Throw on some colour
James Paterson explains how to launch powder paint at your subjects for bold, colourful portraits with plenty of punch
Things were bound to get a little messy in this month’s Big Project. Throwing powder paint repeatedly over a person may result in vivid, dynamic portraits like this one, but it doesn’t half make a mess in the process! Your clothes, camera equipment, the floor and anything nearby is likely to end up with a fine dusting of paint, so you’ll need all the protective covers, dust sheets and tarpaulins you can lay your hands on.
You’ll also need a suitable, dark place to shoot the portrait. We used an underground car park below the N-Photo office. A similarly spacious garage or workshop might be an option, or failing that, wait for night then shoot outside in the dark (just make sure that the ground is not damp, as it’ll make the paint very tricky to clear up).
The end results are worth all the effort. Powder paint looks incredible when backlit with flash, and if both the timing of your shot and the angle of the throw are right, you can capture the moment the coloured paint explodes across your subject in perfect clarity. You don’t need lots of expensive camera equipment for this technique, either; all you need is a couple of Speedlights, and a means to trigger them off-camera.
Finding a willing subject may prove more tricky, though children might have a great time doing it. If you’re after a more glamorous result, it might be worth booking a professional model (good sites like Model Mayhem allow you to connect with models direct). It’s not a pleasant experience to have powder paint launched at you, but if you’re paid to be there, it doesn’t seem quite so mean! Also, bring along some clothes for them to wear so they won’t mess up their own.
Then there’s the most important part: the paint. You can order specialist ‘Holi’ throwing powder (named after the colourful Indian festival, and available in a wide range of colours) or non-toxic tempera paints online. Alternatively, you can make your own with food colouring and flour. Read on to discover how...