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Thread: Flash powder

  1. #1
    BetterSense's Avatar
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    Flash powder

    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?
    f/22 and be there.

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    tiberiustibz's Avatar
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    I think you can make it with magnesium. You can use as much of it as you want, so if you use more, it's brighter. Not entirely sure how you fire it off. Some sort of holder probably but you'd have to find one.

    hmm... http://madhattermagicshop.com/magics...oducts_id=3678

  3. #3
    BetterSense's Avatar
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    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.
    f/22 and be there.

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    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.

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    The Wikipedia page on flash powder is the quickest way to find out things about flash powder composition.

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    Anscojohn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BetterSense View Post
    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.
    ******
    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.
    John, Mount Vernon, Virginia USA

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    Quote Originally Posted by Q.G. View Post
    The Wikipedia page on flash powder is the quickest way to find out things about flash powder composition.
    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

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    df cardwell's Avatar
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    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.

    .

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    Dave Pritchard's Avatar
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    The film "Public Enemies" has several scenes with flash powder in use. No formulas, just showing street-level use of flash powder.

  10. #10
    Barry S's Avatar
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    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.

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