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  • January 12, 2021
  • 14 min to read

Best Steel Wool Photography Ideas 2021

Best Steel Wool Photography Ideas 2021

Have you seen those cool photographs that display bursting and spinning fire? Have you wondered how this type of photography is done? Chances are what you saw was steel wool photography. 

Steel wool photography is an interesting and unique way of painting with light and creating exciting photos like no other. You too can learn how to take these stunning images. You do need to know how to work with your DSLR in manual mode, have a few mandatory photography pieces of equipment, and of course, you need to take certain precautions to keep yourself and everyone safe.

Let’s take a look at a few tips and tricks to get you started on your steel wool photography adventure.

What You Will Need to Shoot Steel Wool Photography 

  • DSLR
    You will need a DSLR that you can put into manual mode because steel wool photography requires you set the camera to shoot in long exposures to be successful.

    Obviously, when shooting in long exposures the camera has to be very steady otherwise the images will be blurry. A tripod or anything that will keep your camera from moving is required.

  • Shutter Release
    Having a shutter release is not absolutely necessary, but having one helps to maintain the camera stable and eliminates the risk of movement while pressing the shutter button.

  • Whisk
    A stainless steel whisk (no plastic or silicone) is needed to place the steel wool inside. Get one that seems durable because you will be abusing it a bit. 

  • Lighter or matches
    To set the steel wool on fire.

  • Steel Wool
    Steel wool is sold in grades. Try to get the #0, #00, or the #0000 for best results. These have been proven to work best when doing steel wool photography.

  • Steel Cable or chain
    The steel cable or chain will determine how large or how small your inner circle will be. Anything between 1.5 feet (0.5 meters) and 5 feet (1.5 meters) will make nice photos and keep you safe.

  • Flashlight
    You will need this to set your focus before lighting the steel wool.

  • Protective Gloves
    A good item to have to protect your hands from the steel wool which can cause cuts.
  • Eye Protection
    The person holding and spinning the steel wool (and everyone standing close) should protect their eyes from the sparks.
  • Fire Extinguisher
    This is a good item to carry with you in case something goes wrong. Remember that you ARE playing with fire!

Prepare Your Steel Wool Photography Shoot 

You need to prepare in advance in order to be successful with this type of photography. It isn’t a spontaneous shoot and absolutely needs some organizing and well thought-out plan in advance.

  • Location

This is a very important factor to think about. The possibility of causing a fire and damage to property is high while doing this type of photography. It’s best to choose a location that is remote and that is away from potential fragile elements that could catch fire.

Sources of water are quite nice because you can actually get the reflection of the water in your shots. On a beach or by a lake are some good location ideas for steel wool photography. Try to stay farthest away from trees or other flammable objects.

It’s also recommended to shoot after a rainfall, so things are not so brittle and flammable.

Of course, you will want to shoot when it is dark to get the best effects from your steel wool photo shoot. Starting during blue hour creates an interesting dark blue sky.

  • People

You will need some help with this shoot. It’s not something you can easily achieve alone. You need minimum one person to spin the steel wool on fire while you shoot, but you can add as many as you want for more of the desired effect.

  • Clothing

You and your helpers should wear comfortable clothing that is dark-colored. Long sleeves and pants are recommended also for safety precaution. 

You want the interest to be on the spinning fire and not on the people in the shot. Wearing dark colored clothing will help them blend into the shot without being too visible. 

How to do Steel Wool Photography 

Here are the steps to take to achieve steel wool photography with success. Remember, this is a trial and error type of photography and isn’t an exact science. Fire is unpredictable and you will need to practice to gain confidence in your equipment and movements.

  • Prepare the Steel Wool

Place the steel wool inside the whisk packing it not too tight as it needs air to burn properly. Fluffing it up a little before inserting it will produce the best sparks. Tie the handle of the whisk with the steel cable or chain tightly. This is what you (or your helper) will be spinning. 

  • Set Your Camera

First set your camera on the tripod and make sure to place it far enough away from the location where you will burn the steel wool so not to damage your camera. Set the ISO to 100 and your aperture to f8 to f11. You can set your camera mode to aperture priority if you wish and let the camera decide the exposure, but make sure that it is at least 5 seconds. If not, set camera mode to manual and set your shutter speed yourself to between 5 and 20 seconds. Set your white balance to auto, this should do the trick. If not, try tungsten. 

Because you are shooting in a dark environment, your camera will have difficulties finding the focus. Use the flashlight to light your helper (spinner) to set the focus where the fire will be. 

Using a wide angle lens is also recommended to get better impact in your composition and create a more dramatic effect.

  • Light The Steel Wool and Spin

Light the steel wool and start spinning! The steel wool will burn for about 20 seconds, so you need to be ready to take those shots. If you’re lucky, you may get 2-3 shots in before the fire burns outs completely.

  • Experiment

There are different techniques that you can use when spinning the burning steel wool. You can spin in circles in front of you or above your head. You can also ask your helper to walk or make figures while spinning, this creates pretty cool effects as well. 

  • Post Shoot Editing 

If the shoot doesn’t come out exactly as you would have wished, but the images are not completely blown out or busted, you can always use an automatic AI photo editor like PHOTOLEMUR to help restore the photographs to their best results. 

Be Safe

Remember to stay safe and always apply precaution when doing steel wool photography. There have been instances where photographers have burnt down buildings or other flammable objects while shooting burning steel wool. You certainly don’t want to be “that” photographer who burns down a house! Stay away from buildings or trees and shoot near water if possible. The sparks that are created when steel wool is burning make for some unique and fun photographs, but are quite unpredictable. Using all necessary precautions and having a fire extinguisher on hand should minimize the chances of accidents.

Experiment and Have Fun!

Steel wool photography is fun and produces exciting images. No doubt about that! Look at what other photographers are doing to get some inspiration, but try different things and movements in order to produce your own unique photos. Try-out different lengths for the cord or chain to see the diverse looks that it creates. Having more than one person spinning several steel wool whisks at the same time is sure to generate some pretty impressive results.

Steel wool photography will probably require some experimenting until you can get the hang of it and master the technique, so have fun and keep shooting! 

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