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Creating epic photos with wire wool

Posted on: Tuesday 31st July 2012 at 8:32pm

Wire Wool Photography

Although it may seem strange, wire wool can help you create some amazing photos. 
The basic concept is to ignite wire wool and to capture it being dispersed with a slow shutter speed thus creating light trails. The wire wool creates a spark like effect that looks incredible when caught with a camera correctly. In this quick guide I will show you the basics to creating amazing wire wool photos.

Getting started and planning

You don’t need much to take photos like these; the basic set up should consist of a camera with a variable shutter speed (preferably a DSLR), a solid tripod, some form of rope or cable, something to hold the wool, a lighter, the correct wire wool and 2 or more people.

Choosing the right wire wool

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It’s greatly important that you buy the correct wire wool! Coarse wire wool and wool that contain s plastic will not work. I have experimented with many different types of wire wool. 
I’ve found that the best wire wool is the finest. For the best results I recommend buying fine or super fine steel wire wool, as it burns easily and stays alight for a good few seconds. Out of all the wire wool I purchased; Oakey ‘fine’ seemed to give the best results overall.

Making a rig

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You’ll need to make a rig which you use to spin the wire wool around without burning yourself.
After seeing a couple of videos on the internet of other people attempting these photos, I saw people using whisks, and it works! Whisks are great because you can weave the wire wool around it and it’s also easy to tie rope or cable to. In my rig I used some old but strong speaker cable which I tied to the bottom of the whisk.

Choosing a location

You will want to choose a dark location with non-flammable surroundings for example; it would be a bad idea doing it near dry grass as you’ll probably find yourself putting out many mini fires. The most popular locations for these photos seem to be in tunnels, under bridges and on beeches but you can take them wherever you like!
Ideally you want a location where the sparks from the wool can bounce off other objects such as walls as it adds more energy to the photos. 

Wire wool long exposure

Taking the photos

To start you will need to get one person to take the photo and one or more to spin the wire wool.
The person taking the photo will need to release the shutter in time with the person(s) creating the effect.

Setting up the camera

Every location is different so you will need to experiment with different camera settings. As a starting point I recommend setting the camera up on a tripod, composing the shot and starting with settings that you think will be best. I generally start with f/8, ISO 100 and an exposure of around 20 seconds.

Focusing

Focusing can be very hard in the dark. I recommend using auto focus and using a manual single point of focus. Get whoever is going to be spinning the wire wool to hold a small light or a phone screen up at the point where they will be standing. This will allow you to focus in on that point.

Releasing the shutter

You can just manually press the shutter when the person has lit the wire wool and has started to spin it around. However to avoid shake from the camera and to help with timing it’s good to use a self-timer or a remote.
I’ve found using a remote shutter release allows me to time the shots correctly with the person spinning the wool.

The fun part

Spinning the wool as I like to call it is defiantly the fun part. The best way to start is to hold one end of the rope or cable in one hand along with the whisk, then light the wire wool on fire. Let the whisk fall down so it’s away from your face and then start spinning the rig. You can try out all sorts of directions and tricks just make sure you don’t hit anyone or yourself. I highly advise wearing a hat and some eye protection. Also don’t wear anything that is going to catch on fire easily.

You can create some amazing photos with some patience and a good location. You can also add other light sources to the scene to add effect. Have fun with it but stay safe as fire can start easily!

Wire wool under a bridge

Here are a few more little points and tips that might help out:

  • Take a torch or a phone with a light as you will undoubtedly need one.
  • Wear safe clothing that isn’t flammable! And cover up your eyes and face as much as possible.
  • Take some water in case you do need to put a mini fire out.
  • Use a zoom lens so you can keep the camera away from the sparks
  • Experiment with different apertures and shutter speeds to add or remove ambient light.
  • Visit these Flickr groups for inspiration; 
    http://www.flickr.com/groups/1116039@N21/ and http://www.flickr.com/groups/lightjunkies/
  • Make sure it’s legal! I don’t know what the law is exactly but depending on where you are you may be breaking the law.

Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments section.

Disclaimer

I accept no responsibility for any damage or injury caused by attempting any of the above as it is done at your own risk! 

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