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Thread: Magnesium Powder Flash

  1. #1

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    Magnesium Powder Flash

    Hey people, I know a wet plate photographer in my area who has offered to show me the ropes of tintype photography, and I’m getting pretty excited about it. I was thinking that having a large flash might be useful for some photos due to the low light sensitivity, but I just wouldn’t feel right using a modern flash for an old process like this. Once my train of thought starts going, it gets difficult to stop, so I got wondering, what if I used an old powder flash like people actually did use for plate photography? Have any of you ever used one of those flashes for plate photography, and does anyone know any resources about how they work? I wasn’t able to come across any for sale on the internet, but in my mind all it would have to be is an aluminum L channel at 45 degrees with a handle and lighter function built in. However, messing with pyrotechnics without doing a whole lot of research does not seem like a good idea to me, so I would love it if any of you know of some resources on old powder flashes.

  2. #2

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    Re: Magnesium Powder Flash

    You might just want to file it under
    "Bad Ideas"....way too dangerous.

  3. #3
    Foamer
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    Re: Magnesium Powder Flash

    I looked into it, but it's just so ridiculously dangerous that even I have dropped the idea. Many buildings were set on fire from this. I also thought of just using it outdoors at night but even simply storing the volatile stuff is very hazardous. I'm not fooling with it (or cyanide fixer.)


    Kent in SD
    Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris,
    miserere nobis.

  4. #4

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    Re: Magnesium Powder Flash

    You are probably correct, I wonder how difficult it would be to put the lamps from a modern flash into an old flash lamp to get the same aesthetic

  5. #5
    Tin Can's Avatar
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    Re: Magnesium Powder Flash

    Yes, not advised. And it's not the best light to use...

    There is a very good tutorial on You Tube I just watched, spooky as the guy looks like I used to....you can find it, read listen carefully to what he does and says

    I am impressed by his documentation!

    He tests with 100 asa film which is fine, but wet plate will need dangerous amounts of powder

    I have a complete historical kit with powder and now I know a lot more, yet I will never use it. Not for sale at any price.

    So, thanks for asking here and I am glad you asked.

    Big flashbulbs will work and produce more light safely for wet plate, but I wouldn't use the big ones on people, they can shatter/explode ruining eyes and face

    I also have the right flashbulbs and accessorizes

    One golf ball sized flashbulb matches my Einstein Flash at full power, you will need multiples

    My flash bulb teacher here, passed away not long ago, RIP Jac

    I did document flash bulbs and my powder kit years ago here, but I would need to search for it too...

    Please be careful in all things
    2022

  6. #6
    Foamer
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    Re: Magnesium Powder Flash

    The flash powder is magnesium. Flash bulbs are magnesium wire encased in a glass bulb with oxygen gas. Even the small #25 bulbs put out a lot of light.


    Kent in SD
    Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris,
    miserere nobis.

  7. #7

    Re: Magnesium Powder Flash

    Quote Originally Posted by Ethan View Post
    You are probably correct, I wonder how difficult it would be to put the lamps from a modern flash into an old flash lamp to get the same aesthetic
    For wet plate portraiture in-studio, photographers typically use an electronic flash like a Speedotron 4803, which - as you've probably guessed - delivers 4800 watt-seconds of light. This is pretty much the minimum of light you need if you are going to use any kind of light modifier (to produce flattering light) like a softbox or a beauty dish. That is a LOT of light. The light produced by a Magnesium (or perchlorate) flash is likely far less than what a Speedotron 4803 puts out. And lets bear in mind that the materials are extremely dangerous to handle and use, and I believe you have to have a license to own and use "mixed binary explosives". What's the point in pursuing an extremely dangerous technique, solely for the sake of being "authentic"? Your plates will be authentic, regardless of which lighting technique you use. Nobody but you and the subject of the photo is going to know how you lit the scene.

    I once tried lighting a studio still life with a Vivitar 283 set on maximum output. I used a Petzval lens with an aperture of f3.1 and I popped the flash at the subject 30 times from no more than 24" away. How did it turn out? Zero exposure. Thirty pops from 2 feet away didn't even begin to register an exposure. Just FYI.

  8. #8
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    Re: Magnesium Powder Flash

    Quote Originally Posted by paulbarden View Post
    I once tried lighting a studio still life with a Vivitar 283 set on maximum output. I used a Petzval lens with an aperture of f3.1 and I popped the flash at the subject 30 times from no more than 24" away. How did it turn out? Zero exposure. Thirty pops from 2 feet away didn't even begin to register an exposure. Just FYI.

    I've done very little indoor wet plate, partly because I don't really have a place to do it, and partly because my wife has banned it from the house. When I did try it I used two White Lighting X3200 at full power, no modifier, from 2 feet away. (2700ws) I ended up having to pop them twice using an f3.5 Petzval.


    Kent in SD
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    Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris,
    miserere nobis.

  9. #9

    Re: Magnesium Powder Flash

    Quote Originally Posted by Two23 View Post
    I've done very little indoor wet plate, partly because I don't really have a place to do it, and partly because my wife has banned it from the house. When I did try it I used two White Lighting X3200 at full power, no modifier, from 2 feet away. (2700ws) I ended up having to pop them twice using an f3.5 Petzval.


    Kent in SD
    Yep, I'm not surprised!

  10. #10

    Join Date
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    453

    Re: Magnesium Powder Flash

    Nobody has mentioned the huge cloud of smoke and soot generated yet, either.
    Oh, wait...I just did.
    Last edited by Dugan; 14-Jun-2020 at 15:44. Reason: Spoon too big.

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