101 Guide to Mastery Steel Wool Photography

Guide to Mastery Steel Wool Photography – A technique called light painting is one way to create memorable images. It requires the use of hand-held light that has been moved around the frame. The light looks like a series of lights that swims in the composition during a long exposure. Although a flashlight is a popular light paintinghttps://abrittonphotography.com/long-exposure-photography-ideas/ method, there is another approach to produces an even more impressive picture called Steel Wool Photography.

The boundless possibilities it offers for combining the scientific with the creative are one of the most incredible things about photography. One prime example of this is steel wool photography. You may be inclined to think that this technique is a complex one that takes a lot of learning if you have seen any of the dramatic and unique pictures it creates.

Simply put, something like this is going on: when you light the steel wool on fire and turn it around, the sparks fly off. This generates a wildly unusual image in conjunction with a long exposure.

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What is Steel Wool Photography?

amazing steel wool photography ideas
Photo from Instagram @aowbsx

Steel wool is a cleaning tool that is usually used to polish surfaces or remove hard deposits. It looks like wool, except it’s made of thin metal fibers.

Steel Wool Photography is the practice of using long camera exposures through the act of spinning burning steel wool to capture the movement of hot sparks flying through the air. These sparks are very hot, and when they pass through the air, they shine brightly. The camera sensor catches the streaks of produced light as they fly away from the spinner. This kind of photography is exciting and entertaining.

Check Our Articles about Long Exposure Photography in here:

Essentials Steel Wool Photography Equipment

steel wool photography equipment
Photo from Instagram @aowbsx

In photography, combined with long exposure, steel wool will make you produce stunning pictures. As you spin the burning stuff, your camera catches the sparks and long streaks of light produced by the motion.

This approach does not need a costly setup or costly equipment, which is excellent news for many photographers.

The best Camera for Steel Wool Photography

For your steel wool photography, the best camera we can suggest is Canon 6D Mark II. Canon 6D Mark II has manual control, which is essential for long exposure photography.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II Digital SLR Camera Body, Wi-Fi Enabled
  • 26.2 Megapixel full frame CMOS sensor
  • Optical viewfinder with a 45 point all cross type AF system. Compatible Lenses: Canon EF lenses (excluding EF S and EF M...
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF with phase detection and Full HD 60p

The Best Lens for Steel Wool Photography 

The choice of lens and focal length when shooting steel wool can change the final picture’s look and feel, but you also want to choose a focal length that keeps the camera protected from the sparks. When capturing steel wool photography, we prefer a wide lens. 20-35mm fits well with most steel wool photos.

We suggest Zeiss 21 mm f/2.8 Distagon T* ZF.2 Series Lens and Canon EF 16-35 mm f/2.8L III USM Lens as the perfect lens for long exposure photography.

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  • Sub wave length Coating (SWC) and Air Sphere Coating (ASC) help to significantly reduce flare and ghosting.

Lens Hood and Protective Lens Filter

Put a protective filter on your lens while using your camera near the lit steel wool. The heat can produce a stretch of fire that is costly to repair.

We recommend that you use a filter with UV or polarization.

Amazon Basics UV Protection Camera Lens Filter - 55mm
  • UV protection filter for general, everyday use
  • Reduces ultraviolet light; helps eliminate bluish cast in images
  • Protects lens from dust, dirt, and scratches
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Steel Wool Photography’s Best Tripod

Steel wool photography requires a steady tripod, like any other long-exposure photography, to allow your camera to remain stable during exposure. This restricts the possibility of having a blurry image.

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Shutter Release

To prevent the camera from shaking, you will need a shutter cable as well. A self-timer would be appropriate as well.

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ND Filters

One that can be adjusted to fit your existing lens, such as the K&F Concept 49mm, is a decent ND filter. You can also get cheaper ND materials and build a filter system of your own.

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Light Source for Steel Wool Photography

Then, of course, you need the light source to produce the effect of steel wool photography. And here’s the following thing:

Steel Wool

There are many steel wool grades, and the lower the numbers, the better the wool grade would be.

For good pictures, you need an excellent grade of steel wool. For steel wool photography, We recommend using grade 000 or 0000. You can’t use anything 1 or higher. This is something you can purchase from a hardware store or Amazon.

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Steel Wool Thickness of Fiber

Grade NameGrade Codeinchesmm
Super Fine0000#0.0010.025
Extra Fine000#0.00150.035
Very Fine00#0.00180.04
Medium Coarse2#0.0030.075
Extra Coarse4#0.0040.10

For Spinning String

In order to spin the steel wool, you need a string. There’s a rope, a chain, or even a dog leash that you can use. We suggest a string with a length of 1-1.5m.

You want to keep the whisk away an arm-length. Don’t let the rope reach floor-length. You want to see the sparks from the whisk flying out and hitting the concrete.

To limit injuries, make sure that you tie your whisk and string sufficiently.

