Photo blogger Frank Cone and photographer friends Josh Tarr and Joel Mattson have been having a lot of fun this fall experimenting with shots of burning steel wool. We asked Frank to explain how they capture the unique images.
Steel wool that can be purchased at any hardware store can be ignited by using flame or a 9-volt battery. There are several tutorials online on how to achieve this effect, but basically what you need is steel wool, an egg whisk and something to spin it. I’ve been using a dog leash, most tutorials suggest a steel cable.
The process: Set the camera on a tripod. A good starting f-stop is f5.6; you can go up or down depending on the amount of ambient light. Low ISO. Exposure: I started out at 25-30 seconds and I’ve also used the bulb mode on my camera, which lets me control the exposure.
Find an appropriate place to create the effect. Near water with nothing flammable close by is highly recommended. Wear pants and a long-sleeve shirt because steel wool burns hot. Eye protection is also a must, and finally camera safety. A clear lens filter is a lot cheaper to replace if a burning chuck of steel wool hits it rather than a expensive lens.
Stuff a small amount of steel wool into the whisk, light the steel wool, and, once it ignites, spin it. It will throw off sparks, but will look pretty undramatic. The exposure is key here. It will record every spark trail as it flies through the air and bounces along the ground.
This is much easier to do with other people around. Josh Tarr, Joel Mattson and I got together and tried several shots and different techniques. One person can be the “spinner” while the others fire the cameras. It’s a lot easier than firing the shutter, running out in front of the camera, lighting the steel wool and spinning it by yourself. It’s safer, too.
Frank Cone lives in Wenatchee with his wife and son. His Shutterday photo blog can be viewed at wenatcheeworld.com.