the lower the explosion power generated will be, but a kilogram of material can easily burn down a complete studio and everyone in it. I am not going to comment any further and think I have done everything to warn you. The responsible thing to do would be to take down this post.

Dan Marchant's picture

+1 to the above. Flour is nasty stuff, as the residents of London circa 1666 can attest.

The article (with disclaimer) is basically equivalent to putting a disclaimer on a "go shoot on the railway tracks" post

Gabrielle Colton's picture

There haven't been any accounts of injuries during photoshoots that I found. It's not enough to make an explosion happen.

gabe s's picture

Also, raw flour can contain bacteria that can make people sick. Aside from the extreme danger of setting your whole set on fire with it, you could get a client sick if they were to eat it.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Yes absolutely, no eating the flour lol! Bacteria is on everything now days though :/

Fred van Leeuwen's picture

Never knew it was flammable! Used this so often during college. Some of us even had a cigarette in and around the studio while assisting the other students with their flour bomb projects. Never had any idea we stood a chance of becoming a human fireball.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

It's only combustible in large amounts, I had to do some research on this. Unless your lighting it with a blowtorch etc it's not going to be dangerous during a photoshoot

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