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Stainless Steel Whisk 

The cage of a whisk contains steel wool to tie the string and use the hook at the handle’s top.

Pack the center of the whisk with the wool. Do not stuff it too tightly because you want to let the oxygen flow in and speed up the burning process. When you use fine steel wool for photography, this can become simpler.

Note: When illuminated, steel wool can hit high temperatures. DO NOT use a whisk with silicone as it will melt. The burning steel wool could also burn the steel whisk, so get a few bits of a cheap edition.

Before you light the steel wool, practice spinning around the whisk on the rope a couple of times, before the actual photography starts, you want to be relaxed and able to handle the rope.

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Bring Something to Light The Fire

To light the steel wool, you can use an old school lighter or a rechargeable candle lighter.

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How to do Steel Wool Photography Camera Settings

How to steel wool photography camera settings
Photo from Instagram @penza.tfp

The best time of day to take pictures of steel wool is from twilight to dark. Blue hour is the favorite time for steel wool photography for many people, as you get exciting colors of the sky and some light to reveal objects near you.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed of 5-20 seconds ensures that you catch the embers’ full length moving through the air.


An F/8 – F/16 aperture keeps your whole scene focused without lens diffraction.


An ISO of 100-200 will ensure that you do not lose any detail in the embers.

RAW shooting

Shooting RAW will allow you to retain all the details in the file, giving you editing flexibility.

White Balance

Choosing Shade or Cloudy will bring out the embers’ orange glow and save your time when you post-process the images. Set White Balance to Daylight, as they are; this will catch the colors. It will attempt to shift the orange glow of the burning steel wool back to white when your camera is left on Auto WB.

Safety First

Steel Wool Photography Tutorial
Photo from Instagram @aowbsx

Photography of steel wool involves playing with fire and can burn you or initiate fires. Health is therefore of utmost significance and must be taken very seriously. To keep yourself, others, and the environment safe, please follow these safety tips:

Safety Tips to Take a Steel Wool Photography

6 Safety TIPS How to Steel Wool Photography Ideas
Photo from Instagram @red_giant_photography
  • Pick places in the vicinity without any flammable materials because sparks will fly depending on how you spin. The sparks that fly out from the burning steel wool can easily catch fire from dry grass, wood, cars, old buildings, fuel, etc. Never photograph indoors for steel wool photography. Vast open places such as beaches, deserts, rocky areas, areas close to water, available lots, etc., are perfect. Wet weather is a good bet, as well.
  • Wear clothing that is safe and secure to cover bare skin, hands, and hair. It’s also advisable to have a safety google on.
  • It is highly advised to have a fire extinguisher or water bucket. Stay at the place well for a while after you finish to make sure nothing is left smoldering or burning.
  • Once you are done, do a site walk, search for hot spots, burning embers, or smoke. To be 100 percent certain that nothing is burning after you finish up, carefully survey the area. A single hot ember will smolder for a while before eventually setting on fire after you’re gone. Before you leave the place, extinguish them with some water, sand, or your fire extinguisher if you come across some burning embers or hot spots.
  • Maintain a healthy distance from the place for individuals, children, and pets. Leave pets and kids at home even better.
  • Never take photos of steel wool in or near old historical wooden structures. It may seem like a cool place to catch a creative steel wool photography of old abandoned homes, vessels, and other historical sites. Although in the past, there have been several cases when these structures have caught fire because of the use of steel wool by photographers. Old wooden buildings and structures are highly at high risk of catching fire because the wood is always very dry, old paints are flammable, and oils, soot, or other volatile chemicals are likely to cover them. Use common sense, please, and do not pursue photography of steel wool near these types of structures. You risk a big fire, a piece of history being lost, a hefty fine/ jail, and a bad name given to photographers.

Photography with steel wool is a dangerous endeavor. You do so at your own risk by engaging in this activity, and we at abrittonphotography.com are not responsible or liable for any injuries or damage caused. Be healthy and be vigilant!

Tutorial How to Shoot Steel Wool Photography

Tutorial How to Shoot Steel Wool Photography
Photo from Instagram @chrisvanedig

The act of spinning steel wool is easy. When you’re all set, set the steel aglow with a lighter and make your partner shift it in a circular pattern. The sparks that are burning will fly out and create luminous light trails. From vertical spinning, horizontal spinning, and spinning while you walk, you might try various spinning techniques to spinning while you walk.

  • Apply whisk to rope or dog leash, keeping the length to around 2 feet.
  • Take out from the box a piece of steel wool. Open and fluff the steel wool a little. Fluffing will cause the steel wool to flow better through the air and give you a more continuous burn.
  • Within the head of the whisk, stuff the steel wool. Don’t pack it too tightly because the air would have to pass through it to burn it effectively.
  • Using the lighter or the battery to light the wool. You don’t need the wool to be on fire and just need a couple of flickering bits. The air that passes through the steel wool will ignite when you rotate and cause the sparks to fly.
  • Spin the wool in a circle by gripping the other end of the rope or dog leash, allowing the sparks to fly away from the end of the whisk.
  • Click the shutter button on the camera to catch the image as the person starts spinning.

