Photography has both a rich history and endless creative possibilities. Throughout the years, we’ve covered the ways in which amateurs and professionals alike have captured images that amaze us and bring us to tears. Be it subject matter or setting, there are a myriad of approaches to creating a striking picture.
One way to make unforgettable photos is with a technique called light painting. It involves the use of a hand-held light that's moved throughout the frame. Taken during a long exposure, the light looks like a string of illumination that swims throughout the composition. Although a flashlight is a common tool for light painting, there’s another approach that creates an even more spectacular picture—steel wool.
People love steel wool photography because it’s both fun to create and easy to produce—you aren’t breaking the bank with this type of photography. And the results are dramatic, to say the least. Photographers illuminate their compositions with high-intensity spirals and rays of light pierce the surrounding landscape. It appears as though this otherworldly force has taken hold and occupied the image.
Steel wool photography tips
Want to create your own steel wool photography? It doesn’t take much—although the compositions look complicated, it’s simple to do once you’ve got your method down. Supplies include:
- Steel wool, also called a wire sponge, is a bundle of fine steel filaments often used in cleaning or polishing. For steel wool photography, you’ll want to select a finer grade.
- Metal cooking whisk
- Flexible wire
- Wire cutters
- Matches or a lighter
- Protective clothing and eye wear, including long pants and sleeves as well as safety goggles
The process is straightforward, but it's best if you have a buddy to help you; you'll need one person to photograph and the other to handle the steel wool. Essentially, you pull apart the metal filament and stuff it inside the cage of the whisk. Afterwards, you attach the whisk to the flexible wire and cut it to the desired length. Once you’ve got your camera all set up, ignite the steel wool, spin, and photograph.
As with any photography technique, your picture will look different depending on the type of steel wool you buy. The finer the wool, the shorter the burn and less overall intensity. To change the tone of the photo, place colored gel filters over your flash.
Watch how to create your own steel wool photography in the helpful video below. It takes you through the process from start to finish.
Before you try your own steel wool photography, check out some of the mesmerizing images that can be created with this technique.
In each picture, the subject looks like they’re surrounded by a cascade of fire.