Last updated on December 7th, 2023
Steel wool photography can be a great way to add excitement and movement to your photos, but it can also be tricky to learn.
You can create fantastic steel wool photography shots that will wow your friends and family with some practice.
Our guide to steel wool photography is here to help. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know, from selecting the right equipment to getting the perfect shot. Plus, we’ve included some stunning examples of what you can create with steel wool photography.
What Is Steel Wool Photography and How Does It Work?
Steel Wool Photography is a new art form that recreates the motion of hot embers flying through the air by spinning burning steel wool. These glowing coals create beautiful streaks in photos, just like they would at a campfire! The best part? You can do this with any camera lens or even your phone – no expensive equipment is needed!
Steel Wool Photography uses long exposure photographs to capture the motion of hot embers flying through the air as they spin burning steel wool. The result is a beautiful light painting that can look like anything from a campfire to stars streaking across the sky.
With some practice, you can create stunning steel wool photography shots that will wow your friends and family. But before you start spinning away, there are a few things you should know.
How to Get Started with Steel Wool Photography
We all know how dangerous it is to play with fire, but have you ever considered what will happen if your Steel Wool Photography session goes wrong? The molten metal of a steel wool photograph can be even more unpredictable than our imagination. It does not just spark that flies in every direction; there are also burning embers flying around! This means for photographers and their clients alike: keep safety near the front-and-center stage during every shoot so nothing unfortunate happens. Follow these safety tips to keep yourself and others safe and the environment.
The first thing we recommend is wearing protective clothing. Steel wool photography can be messy, and you don’t want your clothes to catch on fire. We recommend long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, closed-toe shoes, and gloves.
It’s also essential to have a fire extinguisher on hand, just in case something goes wrong. And speaking of things going wrong, it’s always a good idea to have a first-aid kit nearby in case someone gets burned.
Next, choose a location without flammable materials nearby. Steel wool photography can create a lot of sparks, so you want to ensure you’re not near anything that could catch on fire. This includes things like dry grass, leaves, and wood.
Finally, ensure permission to be where you are and not break any laws. Steel wool photography is often done in urban areas, so getting permission from the property owner before you start your shoot is essential.
We recommend choosing a time when the weather and location are wet. Steel wool photography can create a lot of sparks, and you want to ensure they don’t start any fires. The best time to shoot is just after a rainstorm, or in the early morning when the dew is still heavy on the ground.
Lastly, do a site walk after you are finished to ensure no embers are still burning. Steel wool photography is a lot of fun, but it’s essential to be safe while doing it!
What Equipment Do You Need for Steel Wool Photography?
Now that you know how to stay safe while doing steel wool photography, it’s time to discuss the equipment you need to get started. Steel wool photography is a long exposure shot, so you’ll need a tripod and a camera that can do long exposures. We also recommend using a shutter release cable so you don’t have to touch the camera while taking the photo.
You’ll also need some steel wool, of course! Steel wool comes in different grades, but we recommend using Grade 0 or 00 for photography. Anything more pleasing will be too difficult to light on fire, and anything coarser will create too many sparks. You can find steel wool at your local hardware store.
Lastly, you’ll need a lighter or matches to light the steel wool on fire. We recommend using a long-handled lighter, so you don’t burn yourself.
You’ll also need a steel whisk to pack the steel wool inside and tie a rope to the end to spin the steel wool.
Tips for Taking Excellent Steel Wool Photos
Taking great steel wool photos can be tricky, but you can create stunning images with a few simple tips. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Set your camera up first on the tripod and adjust all your settings, including white balance.
Using a link or loop, join the steel wool to the rope or chain. This will help you to control it better. Place a piece of steel wool inside the head of the whisk, making sure not to pack it in too tightly. The steel wool needs room to breathe to ignite. I like to pull it apart before putting it into the whisk for better sparks.
Next, ignite the wool using a lighter. You don’t need extensive flames, just a few glowing or sparking areas. The spinning motion will cause the sparks to fly through the air.
Then spin the wool in a circle with the free end of the rope or chain, producing sparks to fly from the whisk’s end.
Lastly, once the steel wool has caught fire, press the camera’s shutter button as soon as possible to capture the photo. If you’re using 10-second exposures, you’ll be able to capture 2-3 photos before the steel wool burns out completely.
You will need to use manual mode and focus on the area you plan to stand with the steel wool while spinning it. Doing this in low light may be tricky, but shining a flashlight on the spot should help. Remember to turn off your lens’s image stabilization or vibration reduction if it has either of those features–you won’t need them when shooting on a tripod.
The lens and focal length you use when shooting steel wool may affect the final photograph’s appearance and feel. Still, you also want to pick a focal length that keeps the camera a safe distance from the sparks. I like wide-angle lenses, such as those with a focal length of 16-35mm. If you’re shooting alone, remember that longer focal lengths necessitate further walking after striking the shutter timer.
What Camera Settings Should You Use?
The shutter speed determines how streaky a photo will be. Slower speeds like 5 seconds or less capture less light, resulting in fewer sparks flying across the screen and giving your photos a dull, uneventful look. So if we want those perfect shots of those sparkling sparks flying through midair, then 20-second exposure is required here.
The perfect aperture allows you to keep your whole scene in focus. You can choose any number between f5.6 and 11; I usually like to start around f8 and work from there.
The low ISO setting will help you avoid washing out the glow of steel wool when it is set on fire. You get more detail in your shot, which can be helpful if post-processing when color temperature and saturation are desired later down the line. Therefore, I usually stick around an ISO 100 or 200 level depending on what look my final product should have at its completion.
Examples of Stunning Steel Wool Photos
Conclusion: Taking Steel Wool Photos
Steel wool photography is a unique and fun way to capture fantastic images. With some practice, you can create some stunning steel wool photos! Remember to use caution when handling the steel wool and lighter, and follow all safety instructions. Have fun!
How do you light steel wool?
You will need a lighter and some steel wool to light steel wool. Another way to use a 9v battery, but this can be dangerous. Hold the steel wool against the battery’s positive end and touch the steel wool’s negative end. This will cause a spark, which will ignite the steel wool.
What type of steel wool is suitable for light painting?
You can use any steel wool for Steel Wool Photography. However, the steel wool’s coarser, the more sparks it will create. Therefore, if you want to create a lot of sparks, you should use coarse steel wool. If you want fewer sparks, you should use fine steel wool.
What is the best time of day to shoot Steel Wool Photography?
The best time of day to shoot Steel Wool Photography is at dusk or dawn. Why? Because the light is not too bright, but it is still bright enough to see the sparks.