Photographing with steel wool, often referred to as steel wool spinning, is a lot of fun. Not only the action during the shooting but especially the finished picture guarantees a wow effect.
What appears so spectacular on the picture, however, looks only approximate during the shooting. That’s why the exposure is very long when spinning steel wool.
Lens, Background, Image Detail and Focusing
I generally use a wide-angle lens (focal length mostly between 14-35mm) to capture the entire scene. When photographing with steel wool, you should pay attention to the background. Beautiful, old industrial plants are ideal for illuminating them at night with colorful lights. Water points such as puddles, water basins, etc. are also very suitable. Just stand in front of it while spinning the steel wool and the flying sparks will be wonderfully reflected in it.
Make sure that you are in the golden section with the steel wool and focus manually on it. Try other stylistic devices such as geometric shapes, leading lines and corner runners. This also works with pictures without steel wool. 😉
Which settings do I choose for photographing with steel wool?
In general, I don’t use a fixed exposure time, but flexibly determine the shooting time depending on the duration of the effect. This can take up to 30 seconds, sometimes even more than a minute. This exposure mode is called Bulb and can be found on Canon cameras on the mode selector wheel under mode B. The exposure mode can be changed to Bulb. With Sony and Nikon, you can reach Bulb mode by selecting the value to the left of the 30 seconds in Manual mode (M mode), i.e., turning it to the left.
Starting and stopping the recording is done by a radio or cable trigger, which also supports the bulb function. This is very important when purchasing to make sure which batteries belong in it and to which camera connection the connection cable is connected. There are also different connection sockets among manufacturers.
Now we come to the aperture. Since we expose for a long time and fire is very bright, something may be dimmed. I recommend f/9.5-f/11.
We don’t need the additional function in the camera “noise reduction” and should deactivate it. This means that the camera processes the image afterward and is not available for further shots during this time. In most cases, the result after this processing is not optimal. With ISO 100 we have hardly any or no noise anyway, so we don’t need this function.
We shoot from a stable tripod and the image stabilizer on the lens (if necessary / if available also for the sensor) must be deactivated. The white balance mostly fits on the setting “sunny.” If you create the photos in RAW format, you can also set it to automatic. It doesn’t matter. Nevertheless, I recommend the setting “sunny,” as I think that the preview image on display then best fits the color temperature.
Which steel wool is the best?
Many people swear that the finer the steel wool, the better the result. No, not quite. It should be fine, but my tests with almost all degrees of fineness have shown that the finest fibers don’t look good.
I think the 00 strength is the most suitable for steelwool spinning. It burns well and flies very far. I almost always use Homax Group Inc, which you can find at Amazon or with a bit of luck at your hardware store. Often you get by with one pack for a very long time.
Steel wool is available in the most natural gradations 3, 2, 1, 0, 00, 000 and 0000. You only have to know that the higher (more positive) the numbers are, the coarser and the more zeros there are on the package, the finer the steel wool is. So you can leave the steel wool 3, 2, 1 and 0 on the DIY store shelf or ignore them.
Also, make sure that you do not catch any steel wool in which oils or other substances are mixed in. They are sootier and the fumes are certainly not healthy and pleasant.
The first slingshot
In principle, it is quite simple and not expensive to make a centrifuge for the glowing steel wool. A metal whisk is all you need to attach a parcel string to the bottom of the handle. With this, you get good results and in the first year, I took my Steelwool Spinning photos almost exclusively this way.
Now take a piece of steel wool out of the pack and puff it up so that more oxygen reaches the fibers later when spinning with glowing steel wool. Then you bale this into the snow whisk’s strut and your slingshot would be ready for use.
The right centrifugal technology
They don’t really exist and, as is usually the case in photography, it depends on one’s own personal taste. Many possible figures can be created with glowing steel wool.
Safety instructions and display
In all attempts, you should be aware that you are playing with fire. Therefore, it is not advisable to wear flammable clothing and recommend a headgear such as a hood or a cap. Make sure that the sparks don’t get behind your clothes, because steel wool and magnesium can spray hot sparkles. For the use of pyrotechnics, because more uncontrolled sparks can fly, safety glasses are not wrong. Inform your administration about the possibility of submitting a permanent display for the burning of fireworks (burning display) because this is outside of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s report.