Project #02 - Steelwool Photography Part 1

It has been a while since the teaser and there has definitely been some progress with this project. I think I will just start by sharing one of the few final shots with you. 

Final Image 1

It was very fun to shoot and there are a few things I want to share with you all so you can keep that in mind before you do your steelwool photography. 

1. Before the shoot

Just like any other photo shoot, you need to know what you will be photographing and what you will need to get that shot. I think making a check list of all the equipment you need is very important.

In terms of taking the photo, you will need the camera, lens and a tripod. Choosing which lens to use really depends on how you want the image to look at the end. This is my first time shooting outdoor so I really didn't know what to expect hence I used my standard zoom lens and shot at 24mm just to make sure I get the entire scene. I used a wired trigger as well just to make sure there won't be unnecessary camera shake but you can do without. 

In terms of the steelwool. I have chosen 0000 grade (very fine) steelwool as it produces finer sparks which I prefer, but feel free to experiment with different size and see how it affects the results. I have used a whisk with a string attached to the end of it and it seems to work fine. All you need to do is stuff the steelwool inside the whisk, light it up and starts spinning. You don't need to light the entire piece of steelwool on fire because the flame will get bigger as you start spinning. 

Location is also very important as you would like to do this at a remote location where pedestrian won't get accidentally hit by the ember flying out and make sure there are no flammable stuff like trees and bushes around.

Final Image 2

2. Taking the shots

Actually taking the shots is probably the easy part of the job in this case as it really all depends on the spinning. But with that being said, I will go through my settings and the reason behind them. In my opinion, how good a steelwool photos look really depends on how much sparks and how full the sparks are in a photo therefore shutter speed is the first thing I choose. Based on my test shots last time, I think 4 seconds is the optimal shutter speed to get the results I want. I have used f/5.6 as I want a larger depth of field to make sure the sparks flying forward and backward aren't going to be too out of focus. That leaves ISO and I have chosen ISO320 as that is the last piece to make up a correct exposure.

In terms of spinning the steelwool, you really can go wild with it. You can easily see some variations in my shots here and it really is up to you what you want it to look like. A few tips regarding this part is spin as fast as you can as you can get more sparks with a longer projectile. Keep the radius of the spin small to start with as it is easier to handle and make sure you have plenty of practice without fire before you start doing it with actual fire. It is preferable to have someone skilled to do the spinning and you only need to focus on the shooting, but unfortunately, I don't have that, so I did the spinning myself, but make sure safety first.

Final Image 3

3. Post Processing

I did find this series of photos quite easy to edits as they all look quite similar to the image I have in mind before. As you can see it looks quite similar before and after 

Before & After

Since there is quite a big difference in exposure between the burning sparks and the dark sky and foreground. I do think you can improve the picture by reducing some highlight and and increase the clarity and vibrance to bring the sparks out. I think another cool thing to experiment with is the white balance as you will be able to alter the colour of the sparks to your own liking. 

Changing the white balance

4. Final remarks

It really has been a fun experiment playing with some steelwool and getting some pretty good images on my first try, but there are also something worth noting when you are going to shoot your own. 

Safety: It is very important to be careful as the steelwool are burning hot and you should be wearing appropriate clothing, preferably something cotton and cover all your skins. Gloves should also be worn to make sure the rope will not cause any rope burnt on your hands when you spin it too quickly. Make sure you have friends around to keep an eyes out is always helpful. 

Setting up: There are definitely a number of variables associated, such as how the sparks fly and the wind direction and the background and many others, so I think it is important to keep trying and keep it simple each time to make sure you are improving from the last.

What's next: Now that I have already got the basic understanding, I definitely plan on getting more steelwool photographs done in the future. I think I am going to be adding in some flashes to light up the person and perhaps experiment with getting a silhouette, but we will just have to wait and see.

Thanks for reading and check out my portfolio if you have time! 

There will definitely be more to come, so stay tuned. Feel free to like and comment below! 

Until next time. Keep shooting!