A place for experimental photographers

Painting with Light (continued)

Advancing my experience with long exposure photography and light painting technique, this time I decided to take some steel wool for a spin around London. If you like the outcome, make sure you read my previous Painting with Light post

I have already explained the basics behind this kind of photography in my previous post but just to recap: any source of light moving across the frame while the shutter is open will produce trails of light. This can be used with sparklers, flashlights, fireballs etc. This time, however, I decided to use a technique which is gaining more and more amateurs, filling the Internet with some spectacular images.

Here is what you will need:

A DSLR camera, a tripod,  a roll of Steel Wool (the finer the better),  thin cooper or iron wire, piece of string, protective gloves, goggles and overalls.

First make a medium size basket using a thin iron or cooper wire. Make sure the basket is round and big enough to hold a roll of Steel Wool half the size of your fist. Also, make sure that the wholes in it are big enough to let the sparks go through, but not big enough to let the pieces of red-hot molten steel wool fly off. You can make two circular pieces of wire, put them together and wrap the rest of the wire around this structure. The final basket should look like a globe with longitude and latitude lines on it. Some tutorials suggest tying the roll of steel wool directly to the wire. This is quite dangerous as after spinning the wool, the remaining molten wool cluster is extremely hot. Once you have your basket, attach it to a piece of string or a wire and you are almost ready to spin.

Place your camera on the tripod and compose the picture. The most difficult thing in this kind of photography is to get the right focus. If you are shooting alone, place an object (a dustbin, street cone etc.) in the place you will be standing, focus on it and either lock the focus or switch your camera to manual focus. If you have an assistant to help you, ask him to stand there and focus on him. Then, with your camera focused, set the right aperture, shutter speed and ISO. The above pictures were shot with ISO 400, aperture f/12, and shutter speed 4-6 sec. It’s important to shoot with small apertures to get the flying spark in focus, slower shutter speed to get more patterns and ISO will be obviously determined by the light conditions you will be shooting in. Remember a little experimentation will eventually take you there.

Once you have everything set up, set fire to the steel wool, start spinning it around yourself and take the picture immediately. If you are on your own, trigger the camera with a remote. Otherwise, ask your assistant to take the picture.

Finally, make sure you take all the safety precautions! Place your camera at a significant distance form the sparks and make sure you wear protective gloves, goggles, headwear and overalls. If you spin the wool from above your head, there’s little chance of the sparks falling on you but just in case wear protective clothing. After spinning, the wool will remain red-hot, therefore, extinguish it with water. Look around yourself for any glowing sparks and make sure you put them out. Do not set fire to the wool in the vicinity of any flammable materials!

If you want to see this in action watch this great tutorial.

For inspiration visit the following Flickr groups dealing with this kind of photography:

Wire Wool

Fire Spinning

Thanks for reading and good luck with your photography.

Special thanks go to Patricia Garcia Gomez for the sandwich, a cup of hot tea and for being a great assistant.

Please see the ‘About’ section for copyright information.

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9 responses

  1. Pingback: Long Exposure Photography – Capturing Car Lights « Experimental Digital Photography

  2. Pingback: May 6: Playing with fire « Daily Photo NZ

  3. Fantastic post! Really enjoying reading your posts for new technique ideas and tried this tonight with mixed success – more to come though! Thanks again and keep up the awesome work 🙂

    May 6, 2011 at 8:56 am

    • Thanks a lot. I’m glad you like it and good luck with your light painting. Post a link to your work in the comments if you upload anything to your blog.

      May 6, 2011 at 9:58 am

      • I had a first attempt tonight but didn’t really have a lot of time so on the look out for a good location for the next attempt. A really interesting style though! My first attempt at http://dailyphotonz.com/2011/05/06/may-6-playing-with-fire/ 🙂

        May 6, 2011 at 10:11 am

      • Looks good. Try wider angle shots. I bet in New Zealand you have plenty of stunning locations for this kind of shots 🙂

        May 6, 2011 at 10:20 am

    • I found myself nodding my noggin all the way trohugh.

      January 26, 2012 at 7:11 am

  4. Pingback: Light Painting with Zoom «

  5. Pingback: Long Exposure Photography (inside a car) « Shutter Experiments

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