Color Powder Photos with Children:

10 Tips for Success!


Recently I was commissioned to do a photo session of three little girls who had just been flower girls in their aunt's wedding. Their mom had already had formal portraits taken in the dresses and knew they would outgrow them quickly. She saw the opportunity for these pretty little blank canvases to have lots of fun and make amazing memories together in the form of a color dust fight while the girls wore the flower girl dresses. She came to me with the request and my first inclination was that I needed do do research first. 

When I was looking for information, for anything, on the internet, I found very little advice on doing color dust photographs in the daylight or with children so I decided to share what we learned and how we prepared.

We had lots of fun but being overly prepared allowed that to happen. Read our story below and if you try this, feel free to contact me with questions or share your results! (Hashtag photographicmemories on Instagram)

Tip 1 - Lighting Research:

I did lots of research on the internet about photography lighting for dust in the air. The sun was behind the children, but slightly too high, often catching and causing flare without time for me to move in the middle of a great dust-flying moment. To light them from the front, I had an Einsten E640 Studio Flash Unit set up with a 7 foot parabolic umbrella set up slightly to the left of their area. I also had a small shoot through umbrella set up with a flash to their left  and one to their right. Most examples I found in my research were doing their sessions in the dark to make the most of the lights and the dust, but that isn't realistic with children. 

Tip 3 - Child Ages:

Its really important that the children can stay in one place because the lights are really important to freeze the powder in the air and illuminate it. The ages of these girls were 3.5, 6, and 8. I would not go any younger. The three year old could stay with her sisters. They sill needed reminders to stay back from the lights (and not throw powder at them) and to stay in a certain area because its so easy to have a tendency to move around in a color fight.

Tip 2 - Powder Research:  

I also researched powders. You can purchase Holi powder, which can get expensive, or make your own (which takes about a week from start to finish per-color batch). We didn't have that time because we were doing this in the fall and didn't to have no leaves on the trees by the time we were done making powders. 

I read about tricks to make purchased powder stretch a bit by adding flour but ruled it out when I realized that any moisture on the ground or on the children (imagine a runny nose) would cause a dough to form rather than the powder to fly. That would not make for a pretty photo or for easy clean-up so we ruled it out.  

I had the family purchase the powder colors that they wanted to try. Estimate about half of a 1 lb bag per child for a 30 minute session. Amazon sells a set of colors of 1 lb bags HERE. A nearby adult should also have a bag just for tossing the dust up so that you can get shots of the dust falling down.    

Tip 4: Being Ready For Clean-up:

This organized mom and dad brought a clothesbasket with bathtowels, gallon jugs of water, paper towels, baby wipes, and fresh clothes for the kids for the drive home.  I brought water too. We also brought dust-pans in case we wanted to use those to throw the dust up into the air. I brought extra water and paper towels as well in case I needed to wipe down my equipment before putting it into my car.

I regularly keep my equipment in one of those folding wagons. I borrowed one of their towels and laid it over the camera equipment so that I could minimize dust on my lenses and camera bodies.

Equipment Extra Tips:

1. My umbrellas and light stands were definitely covered in  fine dust. I was prepared to wipe it all down and let it air dry before storing everything again. 

2. I also had everyone stop and let the dust settle a few times  when I needed to change lenses, because the last thing any photographer needs is to get dust in the image sensor area!

3.  Emergency Eye Wash. Have it ready just in case. The powder could be a major eye irritant and you don't want to be in the middle of the forest or on a deserted road when you need it. Don't just have it in the car. Bring it to the session location.

Tip 5: Get a before-shot while everyone is excited and clean!

Tip 6 - Start Slow:

Young children might start slow anyway but in case you have a rowdy crowd, advise them to start slow. I was glad of this because it allowed everyone to find their groove on how to throw the powder. The parents decided wisely to use dixie cups full of powder. That way, the girls didn't lose much if it dropped and it was disposable when we were done. It also allowed natural slow moments when they needed refills for me to adjust lights, lenses, clear dust, etc.

Tip 7- Detail Shots

I had two cameras going - one with a wider lens like a 50 or 35mm and one with a macro-setting that can also do portraits, like a 105mm.  This allowed me to constantly get different types of shots without having to switch lenses very often. 

Getting detail shots is important when you go to maybe put together an album and to tell a story. It will also help the children remember more specific parts of this event as they grow.

Tip 8 - Let them play - but have commands!

There are so many good and playful moments that can happen in a session like this, but like whenever someone is really focused on what they're doing, the kids can have a tendency to look down or away to where the action is happening. In order to mix up my shots and give my clients a variety of images, I had several commands to help them look up and bring the sense of play even more into the resultant images.

A. I have them laugh towards my lights. You can time this with powder in the air.

B. I had them clap their hands with powder on them.

C. I had them play Ring-Around-The-Rosie near the end when the powder was gone but they were still in the mood to play.

D. I had them switch positions so they weren't in the same order the whole time, naturally bringing each one closer to my lights for portraits and close-up shots.

E. I told them to laugh towards certain sisters to get shots that incorporated the girls playing together.

Tip 9 - Final Portraits:

I wanted to make sure we got a few good portraits of each child at her messiest. That meant we would do it at the end. So, after the powder and play was over, I brought each girl near my lights and got a head-shot of her, a shot of her with her arms up in the air (a "success" pose!), and a silly shot. 

Tip 10 - Final Group Photos:

To be sure we got frame-worthy images throughout the session, I made a variety of close-ups and shots with the scene and the atmospheric dust included. I felt it was important to get a variety of shots at the end in this way as well. 

I made sure to get shots of their messy  hands, their messy shoes and feet, them together throwing dust and them together smiling. Doing similar photos of all three girls each time I chose to do something like this helps for the family to have a consistent story for each child and allows for beautiful framed series to happen!

Photographs of their messy hands:

Photographs of their messy feet and shoes:

If you'd like to see a sample of my other tips, check out my this one called 6 Secrets to Rock Your Senior Photo Session! Telling personal stories is an important component of my photographic work!

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