Create explosive action photos at home

Shooting a moving subject like a dancer throws up several challenges, not least of which is trying to convey that sense of graceful motion in a still image. But something as simple as a handful or flour can show off the action in a wonderfully atmospheric way. 

The fine white powder hangs in the air, shifting with the action and creating dusty whorls that catch the light. It also makes an almighty mess, but that’s certainly a price worth paying for the extra flavour the flour gives the shoot.

In this tutorial we’ll explain how to get set up and shoot your own evocative flour portraits. Lighting plays a big part, and a three Speedlight set-up here gives us beautiful backlighting that emphasises the shape of the body and lifts the flour. What’s more, you don’t even need a studio. Any decent-sized space will do – you could even shoot it outdoors on a dry night.

Step-by-step: just add flour

Freeze with flash

It’s not so much the shutter speed that freezes the motion here, it’s the flash duration. That’s because we’re in a dim room, so the only light that registers is the brief burst from mthe Speedlight, which is far quicker than the camera’s maximum flash sync speed (usually 1/200 or 1/250 sec). The lower the Speedlight power, the faster the flash duration. 

When fired at full power the duration may even be close to 1/200 sec, but at 1/16 power the duration will shrink to around 1/8000 sec or faster (depending on your Speedlight).

So if you’re seeing motion blur in your flash-lit action shots lower the flash power and bump up the ISO.

Top tip

You don’t need expensive flashes for this, they only need to have manual power and an optical slave mode – features that budget models will usually have.

This feature was originally published in N-Photo Magazine, to subscribe, click here