Flash powder

Discussion in 'Lighting' started by BetterSense, Nov 19, 2009.

  1. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

    Messages:
    3,127
    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2008
    Location:
    North Caroli
    Shooter:
    35mm
    What is flash powder?

    For how long was it used (when did flashbulbs come into use)?

    Can you still buy it? How do you use it?

    I remember seeing a Weegie photo with people on a fire escape, at night of course. He said that he backed up across the street and "used flash powder". In the picture, it looks like the whole street is lit up. Was flash powder really bright? Is there still applications for flash powder today?
     
  2. tiberiustibz

    tiberiustibz Member

    Messages:
    1,749
    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2007
    Location:
    Tufts Univer
    Shooter:
    35mm
  3. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

    Messages:
    3,127
    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2008
    Location:
    North Caroli
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Have you ever used it? How much do you need to equal a flashbulb? 1oz doesn't sound like very much. I think photographic flash powder is magnesium mixed with potassium nitrate (or barium nitrate). I can buy potassium nitrate (saltpeter) in stores but I'm not sure where one gets powdered magnesium or what the proper proportions are.

    I'm also worried that the magic powder might be optimized for "bang" rather than being bright.
     
  4. Denis K

    Denis K Member

    Messages:
    237
    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2009
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Take a look at the wiki page for Jacob Riis at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_Riis for the history of flash in America.

    One of the last strongholds of pre-electronic flash was cave photography. To photograph a cave properly you need "big light". Chris Howes book, "Images Below" is supposed to have flash power formulas with guide numbers. It might be a good place to start. You could go down to your local library research desk and do an inter-library loan for his book. It might make an unusual and interesting read.

    I also suspect the civil war recreator photographers also know how to do it today. You might find one and ask him who sources their supplies and how they control exposure.
     
  5. Q.G.

    Q.G. Inactive

    Messages:
    5,682
    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2007
    Location:
    Netherlands
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
  6. Anscojohn

    Anscojohn Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,727
    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2006
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    ******
    At my cabin I have an old Facts and Formulas book which gives several concoctions for flash powder. I read years ago one could tell the real old time photographers by the powder burns on hand and arm, and bald spots on the side of the head from flash powder singeburns.
     
  7. Denis K

    Denis K Member

    Messages:
    237
    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2009
    Shooter:
    35mm
    That has plenty of info on flash powders but not on photographic applications. It looks like most of the people making flash powder today use it for magic acts and concert applications where photography is not the intended use.

    Denis K
     
  8. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

    Messages:
    3,341
    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2005
    Location:
    Dearborn,Mic
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The thing that went along with flash powder was smoke. LOTS of smoke. A gadget was introduced (c. 1910) to both capture the smoke and 'provide a softer, more natural light'. Picture an umbrella frame on a stand, with a 3 or 4 foot shroud of lightweight muslin hanging down over the flashpan. Looked like Grannie's budgie cage. Worked great. Fire the flash, collect the smoke, gather the bottom of the shroud and take it outside. Handy, except when they caught fire.

    Somewhere, I don't remember where, Edw. Weston shared his account of doing a portrait in a posh mansion in California, and trying the infernal device. It lit up like a mantle in a lantern. He was hemmed in by the camera, tripod, sitters, and attendants. The huge parlor windows were varnished shut. Edw. had to shatter a window to throw the whole dratted thing into the garden. Mother hysterical, baby screaming, Father having a heart attack. Edw. went straight to Mexico, and why not ?

    In the old days of Banquet photos, the shot was composed carefully while the money was collected.
    THEN, the arc lamps were set off, the exposure made, and the getaway accomplished before the ash fell,
    often ruining the ladies' fine gowns.

    Any wonder why flashbulbs were thought a good idea ?

    Anyway, have fun with flashpowder. You might contact the Eastman House, or search the Library of Congress before you try making some.

    We'll follow your career with great interest.

    .
     
  9. Dave Pritchard

    Dave Pritchard Member

    Messages:
    266
    Joined:
    May 24, 2009
    Location:
    North Caroli
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    The film "Public Enemies" has several scenes with flash powder in use. No formulas, just showing street-level use of flash powder.
     
