Do you want to add steel wool photography to your portfolio and shoot cool pictures like the ones we are showing you here on your trips?
We understand you do, and that’s why you have come here, to have a peek into this creative technique and do it yourself later on.
Well, it is your lucky day 🙂 Here’s what we have learned since we started playing with fire a couple of months back (2015), after getting hooked in Koh Tao, Thailand, when we were just waiting for the sunset after scuba diving all day to admire the locals spinning steel wool.
Steel Wool Photography Tips
1. Gather everything you need
– Camera. One you can use in manual mode for long exposure shots. Being great at low ISOs help as well. To start, you could try the following steel wool photography settings: ISO 200, F 5.6 and 8¨.
– Tripod. Obviously needed to keep your camera steady. We are doing long exposure here. 5 to 15 seconds should be fine, but it is up to you and your creativity!
– Remote. You don’t want to touch your perfectly set camera. Any light move will cut the sharpness of your future picture!
– Whisk. You can find them very cheap, although we would recommend something with a bit more quality or it could quickly bend.
– Steel cable. Anything between 0.60m and 1.5m should do. The longest, the bigger the core circle will be. The steel cable and whisk should be tied together.
– Steel wool. #0000, #00 or #0. Do not get anything thicker or you will be wasting your money. Look what happened when I only found #2 steel wool the first time I went shopping. It burnt but it wasn’t great AND we wrongly thought we had to use gas and cotton to set it on fire. Saving you some trouble here!
One pack should set you back around $2.5 and you could use it for about 10 pictures. The steel wool should be put into the whisk. Later on, this part will be set on fire.
– Fire extinguisher. Just in case.
– Lighter. To light it up!
– Torch or glow in the dark stick. It will help you focus right.
2. Dress for success
Proper clothing is key as well. Non-inflammable clothing will prevent you from getting burnt.
Also, remember to use dark clothes if you want the spinner presence to be little to non-existent.
– Jeans or fire resistant long trousers
– Fire resistant hoodie
– Welding protective glasses
– Non-inflammable gloves
– Proper shoes
3. Get a friend or two
Apart from being more fun and safe, two people are actually recommended to make it happen (one spinner, one photographer). Bring two or more and brainstorm for new and creative ways to take the next shot. Leave the alcohol and everything that could distract you / add extra trouble, home.
4. Find a cool spot with little to no public!
As you can see in our pictures here, we usually take our shots by the seaside. There are few places safer and cooler to play with steel wool than beaches at night. Very low risk of messing up and water reflections go a long way.
Bridges and abandon buildings are usually awesome as well. Just make sure you are not trespassing any private property or doing anything that could bring you trouble. Be aware of leftovers that could be set on fire easily in the surroundings. It will be probably dark so make sure you have carefully inspected every corner, ceilings, and floors and there’s nothing inflammable surrounding you before lighting your steel wool toy up.
Finally, remember that you don’t need public for this. In fact, we advise you to shoot in a spot without people and try not to draw attention to the fact you’re steel spinning. It’s better that way, believe us.
5. Start small
Get familiarized with the technique yourself before trying to get to a complicated yet photogenic spot or something crazy. We have warned you!
6. Play safe
Use your common sense. Rinse and repeat.
If the person taking the pics has a remote and the one spinning is properly dressed, there should be no big risk. Everyone else in the area should keep a proper distance (and I am talking something like 30 – 50m from the spot where the spinner is located). The burning little pieces of steel wool will be flying all over the place.
7. Play, improve, picture, repeat
Fun, isn’t it?
After getting the wrong steel wool (remember? You should get proper steel wool for photography: #0 or less!), we went back to the shop and bought some #0000 one. Well, after playing with it just one night, we went back to the shop once again and bought all it was left. The guys are still wondering what we are doing with so much steel wool!
Then, for a few days, we headed to different spots mainly along the coastline and played around with more friends, elements, and ideas. And it is not over yet! These days, a fully equipped for steel photography backpack is coming with us everywhere we go by car. That way, if a cool spot comes up, we are ready for some fun!
8. Don’t blame us
In case something doesn’t happen as it should. We are not responsible for your actions or your steel spinning. Therefore, it is your only fault if you get a ticket, get burnt or somehow mess up. Do not say we haven’t told you!
Looking to hear back from you now, have you ever tried this technique? Are you going to? Would you like to show us your artwork? Comment here, there’s nothing that makes us happier!
Now here are some images of our own steel photography adventures. Find more on instagram.com/aworldtotravel
I am so glad i found this!! I’m wondering how you got the different colors, some are red, orange and theres a stunning blue. Are there any tricks to get different colors like these?
Happy to hear that!
Yes and no. The trick is simply post processing the images later.
Wow, how beautiful! I don’t think my photography skills are quite up to this, but an awesome tutorial.
Thanks so much Bethany! It is pretty simple, don’t be afraid to give it a try.
OMG! These are some really dynamic photos. I think you have to be extremely careful in attempting this though. But the result is really awesome.
This is amazing! Definitely going to bookmark this. I’m trying to improve my photography skills at the moment and this is great!
NICE! Love it. Such great pictures.
This is soooo cool! I love the pictures! I’ll have to try it one day!!
Thanks so much! Glad you like them and let us know if you do try it!
Wow – those are fabulous photos. Thanks for sharing the technique (and just in time for the 4th of July!)
Wow. This is totally cool!!!!
Thanks! Glad you like them!
These are some incredible shots! Buying a decent camera is really one of my top priorities, as soon as my budget allows me. Then, I need to learn to take good pictures too 🙂
Thanks Claudia! We can’t recommend enough Nikon products. So happy with ours 😀
Very, very cool! crazy pics….must give it a try. So spectacular.
Please do let us know if you do! Would love to check yours out!