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How to Create Magical Still Life Photos With DIY Flour Clouds

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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 mouth-watering. The images become much more lively and engaging.

Let’s try one trick at a time and look into creative photography with beautiful clouds of flour.

A magical still life shot using kitchen utensils and flour clouds [Note: ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something, we make a little bit of money. Need more info? See how it all works here.]

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 almost 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 it the ‘cloud gun’.

Diptych showing how to set up a magical still life shot using kitchen utensils and flour clouds
The difference between the DIY ‘cloud gun’ and a strainer. The latter can produce a beautiful flow of powder on a small scale, but it doesn’t look very dynamic

Plan Your Shoot by Using a Sketch

It’s a good practice to start with a sketch. It will help you find a motivation for flour to be in the frame in the first place.

If you’re shooting hard candy, flour would be out of place. But cookies or muffins would look great. Or baking utensils, without any food.

The baking theme is an obvious and the most versatile choice. But flour also works with many variations. 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 are 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 the tip of my finger.

That means I will need the items in my still life. And I also need some means of keeping them in this unstable position.

Diptych showing the initial sketch and finished still life shot using kitchen utensils and flour clouds
Drawing a sketch first is essential!

Gather The Props and Equipment

The props you will need are:

  1. A small balloon pump;
  2. Paper cone;
  3. Some flour;
  4. Still life components (e.g. various kitchen utensils);
  5. Means to fix everything steady in the air, e.g. a glue-gun.
a flatlay of materials used for creative still life photos
The list of props is short and simple

I have an egg in my composition. That’s not a fresh egg, that’s an empty shell. I 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 only a crack or a bunch of smithereens. But not a wet, sticky disaster.

And you won’t lose a perfectly good breakfast.

two empty eggshells on dark background
Quick tip: work with empty eggshells instead of eggs. It will save you a lot of time.

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. You also need a 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 Is the DIY Cloud Gun and How Does It Work

The device is very 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, use thick paper and don’t make the cone too wide.

That’s all! Fill the 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.

Two variations of balloon pumps used to create a still life of flour clouds - creative still life photos
Two variations of balloon pumps I used to produce flour clouds. Both are equally good

Keep All Objects in Place With Glue and Knitting Needles

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 a rolling pin in the air is a couple of knitting needles, a holder and a glue gun.

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. I made 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 very 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 hang your items only on a wire, because they will swing and rotate under a flow of flour powder and be a total headache.

Motion can make post-processing rather difficult. So make sure nothing moves during shooting.

Setup for shooting a still life of flying kitchen utensils and flour clouds - creative still life photos
I tried using wire in the past, but it was such a headache, I’ll never do that again!

Arrange the Composition to Make it Steady and Still

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. So you can make sure your props look good together.

Use the glue gun and thin, but strong supporting elements. These can be easily removed later.

Setup for shooting a still life of a hand balancing kitchen utensils and flour clouds
Making a test composition without glueing or hanging anything. Just to see how it looks like.

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.

Setup for shooting a still life of a hand balancing kitchen utensils and flour clouds - creative still life photos
Gradually build a balanced construction

Use Two Light Sources for Lighting the Scene

The lighting is very simple. I used only two speedlights. The key light is in a small strip box on the right side and lightly behind the scene. It lights the powder making it 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).

Setup for shooting a still life of a hand balancing kitchen utensils and flour clouds - creative still life photos
Speedlights set on high power create a too long impulse to freeze the motion, producing a blurry image like this one

Since we’re working with impulse light, set your shutter speed to the flash sync speed. This is often 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. Set the manual focus on the main object.

Setup for shooting a still life of a hand balancing kitchen utensils and flour clouds - creative still life photos
Here you can see not only the lights but all the supports that are holding the construction in the air

Take the Photo Step-by-Step

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!

A still life of a hand balancing kitchen utensils
First shot. Still waiting for action

Fill up the paper cone with flour, make a cloud and take a sequence of shots. Try to point the flow of powder a bit from behind and from the bottom.

This way, the cloud can touch the objects, but won’t cover them and make them invisible and dusty.

You can still make a couple of shots with a cloud in front of objects and use them to conceal the supports in post-processing. But make these shots the last in the series.

Setup of shooting a still life using flying kitchen utensils and flour clouds - creative still life photos
Producing a powder cloud and simultaneously using a remote shutter release

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.

Triptych showing the stages of shooting a creative still life photo using flying kitchen utensils and flour clouds
Flour clouds in progress

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.

Photogrid showing the stages of shooting a creative still life using flying kitchen utensils and flour clouds
Shooting a similar image

Edit Your Magical Photo in 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.

Screen shot of post processing a still life using flying kitchen utensils and flour clouds - creative still life photo
Use Layer Masks to merge several shots together
Photogrid showing the stages of shooting a still life using flying kitchen utensils and flour clouds - creative still life photo
The stages if post-processing: combining two shots together and deleting the supports

Then you can adjust colors and contrast. That’s all, your creative action still life is ready!

Amazing still life shot using flying kitchen utensils and flour clouds - creative still life photography
Final image

Here are a couple of photos made with the same technique.
A cool still life shot using flying kitchen utensils and flour clouds - creative still life photographyA still life shot using flying kitchen utensils and flour clouds - creative still life photographyA magical still life shot using kitchen utensils and flour clouds - creative still life photos

Conclusion

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 jewellery photography with clouds of multicoloured powder!
A magical still life shot using jewellery and colored flour clouds 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!

For more incredible still life photography tricks, don’t miss out on our Creative Photography Cookbook

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