Action in still life photos is always eye-catching. Especially if you’re dealing with food!
Pouring sauces, splashes of coffee and falling sprinkles make photos not only mouth-watering but much more lively and engaging.
Let’s try one trick at a time and look into creative photography with beautiful clouds of flour.
Why Photographing Flour Is Difficult – And How to Fix It!
When I tried to make a dynamic image with flour for the first time, I found out that simply throwing some flour in the air is not a very smart way to take a picture.
First of all, the motion of the flour is basically uncontrollable. Second, it tends to fall in unappealing chunks instead of beautiful clouds.
Scattering the scene with a strainer works better, but it doesn’t have the energy of a miniature explosion and doesn’t look half as exciting.
The solution came in the shape of a DIY device I like to call the ‘cloud gun’.
How to Plan Your Shoot
It’s a good practice to start with a sketch. It will help you find a motivation for flour to be in the frame at the first place.
If you’re shooting hard candy, flour would be extremely out of place. But cookies or muffins would look great. So would baking utensils, without any food.
The baking theme is an obvious and the most versatile choice. But flour also works with any variations of dumplings or manti. And I would love to see your take on flour clouds with a pasta theme!
Make a sketch and decide which props you need and how you going to arrange them. In my case, that’s a simple balancing composition with a rolling pin, a whisk, an egg and a scoop of flour on a tip of my finger.
That means I will need not only the items in my still life but some means of keeping them in this unstable position.
What Props and Equipment Will You Need
The props you will need are:
- a small balloon pump
- paper cone
- some flour
- still life components (e.g. various kitchen utensils)
- means to fix everything steady in the air
I have an egg in my composition. That’s not a fresh egg, that’s an empty shell. I highly recommend using eggshells because it will save you a great deal of trouble.
Shells are lightweight, so they’re easier to glue and hold in place. And if an eggshell falls for some reason, well, it would be just a crack or a bunch of smithereens. But not a wet, sticky disaster.
And you won’t lose a perfectly good breakfast.
As for gear, the required kit is a camera, tripod, any light source suitable for shooting at high speed (in my case it’s two speedlights with strip box and a large diffuser) and remote release (or some help from an assistant).
You can use almost any lens you want, but something along the lines of 105 mm would be the best choice.
That way you can keep your camera farther from the action and safer from any powder that could get between its moving details.
What’s the DIY Cloud Gun and How Does It Work
The device is extremely simple. Take a balloon pump (you can find it at any party supplies store) and a piece of paper. Wrap the paper in a cone and attach it to a balloon pump with some masking tape.
There’s not much to say, just use thick paper and don’t make the cone too wide.
That’s all! Fill paper cone with flour and push — here, there’s your fantastic flour cloud! Try it a couple of times to find the optimal amount of flour for your specific device.
Now let’s try to create not only one cloud but a well-thought artistic still life with it.
How to Keep All Objects in Place
After the ‘cloud gun’ the most essential thing you need is a support system for your still life. I love to control as many aspects of the scene as possible, so I’m going to fix everything steady and remove any visible supports during post-processing.
The cheapest and easiest way I know to keep, say, a rolling pin in the air is a couple of knitting needles, a holder and a glue gun.
Just glue a knitting needle (or a wooden skewer, anything will do) to a rolling pin at one end and fix another end with a holder.
Make sure you keep it at a proper height. I needed enough space to place my hand below the rolling pin later, making it look like I have the entire construction balancing on my fingers.
As holders, I used simple clamps for embroidery and scrapbooking. Cheap, easy to find, and extremely useful.
And one last note. Don’t make my mistake and avoid using string or thread, unless you can fix your objects really, really steady with them.
Don’t just hang your items on a wire, because they will swing and rotate under a flow of flour powder and just be a total headache.
Motion can make post-processing rather difficult. So make sure nothing moves during shooting.
How to Arrange the Composition
Arrange your still life objects leaving some space for a cloud. It’s best to make a test composition as a simple flat lay before you hang everything in the air. Just to make sure your props look good together.
Use the glue gun and thin, but strong supporting elements. These can be easily removed later.
I started with fixing the rolling pin in the air with a glue gun and a couple of supports. There’s plenty of place beneath the rolling pin because I want to make it seem like I’m balancing everything in my hand.
Then I added an empty eggshell and glued a wooden scoop to it. I glued a whisk to another knitting needle and fixed it steady on top of the whole structure.
Make sure everything is steady and still.
What Lighting Setup Do You Need
The lighting is incredibly simple. I used only two speedlights. The key light is in a small stripbox on the right side and lightly behind the scene. It lights the powder making it practically glowing.
The fill light is another speedlight. I set it behind a large diffuser on the left side. It lifts the shadows and adds more volume to the objects of our still life.
If you don’t have a second light source, use a reflector. It may cost you some depth of field (the decreased amount of light is a good incentive to open aperture or raise ISO a bit).
Since we’re working with impulse light, set your shutter speed to the flash sync speed – usually between 1/160 sec and 1/250 sec.
From there, take a test shot to establish what maximum aperture you can get without underexposing an image.
Set your camera on a continuous mode to make several shots in a row, and focus manually on the main object.
Taking the Photo
If you want to have your hand in the scene, as I do, start with that. Everything will be covered with flour after that and shots may become hard to merge.
Touch your construction from the bottom and take a picture. And now we can go to action!
Fill up the paper cone with flour, make a cloud and take a sequence of shots. Try to point the flow of powder slightly from behind and from the bottom so the cloud can touch the objects, but won’t completely cover them and make them invisible and dusty.
You still can make a couple of shots with a cloud in front of objects and use them to conceal the supports in post-processing, just make these shots the last in the series.
At this stage you can add other moving parts as well — falling sugar, flying egg yolk, dripping honey, splashes of milk, whatever you find suitable.
Remember to keep it away from open fire (flour powder is extremely flammable). I can’t imagine you’d have an open fire in this setup, but I must warn you.
Working on Post-Processing
Choose the most beautiful cloud and give the picture a little polish. First of all, merge the main image with the cloud and the shot with your hand.
Place each image on a separate layer and use a Layer Mask to get rid of the parts you don’t want to see.
After that delete all visible supports. That’s very easy to do with the Clone Stamp tool.
Here are a couple of photos made with the same technique.
This trick is very simple but versatile. The best thing is, our DIY “cloud gun” works with any powder you can find, so if you’re not into baking, you can go another way.
Add a creative (and explosive) touch to jewelry photography. Why not shoot flying bracelets and rings in the clouds of multicoloured Holi powder?
Or you can dive into decorative cosmetics and fashion photography with exploding eyeshadow or other makeup powders.
Try this trick and find your own ways to use it. Best of luck with your experiments!