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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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Comments (62) Trackbacks (29)
  1. Thank you man as usual, great content from your web, keep it up please, God bless you.

  2. Glad to see you’re selling your book. Your tips and videos are wildly creative. Thanks for another great vid.

  3. I would like to have a printed version of my/your e-book, but in such a way, that for the future there is a possibility to add pages printed by my own in that book.
    Is a an idea?
    I like your way of playing with photography!
    Best regards,
    Wim Dimmendaal – Netherland.

  4. I kept reading the text, but could not figure out how you were making the steel wool spark. Then I watched the video…

    For those that can not view the video for whatever reason, there are two steps missing as of this writing:

    1) 4th item needed for the “recipe”: Lighter or 9V battery
    2) After assembling steel wool/whisk/chain: Light the steel wool

    Very neat idea. Might have to try this soon.

    Thanks for the tutorials and ideas!


  5. Great Ideas!

    Keep them comming


  6. Hey Wim, can you try re-explaining your question please? I couldn’t quite understand.

    There may be a print version coming out though, but it won’t be available for probably at least a year.

    Thanks for the comment!

  7. this makes very neat pictures, you are a creative young man and your photography is fantastic. I would have added a bit more substantial warning about creating a fire, you never know what can happen with fire. The beach shots would be the least likely to cause any problems , judging by the spark trails in your picture they really seem to spread far and these sparks could catch a fire a camera bag or anything else that would be in their vicinity.


  8. This is AMAZING! I have attempted almost all your tutorials and am very impressed with your knowledge and creativity! Where do you get all your inspiration/ideas from??

    Anyways, I watched this video (courtesy of you subscription e-mail) and bought all the supplies that afternoon. I went down the beach and gave it a try! Its amazing! I met a few people over the beach when I was doing this because they were so curious of what it was, and what I was doing 🙂 I’m going over again tonight.

    Thanks heeps for another great tutorial Evan, cant wait for the next!

  9. What a fun book! We tried the steel wool shots and got some great photographs. I just posted them on my blog along with a link back to your book.
    I’m dying to try some of the Photoshop effects! Thanks for such a great book!

  10. Hello there, after tried a few attemp, this is my result after follow ur tutorial here
    tq n keep going with more creative idea…..

  11. Hello there, after tried a few attempt, this is my result after follow ur tutorial here
    tq n keep going with more creative idea…..

  12. Hi Evan,

    really great video. My favorite background are old industrial areas. The image of old biolers, chimneys and metal gangways suit the steel wool fireworks perfectly!

  13. Regarding this page, it want to say that it was really marvelous, i got more information about this and the explanations are very good and easy to understand, now i can suggest to others also.

  14. your such a talented and creative young man…well at my age of 50 i think its not yet too late to learn photography just for new hobby…Thanks Evan for sharing your talent…More power and God Bless!!

  15. WOW… awesome work you are doing here… ording your book, cant wait to get, thanks you so much for all that your doing… your photos are awesome,

  16. For focusing in the dark I find that using a green laser pointer is great, you can point it at pretty much anything and it provides a bright dot that the camera can easily focus on. I’m not sure if this would work with a red laser pointer.
    But using this technique means you don’t have to walk back and forth from camera to focus target as you would with a torch or LED, and it also allows you to focus easily on inaccessible areas i.e. half way up a tall building.

    I’ve also used my laser pointer to sign my photos with light as I’m taking the photo.

  17. Ahh yes, lasers are a very effective focusing aid. You should link me to one of your signed photos if you can, I’d love to see it! I’ve tried a few times and it can be difficult to get it looking smooth

  18. Hey! My friend and I tried this and it worked great the first two times, however after that we had a problem getting the steel wool to light. We are doing this in the winter -5 degrees Celsius (23F). Do you think the cold affects the wool’s ability to burn?? Any help would be greatly appreciated, this is such a cool photography experiment.

  19. Awesome idea! Any alternates to steel wool? I’m not sure what they call it this part of the world.

  20. quick question after you set up your camera do you put it on multiple shots then press the button and run over and start spinning? how does that part work?

  21. I have a question about the several people in one picture…I tried it and it worked once but I can’t get it work again…when I take into PS and pick the brush in black…it doesn’t erase clear it erases in black…what am I doing wrong…I have CS3. When I got it to work the first time I think I used the history brush…but then it wouldn’t work again and now it won’t work in the regular brush…
    Also…what did you have your camera set on you didn’t say. I noticed no flash?
    please email me back with an answer…I’d appreciate it.

  22. AWESOME tutorials! You make me laugh too, which helps make your teachings interesting. Keep it up 🙂

  23. Hi Eve! just want you to ask something, i am very interested to purchase your e-book but my card is still full and i have ask my sister to use her card to purchase your e-book, but my sister is in California and i am in Saudi Arabia. Is there any possibilities that i can download your e-book to my side but the purchase will be done in California in my sister’s behalf using her card? Pls. advice thanks and happy photography.

  24. I just wanted to say that I followed this tutorial as best I could. At the time, I was using a Canon Ixus 75- which is a point-and-shoot. But I’ve been “tricking” the camera to do things that most people don’t do with P&S cameras.

    One place that is EXCELLENT for doing these photos- in the snow. On fresh snow, when the sparks land they glow just under the surface. And on hard, crusty snow, they bounce off the surface. AND- you get that great light effect of the sparks lighting up the snow as you spin it.

    Glowing snow-

    Crunchy snow-

    Last Saturday (May 19th), my kids presented me with my belated Mother’s Day gift- a Nikon D5100 (and some lenses!!), so as soon as our Spring winds die down, I’m going back out there and trying this with a proper camera. 🙂

  25. Awesome, however we are so dry in WI. I will have to Waite until we get several inches of water

  26. Very creative, well done however we are so dry in WI. I will have to Waite until we get several inches of water

  27. thanks…nice experience to try this trick…good job…!!!

  28. If I purchase Trick Photography & Special Effects 2nd Edition do I get the book?
    Can I also download the book.

  29. Can’t wait to try this out!

  30. AMAZING! I’ve never seen anything like this before. Great job 🙂

  31. Awesome. I can’t wait to learn more about photography and try your tricks. Amazing! I love all the video’s. Keep ’em coming. Thanks.

  32. well i will try this work but if you any one want to see my photography here is the link
    but please comment me how to do it in more nicer way

  33. Fabulous instructions, thank you 🙂

  34. Why does it have to be a DSLR, will my 1970s Pentax ME not work?

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  36. Thanks for the great tutorial! I tried my hand at it down by the Jersey City waterfront last night:

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