Steel Wool Photography Tips and Tricks

Do you want to add steel wool photography to your portfolio and shoot cool pictures like the ones we are showing you here on your trips?

We understand you do, and that’s why you have come here, to have a peak into this creative technique and do it yourself later on.

Well, it is your lucky day :) Here’s what we have leared since we started playing with fire a couple of months back, after getting hooked in Koh Tao, Thailand, when we were just waiting for the sunset after scuba diving all day to admire the locals spinning steel wool.

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1. Gather everything you need

– Camera. One you can use in manual mode for long exposure shots. Being great at low ISOs help as well. To start, you could try the following settings: ISO 200, F 5.6 and 8¨.

Tripod. Obviously needed to keep your camera steady. We are doing long exposure here. 5 to 15 seconds should be fine, but it is up to you and your creativity!

– Remote. You don’t want to touch your perfectly set camera. Any light move will cut the sharpness of your future picture!

– Whisk. You can find them very cheap, although we would recommend you something with a bit more quality or it could quickly bend.

– Steel cable. Anything between 0.60m and 1.5m should do. The longest, the bigger the core circle will be. The steel cable and whisk should be tied together.

Steel wool phography tutorial - A World to Travel-1– Steel wool. #0000, #00 or #0. Do not get anything thicker or you will be wasting your money. Look what happened when I only found #2 steel wool the first time I went shopping. It burnt but it wasn’t great AND we wrongly thought we had to use gas and cotton to set it on fire. Saving you some trouble here!

One pack should set you back around $2.5 and you could use it for about 10 pictures. The steel wool should be put into the whisk. Later on this part will be set on fire.

– Fire extinguisher. Just in case.

– Lighter. To light it up!

– Torch or glow in the dark stick. It will help you focus right.

2. Dress for success

Proper clothing is key as well. Non inflammable clothing will prevent you from getting burn.

Also, remember to use dark clothes if you want the spinner presence to be little to non-existent.

– Jeans or fire resistant long trousers

– Fire resistant hoodie

– Welding protective glasses

– Non inflammable gloves

– Proper shoes


3. Get a friend or two

Apart from being more fun and safe, two people are actually recommended to make it happen (one spinner, one photographer). Bring two or more and brainstorm for new and creative ways to take the next shot. Leave the alcohol and everything that could distract you / add extra trouble, home.

How many people can you count on this one?

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4. Find a cool spot with little to no public!

As you can see in our pictures here, we usually take our shots by the seaside. There are few places safer and cooler to play with steel wool than beaches at night. Very low risk of messing up and water reflections go a long way.

Bridges and abandon buildings are usually awesome as well. Just make sure you are not trespassing any private property or doing anything that could bring you trouble. Be aware of leftovers that could be set on fire easily in the surroundings. It will be probably dark so make sure you have carefully inspected every corner, ceilings and floors and there’s nothing inflammable surrounding you before lighting your steel wool toy up.

Finally, remember that you don’t need public for this. In fact, we advise you to shoot in a spot without people and try not to draw attention to the fact you’re steel spinning. It’s better that way, believe us.


5. Start small

Get familiarized with the technique yourself before trying to get to a complicated yet photogenic spot or something crazy. We have warned you!

6. Play safe

Use your common sense. Use your common sense. Use your common sense.

If the person taking the pics has a remote and the one spinning is properly dressed, there should be no big risk. Everyone else in the area should keep a proper distance (and I am talking something like 30 – 50m from the spot where the spinner is located). The burning little pieces of steel wool will be flying all over the place.

7. Play, improve, picture, repeat

Fun, isn’t it?

After getting the wrong steel wool (remember? You should get #0 or less!), we went back to the shop and bought some #0000 one. Well, after playing with it just one night, we went back to the shop once again and bought all it was left. The guys are still wondering what we are doing with so much steel wool!

Then, for a few days, we headed to different spots mainly along the coastline and played around with more friends, elements and ideas. And it is not over yet! These days, a fully equipped for steel photography backpack is coming with us everywhere we go by car. That way, if a cool spot comes up, we are ready for some fun!

8. Don’t blame us

In case something doesn’t happen as it should. We are not responsible for your actions or your steel spinning. Therefore, it is your only fault if you get a ticket, get burnt or somehow mess up. Do not say we haven’t told you!

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Thank you to A world to Travel for this amazing write up. Go check them out!!!

We are looking for tutorials and guides to publish. If you have a cool tutorial to contribute please contact us now!!! We are always looking for photography series too!!!!