Steel wool photography is one of the latest beautiful trends in night photography, which is similar to light brush photography. Check out our ultimate guide on how to use steel wool and create stunning shots with it.

What is steel wool photography? You are about to learn many new and interesting features! 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). Now we share with you the best steel wool photography tips!

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Alas, Never Fear! The Skylum Team Is Here

Ultimate Guide to Creative Steel Wool Photography | Skylum Blog(2)Simply put, 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. Let's also say right off the bat that the best way to post-process these shots is with a photo editor like Luminar Neo.

Tip 1: The Equipment for Burning Steel Wool Photography

Ultimate Guide to Creative Steel Wool Photography | Skylum Blog(3)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

Be careful when photographing with steel wool, as the sparks can easily catch fire and the wool will burn! It's important to use proper safety equipment, such as gloves and goggles, and consider using an umbrella.

Tip 2: The Location for Creative Steel Wool Photography

Ultimate Guide to Creative Steel Wool Photography | Skylum Blog(4)Choose your location wisely. The more dramatic the location, the more dramatic the shot. Go to a safe place where people will not be walking into your photo scene (because no one needs to be getting hit with flying sparks). Try a dark place with calm weather and ideally, no wind.

By the way, if you don't want to spend a lot of time editing, there's a perfect solution. You can use the photo editing presets for Luminar Neo or Lightroom.

Tip 3: Preparing Your Whisk for Steel Wool Tricks

Ultimate Guide to Creative Steel Wool Photography | Skylum Blog(5)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 for a whisk, 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 for Spinning Wool Photography

Ultimate Guide to Creative Steel Wool Photography | Skylum Blog(6)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. These are the most important steel wool photography settings. The white balance depends on the conditions and the effect you want to achieve.

And what about focal length? Wide-angle lenses (such as 14mm or 24mm) allow you to capture a wider field of view, allowing you to include more of the environment and light streaks in your shot. This can be useful when you want to create a sense of scale or show the environment in which you are spinning the wool.

Tip 5: Let the Fun with Steel Wool Sparks Begin!

Ultimate Guide to Creative Steel Wool Photography | Skylum Blog(7)The act of flammable 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.

Ultimate Guide to Creative Steel Wool Photography | Skylum Blog(8)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.

So, steel wool spinning photography 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!

And if you have no idea how to add colors to steel wool photography, there is one more thing. All you have to do is try AI photo editing with Luminar Neo. You can get great shots in just a few seconds!


How to Do Steel Wool Photography Safely?

When working with any grade of steel wool, wear clothing such as gloves, long sleeves, and pants to protect your skin from sparks and fire. It's also a good idea to have a fire extinguisher and a bucket of water nearby to dispose of the steel wool burns when you're done. Also, don't forget to protect your lens! And if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe at any point during the light painting photo session, stop immediately. Your safety is the most important thing.

What Camera Settings Should I Use for Steel Wool?

Burning steel wool creative photography typically requires long exposures, so it's important to use a tripod to keep the camera steady and avoid blurry photos. To reduce the amount of noise, set your ISO as low as possible (typically 100 or 200). Then use a wide aperture (such as f/4 or f/5.6) to let in more light and create a shallower depth of field. Also, start with a shutter speed of about 10-15 seconds and adjust it as needed to get the desired effect and set your camera to manual focus.

What Equipment Do You Need for Steel Wool Photography?

For this type of photography, a standard zoom lens is sufficient, but an ultra-wide angle lens can provide a closer view and allow the sparks to flow over the camera. In addition, a tripod is essential to stabilize the camera during long exposures.

Is Steel Wool Photography Illegal?

It's generally not illegal, but you should be aware of any local laws or regulations that may apply. In some places, the use of steel wool in public areas may be prohibited due to safety concerns. Also, there may be restrictions on the use of open flames, especially in dry or fire-prone areas.

Ultimate Guide to Creative Steel Wool Photography | Skylum Blog(9)

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