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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53 Comments

Previous comments
Bill Larkin's picture

I think people are a little out of hand with the warnings on stuff, it'd be VERY difficult and quite unlikely for a problem to arise doing photos like this.

Don Risi's picture

I guess you guys didn't read Koen De Clerck's comment above . . . 100grams -- a tiny amount -- sent 3 people to the hospital with 3rd degree burns.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

It is very unlikely to make this happen during a photo shoot, just no flames! And to be safe use speed lights or another lighting where the bulb is covered. And for precaution don't throw any right at the light

Don Risi's picture

You can continue to come up with excuse after excuse, reason after reason, for continuing to put yourself and your clients/subjects at risk. That means you just don't care about other people's safety, much less your own. Someday, this will bite you.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

I do care about everyone's safety. There are zero stories of this happening during PHOTOSHOOTS, therefore with the right precautions, I know nothing will happen during one of mine. There are always risks to any photo shoot, to get a shot is sometimes risky, I could get hit by a car, I could fall off a cliff..

Don Risi's picture

Sorry, don't buy it. You can't be sure that your subject, who is immersed in the powder, isn't inhaling it, and symptoms of chemical pneumonia may not show up for some time, possibly months. By then, you and they are so far removed from each other that you may not know what happened to them, and since you didn't warn them of the dangers, they might not think you're to blame.

That may be the reason there are no stories about anything happening on photoshoot -- the victim is not putting two and two together.

That no one has been blown to bits in an explosion is just dumb blind luck.

Yeah, this is a well known hazard. The powder or dust basically becomes the means of a small chain reaction as each tiny grain is highly flammable especially with flour. "Flour and many other carbohydrates become explosive when they are hanging in the air as dust. It only takes 1 or 2 grams of dust per cubic foot of air (50 or so grams per cubic meter) for the mixture to be ignitable. Flour grains are so tiny that they burn instantly. When one grain burns, it lights other grains near it, and the flame front can flash through a dust cloud with explosive force. Just about any carbohydrate dust, including sugar, pudding mix, fine sawdust, etc., will explode once ignited."

Gabrielle Colton's picture

I've yet to find any reports of injury during photoshoots though. Only in factories and places like that

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Very cool! The shots turned out awesome.

Going to have to try this out soon, thanks!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Can't wait to see your results ;)

Don Risi's picture

Koen De Clerck and David Drugg's comments about this kind of material being extremely explosive is right on and very important -- it's the reason smoking or anything that could produce a spark is prohibited from areas in and around grain silos -- there is always lots and lots of dust in the air around those things, and they can -- and have -- exploded, destroying huge concrete silos.

But he mentions something else that I think is much, much more important -- preventing anyone from inhaling the dust, which, with all the dust floating around in the air, is virtually impossible. The reason I think this is so much more important is because when particulate matter (i.e., dust or powder) is inhaled into the lungs, it can easily cause something called Chemical Pneumonia. From WebMD:

“In chemical pneumonia, inflammation of lung tissue is from poisons or toxins. Many substances can cause chemical pneumonia, including liquids, gases, and small particles, such as dust or fumes, also called particulate matter. Some chemicals only harm the lungs; however, some toxic materials affect other organs in addition to the lungs and can result in serious organ damage or death.”

You can read more about it here: http://www.webmd.com/lung/chemical-pneumonia

Frankly, I would never offer a client a powder shoot for this reason. I don't want chemical pneumonia, and I don't want my clients to get it. Be aware, the signs may not show up for quite some time after exposure. But it can cause huge problems. It's the reason construction companies require their employees wear masks or respirators around heavy dust.

By the way, another consideration in all of this is the liability -- if something goes wrong and there is a fire or a client or employee is hurt, or if someone does come down with chemical pneumonia, as the photographer, you could be sued and sued and sued some more.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

You are right, that's why it is important we have insurance, an injury could happen anytime, whether the flour is present or just standing outside under some trees. Life

Dennis Qualls's picture

Seems like an informative article has been picked apart needlessly. Imagine a story piece about color dust photos on train tracks with selective coloring 🤣😂🤣😂
OMG that’d be funny to witness.

I’m working my way thru a self-portrait project and will definitely give this a try. Thanks for the inspiration!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Haha I know right, I was just thinking how flammable hairspray is.. and chances are when photographing a woman, and even men 90% of the time they've got hairspray in their hair.

Share your results with me when you try it!! I actually tried throwing my powders at my own face for the article but couldn't get nearly what these photographers were getting so I shared some fellow artists work that I found on Instagram.

Dennis Qualls's picture

I’ll have to remember to share it with you. 353 days to go, I’m sure to get around to it once or twice. :)

Jeff Colburn's picture

Great article. Thanks.

Have Fun,
Jeff

Ian Knaggs's picture

A semi-outdoor space is ideal as the movement of air keeps the concentration of powder down.
I’ve used holi powder to Colour the flour then boost the colou in post if necessary.
Here’s a BTS from my first powder shoot:
https://youtu.be/VY7qgwNpO3s

Gabrielle Colton's picture

This is great, thank you so much for sharing and for the tip!!

Did it stain clothes? Anybody try paint powder?