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Thread: Outdoor Lighting with Flash (Boom!)

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Sep 2003

    Outdoor Lighting with Flash (Boom!)

    As anyone who has followed my posts is painfully aware, I am a big advocate of creating and controlling the light which is responsible for making our photographs, both in the studio and out in the wilderness.

    It has always worked better for me than jerking around with the development to attempt to compensate for random crummy lighting.

    Electronic flash is possible to use in some outdoor situations. But flash bulbs are superior in some ways. Since they have a much longer duration, flash bulbs have the effective light output of very expensive and prohibitively heavy studio electronic flash packs.

    Apparently, spelunkers use flash bulbs all the time to illuminate cave photography. The technique is to open all shutters in total darkness, then fire off an enormous bare bulb in the middle of the cavern.

    JandC is selling old flash bulbs for a while until the supply runs out. Because of age, not all will actually fire (I know the feeling). And I believe I read somewhere that someone, I think in Ireland, was still manufacturing them (?).

    But I was thinking just the other day of a tv commercial I worked on (part of the crew) many moons ago, which featured an old-time still photographer using flash powder.

    So I did a web search and came up with several hits, including this:

    Who knew, in this modern age of exploding Muslims and extremely vigilant authorities, that all this stuff was still available?

    I could really make some wonderful night photography with some of these products.

    And what a great way for a lonely old man to insure having some of the nice boys from ATF over for tea. Real soon.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Mar 2005

    Outdoor Lighting with Flash (Boom!)

    Doing some stage effects 10 years ago, we had a performance of the Wizard of Oz where we wanted a big entrance for the WW of the West.

    Our tech made a metal slot 48" long and filled it with flash powder. (I think he overestimated how much he needed for tha actual performance).

    Long story short - a 4 foot wide, 8 foot high curtain of flame, and a very blinded audience... Wish I'd had a camera up for it. (The Witch screamed and almost didn't go out on stage).

  3. #3

    Outdoor Lighting with Flash (Boom!)

    the Irish company you refer to are .They still make 3 types of bulbs.

    Please drop the coments about exploding Muslims - it's not funny.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Jun 2002

    Outdoor Lighting with Flash (Boom!)

    Exploding muslims aren't funny, except when a peice of them gets stuck between your teeth and you don't know it.

  5. #5

    Outdoor Lighting with Flash (Boom!)

    The ones doing the exploding aren't Muslims, they are psychopaths and murderers.

    More to the point, to use flash powder, I think you'd have to do quite a bit of experimenting as to amounts to use to get a given exposure value. Also, unless you had some sort of reflector setup, a good bit of the light produced by the burning of the powder would be wasted. Not to mention the need to measure out portions of powder, and find a safe and reliable way to ignite it and the necessity of carrying a fire extinguisher whenever you were taking pictures, and explaining to airport security, the FBI, and finally the federal judge, and then the appellate judge, that you're just using this stuff for photography.

    Stick with the flash bulbs. Worked pretty well for O. Winston Link.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Sep 2003

    Outdoor Lighting with Flash (Boom!)

    Mark, I apologize if you find offense in the term “exploding Muslims”. It is intended solely as a space saving, more concise term for “radical fundamentalist Muslim extremist suicide/homicide bomber evil-doer”.

    As the old saying goes, “all kangaroos are Australians, but all Australians are not kangaroos”.

    I’m sorry but can’t recall a single incident involving an exploding Presbyterian...

    But then, the point of this thread is that an old-time replacement for flash bulbs is surprisingly still apparently available.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Dec 2004

    Outdoor Lighting with Flash (Boom!)

    I dont know of any suppliers for flash powder, but I have used smokless shotgun powder for the same. Any place that sells reloading supplies will have it. I used volumn measurements to get consistant results. A reflector of some kind is a good idea. A 6 volt flashlight battery and some wire can be rigged for an ignitation system.
    Do NOT use blackpowder or its substitutes, they leave a hugr cloud of smoke. If using the shotgun powder, light it in a loose pile, do not compress it at all, dont even put a piece of paper over the top of the pile, it will become explosive.

    Flash paper from a magic shop is another option.

  8. #8
    Donald Qualls's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    North Carolina

    Outdoor Lighting with Flash (Boom!)

    One should be aware of a couple things with flash powder. First, it is even more sensitive to confinement than the shotgun powder suggested in the previous post; in fact, the flash powders normally used in pyrotechnics (for firecrackers and salutes) will self-confine in amounts of considerably less than an ounce -- that is, a loose pile of the material will go "bang" intead of "whoosh" when there are only a few grams present.

    Second, photographic flash powder isn't at all the same as pyrotechnic flash powder. Photoflash powder is much slower burning and contains magnesium instead of aluminum, which makes the light output both brighter and whiter. If you see a formula for flash powder, it's most likely for the kind that's supposed to go "bang" -- and we'd want "poof" for taking a photograph (especially given that the flash pan is traditionally hand held).

    Third, you most likely can't buy flash powder, and it's difficult to lawfully store enough of it to take even one photograph -- even in ounce quantities Federal regulation requires an explosive use permit and magazine storage similar to that required for ammonium nitrate blasting agents, and in larger quantities flash powder is treated the same as dynamite (and it's actually more hazardous; dynamite won't ignite from static the way flash powder can). You probably can buy the components, after going through appropriate hoops, but mixing flash is hazardous in itself (static or friction in mixing can ignite the powder, causing a Really Bad Day), and fine metal powders have storage hazards (both aluminum and magnesium powder can self-ignite if they get damp).

    Flash powder was abandoned for photographic purposes when bulbs came along for a number of very good reasons -- bulbs have a repeatable output, are more reliable, vastly safer to store and handle, brighter, faster burning (and thus more suitable for action), and photographic flash powder produces almost as much smoke as black powder (as well as leaving corrosive residue in the flash pan).

    As previously pointed out, Meggaflash still produces a few types of screw-base, high-output flash bulbs that are used for situations in which adequate electronic flash apparatus can't be brought to the site (cave photography is one consumer, but not the only one). Even an AG-1, however, produces more light than most camera-mounted electronic flashes and there are many, many thousands of AG-1 bulbs still available from old store stocks and photographer's storage rooms (I have almost a hundred of them on hand, probably enough to last me fifteen or twenty years at my usual rate of consumption).
    If a contact print at arm's length is too small to see, you need a bigger camera. :D

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Oct 1998

    Outdoor Lighting with Flash (Boom!)


    Good story! Ansel Adams had a very similar story of his first flash powder experience - photographing his classmates in school. Very funny, now! Not, not at the time.

  10. #10
    Moderator Ralph Barker's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Rio Rancho, NM

    Outdoor Lighting with Flash (Boom!)

    As I recall, flash powder was also sensitive to how it was poured into the flash pan, suggesting that the poof is in the putting. ;-)

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