  10. Barry S

    Barry S Member

    Messages:
    1,347
    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2007
    Location:
    DC Metro
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    When I was a kid, I found an old box of flash powder in my father's misc. weird photo stuff. I tried to take a photo with it in my parent's basement and the place filled with smoke. A lot of smoke! I ran out of there and decided using flash powder indoors was insane. I'm pretty sure my father made it out ok, too. :smile:
     
  11. DWThomas

    DWThomas Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,899
    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2006
    Location:
    SE Pennsylvania
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    In the late 1950s I was rummaging through an old box of junk my father had stashed in the basement and discovered a cardboard cylindrical container with a push-on tin lid that proclaimed "Flash Powder." It was an official commercial product. Teenage brain dancing with visions of some pyrotechnics to impress my friends, I gently eased the lid off to find ...




    ... old autmotive grease fittings. :D

    Oh well, maybe it's why I'm still around today!
     
  12. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

    Messages:
    3,127
    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2008
    Location:
    North Caroli
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I also noticed those giant flares for taking nighttime motion-pictures. As portrayed in the movie, they were really bright as well.
     
  13. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

    Messages:
    25,774
    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2005
    Location:
    Rochester, NY
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The carbon arc lamp was popular for many years as they could remain lit for hours. In fact, they are still used in some places for lighting large areas for photography.

    PE
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

    Messages:
    3,127
    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2008
    Location:
    North Caroli
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I think they still use carbon arc-lamps in theaters for spotlights, although fancier HID lights are catching on from what I understand. The flares in Public Enemy looked rather like a giant Sparkler firework.
     
  16. Ray Rogers

    Ray Rogers Member

    Messages:
    1,555
    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2005
    Location:
    Earth
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I think you are correct. The constant "hum" of the HID's are quite noisy though, IIRC.

    I have a carbon arc lamp, actually.
    Haven't figured out quite what to do with it though... any ideas?
     
  17. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,536
    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2005
    Location:
    U.K.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I bought a flash powder flash, with a drum of flash powder at a camera club auction for five shillings as a curiosity (before we went decimal in 1971) I can't remember what happened to it , it must have been thrown out the last time I moved house twenty years ago.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 20, 2009
  18. mopar_guy

    mopar_guy Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,177
    Joined:
    Sep 12, 2009
    Location:
    Washington,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    You people are Pyromaniacs!
     
  19. brian d

    brian d Member

    Messages:
    396
    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2008
    Location:
    Indiana
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    yep :tongue:
     
  20. Ray Rogers

    Ray Rogers Member

    Messages:
    1,555
    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2005
    Location:
    Earth
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Not being into killing etc., I used to remove the gunpowder from bullets and recycle it into small homemade fireworks... does that count? :smile:
     
  21. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

    Messages:
    7,419
    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2009
    Location:
    northern Pa.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    And your point?
     
  22. Q.G.

    Q.G. Inactive

    Messages:
    5,682
    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2007
    Location:
    Netherlands
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Maniacs usually need treatment.
    But they need to see what they are, and that they do, first.

    Perhaps you could see that post in that light, and understand its point then?
    :D
     
  23. mopar_guy

    mopar_guy Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,177
    Joined:
    Sep 12, 2009
    Location:
    Washington,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Don't get me wrong, I like a good flash as well as the next man. There's no law against setting off a flammable substance and singeing your photographic subject.

    You may want to have a fire extinguisher handy!:rolleyes:
     
  24. Denis R

    Denis R Member

    Messages:
    284
    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2009
    Location:
    50156 & 5133
    Shooter:
    35mm
  25. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

    Messages:
    3,341
    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2005
    Location:
    Dearborn,Mic
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Denis,

    Yep, that's about the size of it. A few decades ago,
    flash powder was fairly easy to get, and we used it in the theatre for .... well, flashes.

    Take a normal plug fuse, remove the window, and apply the flash powder.

    It was, if I recall, desirable to be sure the circuit was broken before you added the flash powder,
    and the deluxe version of the gadget had 2 plugs, one with a neat little red light bulb to show whether you were hot.
    You tended to use these on a larger stage, rather than in a small studio space.
    Don't ask where that morsel of information came from. :surprised:

    I suppose in today's refined times, this would be considered a bomb,
    and that is probably right. Use a number 2 flash bulb instead.
     
  26. Aurum

    Aurum Member

    Messages:
    923
    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2008
    Location:
    Landrover Ce
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Disappeared over the horizon, on fire, and accompanied by large quantities of smoke several posts ago!

    I'm also not sure where my eyebrows landed