Steel Wool & Photography Tutorial

I get a lot of questions and comments on a couple photos I took last summer using steel wool and long exposures. Below is a shot I took of my room mate Dustin standing out in the middle of a shallow reservoir. I was going for a reflection which turned out really well, not to mention there wasn’t much of a fire hazard because he was already in water.

Fire In The Sky

To make a photo like this first you need to gather your materials. Everything can be bought at Lowe’s Home Improvement or Home Depot. What you will first need is the Steel Wool. The steel wool is fairly cheep. I would buy five or six packages for multiple tries. The type of steel wool or fiber width doesn’t matter. IT ALL BURNS! Second you need something to spin the steel wool with. I used an old coat hanger and wrapper the wire around the steel wool. The coat hanger didn’t work the best, but if you can find something to bend around the steel wool and keep away from your body anything will work. Third you need a lighter and maybe a sweatshirt.


1. Steel Wool

2. Coat Hanger

3. Lighter/Sweatshirt

Now for the directions. Open the steel wool and use a small amount of steel wool. I suggest doing a test first before trying it in front of the camera. Wrap your wire around the steel wool a couple times. Light the steel wool on fire and spin your arm around like a cowboy. The sparks will shoot off of the steel wool. Be careful because it burns really hot and will remain hot for sometime. Again I had water in front of me so I could cool it off pretty fast.

Camera Operations:

I used a canon 7d with a tokina 11-16mm lens. Set the focus on infinity and left my aperture at f/11.0 because that is where my lens seems the sharpest. The ISO I set at 400 to keep the exposure time down. The exposure will vary in situations an how dark it is out. I used a in intervalometer so I could stop the exposure time whenever the steel wool went out.

For the above picture my camera settings

Exposure: 15 seconds
Aperture: f/11.0
Focal Length: 15mm
ISO: 400

Here is another picture I took of myself. There are unlimited possibilities using steel wool and being creative/fun.

A Kid's Dream

Camera Settings for above:

Exposure: 9 seconds
Aperture: f/11.0
Focal Length: 15mm
ISO: 400


March 19, 2012

Matt Roseman

March 9, 2013

Another alternative I have read about for a way to hold the steel wool is a whisk, I'm not sure how you hold the wool on the coat hanger, but the whisk may give a longer burn time....just a thought...I've been enjoying your images on flickr and this is the first time I've read your blog

Aisling Jennings Photographer

March 19, 2012

What a great picture! Love it!!


March 19, 2012

Stunning picture!


March 19, 2012

Thanks Bill. Good luck. A grinder sounds like a good idea. I will be updating this post throughout the next couple days with more pictures & ideas.

Bill Chance

March 19, 2012

Great shots!

I've been playing around with long exposures, mostly using small flashlights on cords but would like to give the steel wool a try. I have a cheap angle grinder and am working on how to safely shoot directed streams of sparks with it too.

My biggest problem is excessive light here in the city. I need to think about locations a bit.

Thanks for the pictures and the instructions.

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