Tips for Creative Steel Wool Photography

May 31

5 min. to read

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Steel wool photography is one of the latest beautiful trends in night photography, which is similar to light brush photography.

One of the most incredible things about photography is the boundless opportunities it provides for mixing the technical with the artistic. Steel wool photography is a prime example of this. If you’ve seen some of the dramatic and unique images it produces, you may be inclined to think this technique is a complicated one that requires lots of learning (and lots of expensive equipment). 

Alas, never fear! The Skylum team is here. 

Tips for Creative Steel Wool Photography Image1

To put it simply, it goes something like this: when you light steel wool on fire and spin it around, the sparks fly off. This, in combination with a long exposure, creates a wildly unusual picture. 

So, we’ve put together some tips to help you achieve those steel-wool spun shots — the kind that light-filled dreams are made of. 

Tip 1: The Equipment 

Here’s what you need!

  • steel wool

* pick this up from hardware stores and go for grade 0

  • a stainless steel whisk (no silicone — it will melt!) 
  • a strong cord or flexible metal cable to tie to the whisk
  • protective clothing, a fire extinguisher and safety goggles

* burning steel wool can be dangerous. Always take precautions. Always be careful.

  • a lighter or matches 
  • a partner / helper 

* you can use self-timer, but having a partner to spin the steel wool will be much easier

  • camera with manual mode
  • tripod
  • wide angle lens (or your lens of choice)
  • protective lens filter and lens hood

Tip 2: The Location

Tips for Creative Steel Wool Photography Image2

Choose your location wisely. The more dramatic the location, the more dramatic the shot. Go to safe place where people will not be walking into your photo’s scene (because no one needs to be getting hit with flying sparks). Try a dark place with calm weather and ideally, no wind.

Tip 3: Preparing Your Whisk

Use the cage of the whisk to hold your steel wool and the hook at the top of the handle to tie your flexible cable or cord. (Flexible metal cable is great, as it won’t catch fire.) Pack the wool into the whisk loosely, so that oxygen can flow and get the wool burning. 

Tip 4: Preparing Your Camera 

Get your camera all set up on your tripod. Set it to aperture priority mode with manual focus. Set your ISO to 100 and aperture to f8 to f11. Next, meter the scene. The steel wool in the whisk will burn for about 10 seconds and you’ll need 5 seconds of exposure time to capture the great spin! Shoot RAW so that you can make color temperature and exposure adjustments in your editing phase, if need be.

Tip 5: Let the Fun Begin!

Tips for Creative Steel Wool Photography Image3

The act of steel wool spinning is simple. Once you’re all set and ready to go, set the steel aglow with a lighter and have your partner move it in a circular motion. The burning sparks will fly out and create trails of luminous light. You can try different spinning techniques — from vertical spinning, to horizontal spinning, to spinning while you stroll.

Tips for Creative Steel Wool Photography Image4

In the end, what you’ll be left with is a series of sensational final images that were created using the spinning of flaming steel.

Sounds pretty cool, huh?

We thought so, too.

From all of us at Skylum, be safe — get creative — and have fun with all that’s spun!

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