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A Spin on Light Painting with Steel Wool Photography (Member Post)

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Steel wool photography is a style of long exposure photography. Similar to capturing car light trails with a long shutter speed, we use this similar technique to capture sparks coming off of the spinning steel wool. Sounds complex, it’s not!

Article and photography by Scott Visscher aka @scottvisscher

Spinning with steel wool

Supplies

You will need the following tools. You can get creative and also incorporate other kinds of lighting including flashlights or car lights on backgrounds. The only item not pictured that is required is a tripod for your camera (or a very steady surface).

Tools of the trade

A list of supplies needed:a

• DSLR or camera with manual control
• tripod or steady spot for your cam
• Steel wool (which comes in different “grades” (coarse to fine; I like to use fine grade #0000)
• Steel whisk with loop at end
• chain or leash to clip to whisk
• lighter

The Setup


First and foremost, safety first! Pick a location that won’t cause issues with sparks flying off the wool. I first started my initial attempt at the beach, near water, so there weren’t any issues.

There will be some trial and error, but start with settings ISO 100, F8, 10seconds, and adjust as needed. You’ll want at least 8-10 seconds of spinning time, so if you find your shot is underexposed, try increasing your ISO. If your shot is overexposed, try increasing your aperture above F8+.

In order to set your focus, you’ll have to set it to “manual” for the shot. If I’m shooting alone, I typically set my camera bag in the area of my shot with a light attached (eg. Headlamp, cell phone light), and focus on that. If you’re shooting with a friend, get them to stand in your composition similarly with a light and set focus to them.
Once you’ve decided on your composition and set your focus, you’re almost ready to begin!

Spin your fire in a quiet, secluded spot!

Almost time to spin!

Place a clump of steel wool into the whisk, which you clip to your chain/leash. To “ignite” the wool simply light some of the wool with a lighter until it turns orange/red.

The wool will begin to spark once you begin spinning as it provides more oxygen to the wool. Before pressing the shutter release, ignite the steel wool, then have a friend press the shutter release or use a remote/timer to start.

There’s a variety of ways you can spin the wool. Try spinning overhead for an “umbrella” effect or spin in a circle for a “portal” effect–get creative with it!

Helpful resources


Instagram:
@dan_clarke_photography – based out of the UK, he has some great tutorials, and great ideas using steel wool and lights for long exposure photography
@litbyhand – page featuring some excellent light/steel/fire long exposures
@steelwool_photography – collection of other great photographers steel wool images

Support our contributor

Thank you to our contributor Scott Visscher. Please give them a follow! @scottvisscher

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Join our Light Painting Photo Walk on August 7, 2022 (Tickets are $8 / limit of 20 participants)

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