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Steel Wool Photography
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Having fun with Steel Wool For Photography

Steel wool photography is a type of long exposure photography in which steel wool is spun to create fire streaks of light. It is a creative and visually striking technique that allows photographers to capture unique and dynamic images.
It allows for a lot of creative freedom and experimentation. By spinning the steel wool in different ways and using different light sources and coloured gels, we can create a wide range of looks and effects.
Overall, steel wool photography is a fun and challenging way to push the boundaries of traditional photography and create unique and artistic images.

Table of Contents

What is Steel Wool for Photography?

Steel wool photography is the the most and the first question I always get asked. But what is steel wool photography? Would you consider steel wool photography a type of light painting? This means that you use long exposures to capture streaks of light in your photograph. To do this, you’ll need to set your camera on a tripod and then use a steel wool pad to create the sparks.

The best time for photographing steel wool is just after sunset when there’s still some light in the sky, but it’s dark enough that you can see the sparks clearly. You’ll also want to make sure there’s no wind, as even the slightest breeze will put out the sparks before they have time to reach your camera.

The trick is to take pictures in low light with the “steel wool” lit on fire.

What Equipment Do You Need for Steel Wool Photography?

In order to create eye-catching steel wool photographs, you need the right equipment. A stainless steel whisk is a must in order to hold the wool. Tripod and shutter release cable are essential for this type of photography, but other than that, it’s not too difficult to set up your own session. With a little bit of creativity and practice, you’ll be able to capture amazing photos using this unique technique!

What Steel Wool is Best for Photography?

To get started you will need steel wool, but not just any steel wool. After several fails attempts at lighting the wool I discovered that “0000 fine” is the best and can be purchased at any hardware store. 

There are three grades available: fine-grade, medium-grade, and coarse-grade.

Fine-grade steel wool is the easiest to light but burns out quickly. For this reason, it’s best for beginners who are just starting out with this type of photography.

You will need a good lighter, my favorite is a pocket butane. The hotter flame will set the wool on fire faster.

Use a Stainless Steel Whisk for Steel Wool Photography

When doing steel wool photography, it’s important to use a whisk made of stainless steel. If you don’t, the heat from the burning steel wool can melt the whisk.

When placing the steel wool in the whisk don’t just jam it in. Lightly packing the steel wool will yield better results because fire needs oxygen to survive and the same goes for the steel wool let it breathe. I only use half a pad at a time.

Get a Dog Leash for Spinning Steel Wool

When it comes to taking eye-catching creative photos with steel wool, you’ll need a some way to spin the wool. I’ve been using my dog leash as it’s long enough and has a good grip, and clips to the top of the whisk. An alternative to the leash is parachute cord. it’s light weight and can be purchased at any hardware store. Insure you tie your whisk and string sufficiently, you don’t want the whisk flying off in uncontrolled direction. I suggest that what ever you use that it be at least 1 meter (3 feet) long

camera settings for steel wool photography

Use Protective Gloves and Safety Equipment

It is important to use protective gloves and eye protection. The little ambers will be flying everywhere. I also wear a hat and a black coat. This will help protect you from the spinning wool and any potential fires.

It is also crucial to extinguish any fires before leaving the shooting location. Make sure all potential fire hazards are extinguished before you leave so that you can stay safe.

If you’re close to water, a simple bucket fill with water can act as a fire extinguisher. If not try to stay away from trees and bushes when you are swinging the wool

Camera Settings – Photography Technique

When photographing sparks, it’s important to use the right camera settings in order to capture the photo correctly. For starters, you’ll want to use a medium-long exposure. This will help ensure that the sparks are visible in the photo. Additionally, aperture settings should be between f/8 and f/11 for best results. Camera Shutter speed will generally range from 5 to 20 seconds, but it may vary depending on how bright your sparks are. Finally, ISO settings can be used to keep the highlights from being too blown out.

Oh, Yes! I use manual focus.

Adjust Your Camera Settings

Once you have everything set up, and have taken a few shots. It’s time to start adjusting your camera settings. Although we don’t see it the night has different level of darkness. I check my camera settings every 20-30 minutes of shooting. It a good idea to review your histogram. However that can be confusing. It should mostly be on the left, dark’s and shadows with a small foot print on the right, representing the highlights.

Find the Ideal Location for Burning Steel

When you’re ready to start steel wool photography, it’s important to find the right location. A safe, open area is best so you can avoid any accidents. Never do steel wool photography near flammable materials or trees and bushes. Or anything that might catch fire.

Despite all the precautions listed above, steel wool photography is still a dangerous. If you take part in this activity, do so at your own risk, and I am not responsible or accountable for any harm or damage that may result.

If you’re just starting out, it might be a good idea to practice shooting with steel wool outside in a safe, secluded area. A beach provides the perfect atmosphere to burn steel wool and get those creative shots you’re looking for. Just make sure not to leave any trash behind!

Steel Wool Photography - Who said photography

Now for the Fun

Fasten the whisk to the dog leash or parachute cord by tying it to the top. Make sure the cord has a length of 1 meter (3 feet).

Before packing the whisk with the wool, lightly fluff the wool. It will help make for better sparks.

Lightly stuff the steel wool into the head of the whisk. Fire needs oxygen to survive, the same goes for the steel wool. Let it breathe. I only use half a pad at a time.

Next, ignite the wool with the butane lighter. The wool will NOT catch fire, only a few strands will glow. The wool will be ignited by the air passing through as you spin it, sparks will fly!

When you or your partner spins the whisk, press the shutter button on the camera in order to capture the image.

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Steel Wool Photography Tips

Steel wool photography is a great way to create eye-catching photos. However, it can be tricky to get the hang of at first. Here are a few tips to help you out:

1) Composition is key. The composition of steel wool lends itself to more creative, modern images. Experiment with different shapes and angles to find what works best for you.

2) You’ll need a partner to help with the steel wool photography. One person should handle the camera while the other handles the steel wool. This will help ensure that both parts of the photo are in focus.

3) Be patient and take your time. It can take some practice before you’re able to create stunning photos with steel wool. Don’t get discouraged–keep trying until you get it right!

4) Don’t limit your self to spinning in one direction. Be creative—try spinning above your head, left side, right side or both. Spin in front of you. Look for objects where the embers can bounce in different directions. Use your imagination play with it, have fun, and be safe.


For more on having fun at night, why not check out our beginners guide to night photography.

Frequently Asked Questions

You swirling steel wool to create sparks and/or light trails: This is done by spinning steel wool on a string or wire in front of a camera set to a long exposure time. The light trails add interest or drama to a photograph.

  • Pull the steel wool apart. Insert the steel wool into the steel whisk.
  • Fasten a cord to the whisk’s handle.
  •  Stand in a clear, fire-safe place.
  • Grab the rope, and begin spinning it.

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