Creating a Portable And Electric Free Fog Machine

Creating a Portable And Electric Free Fog Machine

The use of smoke machines in photo shoots can be amazing. With the flip of a switch, you can provide a moody environment to your backgrounds. However, many times, when shooting on location, power just simply isnt accessible. So how do you get the same benefits from a smoke machine, without having any electricity at all?

Simple; use baby powder. Thats right, baby powder can be a great makeshift smoke machine in a pinch. By simply spraying the powder at a strong force, you're able to create “smoke” in the air to help create ambience within your photoshoots.


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A good smoke machine will cost your well over $100, need power to run, and will typically stink up a place. Aside from that, the smoke created from many smoke machines can get into fabrics and leave an odor that is typically unpleasant.  Baby powder, however, smells fresh, and cleans up with the use of a broom or vacuum. And bottles of baby powder can be bought for just a few dollars, don't take up much space, and can be thrown into a bag with ease.


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Here is an example of the technique. Please excuse the lack of quality from the image itself, its just meant to show you what a couple puffs of baby powder can do to a scene. Special thanks to my friend Frankie, for letting me set up an extremely impromptu photoshoot, and her neighbor for letting us use the little baby powder she had left in her home.


It is worth noting that I suggest you purchase a baby powder without Talc in it, as some studies have found that Talc can lead to ovary and lung cancer (Yet, we put this on babies?). Many brands offer a corn starch option, which has a better consistency for creating smoke, and is nontoxic.

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Cool trick, a lot of potential, might actually give it a shot. Thanks.

Michael Comeau's picture

Seems like a questionable idea for many applications. Baby powder is impractical in a situation where you want smoke directly on the subject, unless you specifically want to see baby powder on something.

If the baby powder gets on what you're shooting, that means cleanup mid-shoot. The benefit of actual smoke is that it blows away.

And frankly, I find it very odd that there aren't more image samples, which calls into question the author's experience with this technique in real-world situations.

Zach Sutton's picture

I'm not suggesting that it's a distinct replacement to the fog machine. Fog machines provide no effort, and do the job better than anything else. That is why its the industry standard. I'm simply saying if you're in a location without access to a fog machine or power, this provides a great makeshift replacement without taking up much space in your camera bag.

As for my real life experiences with it, I've used it on and off for the past year, but mostly for moody wedding portraits; and I don't post my wedding portraits publicly, as I am trying to shoot less weddings, and more commercial work.

If you're looking for more examples, check out Brett Florens. He's a wedding and fashion photographer who has also used this technique in the past and got some great results.

Benjamin von Wong makes great use of powder instead of smoke for dancers photoshoot. so does MANY other photographers.

I think you see a problem where there isn't one (or at least not a big one)

Fetching image ...

I have also seen a dancer slip on that stuff during a photoshoot. That was on a somewhat textured concrete floor too. It was a scary moment and enough to make me stay clear of any powders - at least with respect to dancing or athletes in motion.

Michael Comeau's picture

Note that I said "Seems like a questionable idea for many applications" and laid out very specific circumstances where it would seem to be a problem. I didn't make a blanket statement. I'm sure it works well in some situations.

There is a far better solution than any of the above and far far more portable but I have not found any of it in the US. I have only found it available for purchase in Germany and it's a movie prop, yes it requires to be lit but it's a slow burn.

I bought a fog machine for $30. No clean up.

You are so old school Nick. :)

Yeah, unless you have a massive studio, or are trying to fill a large outdoor area, the small $30 machines are perfectly adequate.

Battery powered or mains ?

Electric. I use my Paul C Buff generator to power it on location though.

Question about that Nick. I'm looking at ways to use a corded smoke machine in an outdoor setting. I have two PCB Vagabond Mini's. Is that what you were using? 12v fog machine, correct? How do the vagabonds hold up??

James F. Reilly's picture

What about dry ice and a bucket of water? Works a treat, and you just dump it out when your done.

Combine those - smoke machine + dry ice! J.P.Morgan did a tutorial about it.

I was about to suggest that. Had tons of fun messing with dry ice in the lab. The smoke you get is also quite thick.

Spy Black's picture

You'd probably need a fan for that. Granted, you can use a battery operated one.

studio 6420's picture

Just be aware that many fine dusts - baby powder, flour - are highly explosive in the right concentrations in the air.

Antonio Carrasco's picture

OR you could buy canned smoke spray

I bought some of this, complete waste of money.
Youd get more fog from spraying hair spray/deodrant!

And it made all surfaces/floors slippy and grimey :(

Marius Viken's picture

Without having this method tested, I imagine that there will be a lot of cleanup compared to investing in a fog machine? I can see the benefits in using this stuff in a music video though, where the drummer is hitting his cymbals. But again. Haven't tried it so it's all just hypothetical from me.

The reason we put this on babies (talc or starch) or gymnasts' hands is to provide a dry lubricant and to absorb moisture. Then there is the risk of this getting into my lens and camera or all over whatever grip bag it goes in...

I see the benefits of doing this for a single shot, outdoors, on location (like for a wedding, as was mentioned), but I have to join the ranks and say this is only a method of last resort for me.

I also have to mention that for every good shot done like this, I have seen lots where it looks exactly like what it is; someone throwing powder into the air. Even in Von Wong's shots, it seldom looks like smoke or haze.

Adam T's picture

canned smoke, dry ice, heated baby oil in water, blender 3d or heated propylene glycol and triethylene glycol. there are plenty of diy and other ways to make fog with much less clean up.

Wouldn't regular flour work?

You could experiment, but I don't think so. Flour particles stick together. You need something with small grains that don't stick. Cornstarch might work on its own though.

When I tried this a few years back, humidity was also a real problem. To get a proper effect, you can't have any clumping.

Colin Freeman's picture

I just light the whole set on fire. The smoke is realistic and there's nothing left to clean up afterwards.

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