Mastering the Technique: Before attempting it with the burning steel wool, you can practice spinning the whisk on the rope or leash a couple of times. In specific, practice by slowly stopping the spin without hitting yourself with the whisk.

This may sound trivial, but if the whisk reaches you while trying to stop it, you’ll be burnt. During the process, it gets scorching.

During the process, it gets scorching. If you are not near a lake or stream, we suggest you hold a bucket of water nearby to dip the whisk in afterward and cool any remaining hot wool before refilling it with more steel wool.

Tips and Techniques Creative for Steel Wool Photography

Tips How to Shoot Steel Wool Photography
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

You can improve yourself and become more creative after you have learned the fundamentals of steel wool photography.

  • Find a place with a backdrop or an interesting foreground. They can be illuminated either artificially or using the light from the burning wool.
  • A place on the side of the body of water will give you a pleasant reflection. As well as a surprise factor, this will lead to the composition.
  • Your foreground or background is painted with light. You can set longer shutter speeds, such as 25 seconds, and after the wool stops burning, begin painting the foreground or background with a torchlight. When you want a light color, remember to quickly extinguish or remove the wool until it has stopped burning.
  • To offer strength to give a different sensation, shoot between walls or frames.
  • Place your friend or model and spin the wool behind them.
  • During spinning, switch towards, away, or sideways from the camera.
  • To give different results, try some different angles.
  • Try to shoot with longer shutter speeds, such as 20 to 30 seconds, just before sunrise or just after sunset. This will naturally reveal the surroundings and add to the composition.
  • You may have to play with the configuration of your camera. Without a tripod, you can’t capture a steel wool shot as you need to maximize exposure.
  • You should measure different distances and think about how your photograph can influence various sources of light.

20 + The Best Ideas For Steel Wool Photography

The Best Ideas For Steel Wool Photography
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

Steel Wool Photography is a popular trend! Look at other photographers doing to get some photography ideas on social media.

For this Steel Wool Photography Ideas, we get that from the steel wool photographer’s name is Dan Clarke you can find him on Instagram.

1. Spinning Vertical Spinning

Vertical spinning will send you a fun circle of fire with beautiful sparks flying out.

How to Make Vertical Steel Wool Photography Ideas
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

2. Horizontal Spinning

Horizontal spinning will make them feel even closer to the sparks.

The sparks flying toward the camera will build a focus line.

How to Make Horizontal Steel Wool Photography Ideas
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

3. Secondary Focal Point

How to Make Artistic Steel Wool Photography Ideas
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

4. Spin the Steel Wool Behind Them

How to Steel Wool Photography Portraits Ideas
Photo from Instagram @aowbsx

5. Reflections

Reflections steel wool photography ideas
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

6. Add Crystal Ball

Crystal Ball Steel Wool Photography Ideas
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

7. Winter Season

Winter steel wool photography ideas
Photo from Instagram @jan.1402

8. Make a Orb Steel Wool Photography

How to make Orb steel wool photography ideas
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

9. Put a Mask

Steel Wool Photography Ideas
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

10. Combine with Light Painting Technique

Light Painting Steel Wool Photography Ideas
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

11. Great Depth of Field Steel Wool Photography

Depth of Field Steel Wool Photography Ideas
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

12. Double Steel Wool Photography Ideas

Double exposure steel wool photography ideas
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

13. Colorful Steel Wool Photography

Colorful RGB Steel Wool Photography Ideas
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

14. Abandoned Station

Steel Wool Photography Background Ideas
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

15. Amazing Background

How to Steel Wool Photography Ideas Background
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

16. Showtime!

Zoom Steel Wool Photography Tutorial
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

17. Different Angles

Composition of Steel Wool Photography Portraits
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

18. Combine with Magnesium

How to Magnesium Steel Wool Photography Ideas
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

19. Spinning While You Walk

You can receive vortex-like images as you rotate while walking.

With a dark background, this spinning technique is incredibly successful.

How to Make Tunnel Steel Wool Photography Ideas
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography

20. Neon and Sparkler Writing

Neon and Sprakler Steel Wool Photography Ideas
Photo from Instagram @dan_clarke_photography


Steel Wool Photography does not require costly equipment, nor is it difficult or daunting. It is only a matter of having the correct long exposure camera settings and spinning the burning steel wool. Practice and patience are going to help you master these photography techniques.

Ask and come up with unique ideas if you are in photography communities. The photo is just about as wonderful as the creativity behind it!

Remember to keep safe and make use of common sense. You work with the fire, so there are risks, and nobody wants property damaged or destroyed. Have fun, be safe and keep on photographing!

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