Steel Wool Photography Tutorial


You will need these things:

  • Steel wool – Go get some at the hardware store or order some online from I ordered six bags and am probably going to get more later. Get Grade 0, 00, 000, or 0000. Don’t get anything at or above Grade 1.
  • Steel cable or chain – Can be found a thrift store or grocery store. I bought a steel cable dog leash with plastic lamination covering the steel and a clasp at the end of the cable. I use the clasp as a handle. If you use just a chain you can skip out on the cable and the whisk all together and just shove the steel wool around the loops in the chain, it just takes longer to do that.
  • Whisk – I found mine at a thrift store for about 50 cents.
  • Any D-SLR Camera and Tripod – ‘Cause like, you need to take the pictures somehow.
  • Lighter or 9 Volt battery – This is used to light the wool on fire.

Next you need to build your cage to hold the steel wool. I grabbed the whisk and then attached it to a high quality steel cable that I found at Bi-Mart for $10. The cable was about 20 feet long (originally meant to be used as a dog leash), and had a clasp on each end. Cut the cable so it is about the same length as your arm.

After it’s been cut, you’ll have only one clasp attached to the end of your cable, but at least the cable isn’t 20 feet long anymore. I stripped the plastic laminated protective covering about 1 foot down from the end that had no clasp and then untwisted the cable into two different clumps.

After that, I looped and weaved one of those clumps back into itself until it pretty much locked itself back up, then twisted the next group around the first one and taped it up at the base of the loop for extra support. If you don’t want to make it all nice and fancy like this, just take a chain and cram some steel wool in and around the holes.

Next, light the wool on fire by using a lighter or by rubbing a 9 volt battery against it. The wool will start sparking but won’t really produce any flames. Shake the wool around to help it burn.

Steel Wool Sparks on the Beach

Shutter Speed: 30 Seconds
Aperture: F8
ISO: 200
White Balance: Tungsten/Incandescent
Focus: Manual Focus (How are you supposed to set the focus point in pure darkness? Take an LED or flashlight and place it in the middle of the road (or wherever you will be spinning your steel wool) and turn it on and point it towards your camera. Walk back to your camera and focusing on the LED, then turn off auto-focus.)

Steel Wool in the Street

Shutter Speed: 30 Seconds
Aperture: F3.5
ISO: 200
White Balance: Auto
Manual Focus

In order to create the orb shape, spin the cable around in a circle and then start orbiting your body around the pivot point . Spinning around in just a circle without orbiting around the pivot point will just make a 2D Circle, but these are just as awesome as the 3D orbs.

For safety, wear a hat or hoodie, long sleeves, long pants, shoes, gloves, and goggles. Wearing all black is the most strategic, because the camera will have a harder time seeing you. I usually just wear shoes, pants, and a sweatshirt with a hood and skip on the goggles and gloves.

Have a fire extinguisher nearby in case a spark accidentally lands on a patch of dry grass, it can and WILL catch on fire, especially if you are doing this in dry conditions. Wet conditions are much more safe. I’ve spun wool on top of patches of grass right after rainfall and everything was fine.

Spinning wool in remote places helps because it draws less attention to yourself. I’ve done this on a public beach before and a ranger came and kicked me out. So… if you get a ticket, don’t blame me.

Trick Photography and Special EffectsIf you liked this video and blog post, be sure to check out my e-book and video course: Trick Photography and Special Effects.

There are dozens of more tricks in there.

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