Understanding Steel Wool Sparks Photography
Have you ever seen those pictures of lights like the one below) with what looks like long trails off the main shape and wondered how it was made? It is a form of light painting, but not made with a flashlight or LED. It is made with burning steel wool and is called steel wool sparks photography. Here is what you need to know to make your own fantastic night-time shots using burning steel wool.
Steel Wool. Of course if you are burning it you need it. You want extra fine steel wool grade 0 or below. Some folks prefer 0000 grade, and others like it less fine. Grade 1 and above will not burn like you want so while it might be good for cleaning, it will not work for making sparks.
A cage. Okay this can be a cheap whisk, or you can use a suet cage, or even just stuff the wool into the loops of a chain. The majority of folks get a dollar store whisk with a hook on the end of it. This will hold the steel wool pad which is fluffed up so it can burn evenly.
Something to swing said cage with. Some people opt for a steel chain or cable, others go with a heavy leather dog leash. One case even suggests a strong wire. The point is to have something to grip and swing the cage with to help make the light shape you are after.
A DSLR Camera and Tripod. Any long exposure needs to be steady so tripod is necessary. A good DSLR camera will have the features you need to take this type of image.
Some way to light the Wool. It needs to be burning, so you can use a 9-volt battery (slow but works) or a good lighter.
Additionally you will want to have flashlights and safety gear to put out the wool (bucket and water plus a fire extinguisher). It is highly recommended to wear black clothing for the person doing the spinning so that they will not be visible in the final image. Long sleeves and pants, a head covering, eye protection, and gloves are suggested. Find a good location – and make sure the surroundings do not present a fire hazard. If possible spray the area down to prevent setting fires.
Set up your camera, use the flashlight to help focus it, and then set the timer for the exposure. 30 seconds is good. Light the wool. If you want to make an orb you will need to swing in a circle and move it around so that you are the center. Play with how you move to get different shapes.