Hey Sparkie! / by craig levers

Photographic Mini Adventures

My partner in crime Ange nailing the technique

My partner in crime Ange nailing the technique

Ok Ok, I'm desperately trying not to pun this E-bomb up with calls like a spark of an idea, bright spark or some other terrible fiery call.... there I think I've got them out of my system. Earlier this week I got the chance to try the surprisingly simple photo trend; #Steelwoolphoto. As you can see it makes for a nice dramatic image.

Here's all you need:  

A $3.00 wire whisk, a $4.00 dog-leash, a lighter and some super fine grade steel wool- the type used in painting prep or polishing- you'll find it in the paint section at Mitre 10.

A $3.00 wire whisk, a $4.00 dog-leash, a lighter and some super fine grade steel wool- the type used in painting prep or polishing- you'll find it in the paint section at Mitre 10.

Picking your day is key too, you need a still day with no wind, or a location out of the wind. And of course the time of day; pre-dawn or post sunset are generally the best times to get a bit of after-glow colour in the sky. That said, there's some pretty cool black'n'white night city shots around the web once you start trawling. You also want a location that's non-combustable, it's probably not a good idea to do this in a hay barn or a petrol station, the sparks will fly! [dam-it there's a pun!

Test pilot Daryn McBride in a non-conbustable location, but with just a bit too much ambient light

Test pilot Daryn McBride in a non-conbustable location, but with just a bit too much ambient light

The photo technique is pretty easy, because you're doing a long exposure the camera has to be on a tripod. The steel wool burns for about 10 seconds, so you simply set the shutter speed for 15 to 30 secs, I metered the available light pre-ignition and then underexposed a stop for the expected shower of sparks. The lens was manually focussed it wouldn't track during the shot. The tripod and camera was set up out of spark range- but there are spectacular shots where the camera is in range and protected with a sacrificial UV filter in front of the lens and wrapped in material so the sparks don't hit the camera.  

Now we're starting to get the light balance right  

Now we're starting to get the light balance right
 

The whisk is attached to the leash chain, the whisk is the holder for the steel wool pad, you simply stuff a pad into the whisk cage and then light it. It doesn't burst into flames, it sort of smoulders, but as soon as you start twirling sparks go flying. It pays to wear clothes you don't mind getting holes in.  

My best selfie- ever! Looking pretty volcanic and chaotic

My best selfie- ever! Looking pretty volcanic and chaotic

As we got more confident, we started changing the length of the chain, the speed and direction of the twirl. All effect the final result and it's pretty cool to see variations pop up on your camera screen. I started using my flash, hand held, set on full and manual to give me a single burst, this froze the twirler enough to get a bit more detail in the figure.    

In this one, the chain length was changed during the exposure, hence the double ring of fire

In this one, the chain length was changed during the exposure, hence the double ring of fire

And that's steel wool photography 101, it is a very easy and fun way to have a mini photo adventure with your mates.