Extreme Steel Wool Photography: Don’t Try This at Home!

You’ve probably seen steel wool photography all over the web, even if you didn’t know what it was. Think long exposure light painting photos where someone has created long sparkling, fiery patterns and shapes in the air around them. Just like we did as kids with sparklers when we spelled our names in the air. Steel wool photography has been around for a while; it basically involves lighting a piece of steel wool on fire and swinging the burning ball around as you photograph it.

Fun? Yes. But, also a little dangerous. The team over at JOBY wanted to take the trend to the next level, so they equipped themselves with protective gear, some fire extinguishers, a couple firefighters, and a massive, bonfire-sized two-foot ball of burning steel wool:

We don’t recommend trying this at home, but if you’re dead set on doing it, please be safe! First and foremost, choose your location wisely. You don’t want to start any fires, so open, non-flammable areas are best.

What You Need

  • camera
  • tripod
  • pet leash or string
  • whisk
  • steel wool
  • lighter
  • first aid kit
  • and a firefighter if you have one on hand!

long exposure light painting photo

Attach the whisk to the pet leash and shove some steel wool inside the whisk. Tip: The more fluffed up the steel wool, the longer it will spark.

Light the steel wool on fire and go nuts! Start swinging the leash around, taking photos as you go.

Camera Setup

  • Set the camera on a tripod.
  • Set the exposure so it’s slightly longer than the burning of the steel wool (steel wool burns for about 8–15 seconds, so set the exposure to 10 seconds and play around with it as you go).

light painting with fire

long exposure steel wool

The JOBY team had firefighters on hand to make sure everything was under control. Safety first! Doing something like this in the wrong spot can be very dangerous; you could seriously injure yourself or start a fire, so again, be careful!

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