I have always seen steel wool photography around the web and thought it was cool. About two years ago, some friends I met through Instagram invited me to go try it out for the first time in Sacramento. We went under an overpass hidden from view and with nothing that could burn around us. I got my camera settings going and they started spinning. The first time I saw the image on the back on my camera, I was amazed, it looked incredible. From that night on, I have tried many different spinning techniques and I go spinning whenever I can. Here are some images from that first time spinning.
Now for those of you who don't know what steel wool photography is... The process is putting steel wool into a kitchen whisk tying it to a rope, lighting the steel wool, then spinning it around in circles to throw the sparks. By taking a long exposure, the camera captures all the sparks and the resulting images look amazing and unique.
One time I took my brother and dad out with me one night to spin. They had a great time playing with the fire and had many ways to make it better. One of their ideas was to use a drill to spin the steel wool instead on manually throwing a rope around your head. A couple of hours went by working in the shop and the first prototype of the drill attachment was finished. That night we tested it out on our court and it worked pretty good, but still could use some improvement. After fixing some things and making it better, it was ready for the first time out shooting with it. I took it down to the American River and spent a few hours playing with it. I could tell that I was going to like using this a lot.
This is what it looked like...
Using the drill gives the spin a much tighter circle and better sparks spraying everywhere, not to mention saving somebody's arm muscles. This first model eventually, wore out and we made a new and improved version. I was using it around Sacramento, and took it to shoot with some more Instagramers. Everyone was amazed by it and wanted to use it all the time. I took it to San Diego to meet up with some of the best spinners I know, and they were impressed with its abilities. Some more improvements were made and we finally settled on the best way to make them. We tried making a bigger attachment and even a four whisk type, but those did not work out to great.
I kept taking it out to shoot, but the images are more about the location then the spin, just like most types of photography. I always try to find a composition with a good foreground in the frame. Beaches are my favorite to spin steel wool has they have rocks and other interesting formations. There is enough room for the sparks to fly and not damage or catch on fire. But I am always on the lookout to find more locations to spin.
Without going any farther, I need to mention that spinning steel wool is dangerous. Little pieces of steel wool on fire are being thrown all over the place. It would not take much for a dry brush to catch fire by one little spark. So make sure before you start spinning to find a location where nothing can be lit on fire. I always bring a little fire extinguisher or make sure there is water close by just in case something happens. Just be careful spinning steel wool. So go out be creative and try some steel wool photography!
Here are some of my favorite steel wool photos I have made so far.