If you’re a restless photography enthusiast looking for your next crazy idea to experiment with, then this steel wool photography tutorial is for you. Learn how to create amazing sparks, like the ones below, using steel wool and a….whisk! That’s right! Whisks can get a life of their own and turn, otherwise boring, steel wool into magical sparks and envious looks!

So, in this post I’m going to show you how to make an image like this:

Steel Wool Photography Tutorial YouTube1 Or this:

Steel Wool Photography Tutorial YouTube2

Or… this!

Steel Wool Photography Tutorial YouTube3

And this shower of sparks:

Steel Wool Photography Tutorial YouTube5

Seems outrageously hard? Keep reading, and I’ll show you how it’s done.

What You’ll Need:

  • Steel wool
  • A whisk
  • Cable with a handle
  • A tripod

Steel wool is steel in wool form, and it lights on fire pretty easily – all you need is a lighter, or a nine-volt battery rubbed against it, and it will start making sparks. You can get the wool at any hardware or home improvement store.

Steel Wool Photography Tutorial YouTube6

Now, there are different types of steel wool:

Steel Wool Photography Tutorial YouTube13

The yellow one is one “0”, and it’s thicker, extremely durable, and the sparks get pretty big when they come off of it. At the other end of the scale, there’s “0000” (the zeros represent the grade of the steel wool).

Always make sure to get something that says “0” on it, don’t get one or two or three or four. If you do, the wire will be too thick, and it won’t light very well. There’s not much of a difference between “0” and the “0000”– both of these seem to burn around 25 seconds, and the sparks seem to look exactly the same.

Here’s the step-by-step plan:

Step 1: Put The Wool In A Whisk

You can’t just hold the steel wool while you light in on fire (duh!). So, you’ll have to put it in a whisk (you can find one at any thrift store for about 50 cents):

Steel Wool Photography Tutorial YouTube9

Step 2: Attach The Whisk To A Cable

Obtain a cable with a little handle for you to grab onto at the other side, so you can spin it around flawlessly with no resistance.

Here’s how the whisk is attached to the cable:

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The handle at the other end of the cable:

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Once you put the steel wool inside the whisk, you can take a lighter or a battery and light it on fire. When it starts sparking, just grab the cable and start spinning it around.

Click here to check out all my closely guarded photo tricks.

Step 3: Setup Your Camera

Next, you need to put the camera on a tripod and switch it to manual mode. Adjust the shutter speed to about 30 seconds (you can experiment with it). Set the ISO to ISO 200 and F8.

Steel Wool Photography Tutorial YouTube10

Step 4. Focus The Camera In The Dark

So how are you going to focus in the dark? Here’s a trick: use a little LED or flashlight and…

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put it in the middle of the place where you’re going to be spinning the wool:

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Put the LED in the middle of the scene; pop it on the ground and auto focus the camera on the little point. Then, switch the camera back to manual focus. After you’ve done all of that, you can light the wool on fire and start spinning it around.

If you spin it around extremely fast, the sparks will go way up there. If you spin it slower, the sparks will just plop down onto the ground:

steel wool photography spinning

Step 5: Get The Most Out Of Your Wool

If you cram all of the wool into the edge of the whisk, you’ll get fewer sparks:

Steel Wool Photography Tutorial YouTube14

However, if you unravel the pad of wool and make it all fluffy, it will give you better results:

Steel Wool Photography Tutorial YouTube15

The fluffier the wool is, the more sparks will come out. That’s because more oxygen is being allowed through the wool:

steel wool photography puffled vs compact

Step 6: Pick Your Locations

Some cool location ideas:

  • The beach – although it may cause a lot of attention (including the cops):

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  • Tunnels and underground structures – you can spin the wool and the sparks hit the walls of all the structures and just go across the building:

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  • On the wet grass – only after it has been done raining for a long period:

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  • In the middle the road – the safest:

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If you’re doing this in the middle of the road, make sure always to wait for a few minutes to make sure all of the sparks are gone. The last thing you want to do is cause a fire.

If you enjoyed this short tutorial, you’ll love my favorite photography techniques that I exposed in my top selling Trick Photography course.  The best part is you can do them with just a simple DSLR and no complicated set up!

Click here to find out more…

Step 7: Play Safe

Don’t try this:

  • In the daylight. It’s only going to work in the dark. Otherwise, the sparks won’t show up.
  • On top of dry grass. You don’t want to do that because it could catch on fire.
  • Around gasoline or any other flammable materials.

You can safely try this in the middle of the road because asphalt is not flammable. You can also do it safely in the grass – but only if the ground is damp, like after a rainfall.

What to wear:

  • A hoodie or a hat to protect your hair from catching on fire
  • Long sleeves and long pants
  • Gloves
  • Safety goggles

Click here to learn more advanced tricks!

Having a fire extinguisher nearby is also a good idea. Wind can be unpredictable, and sparks are light. They can easily fly into areas out of your control, like lawns, trees or houses.

You should always remain at the location for a few minutes after you’re done, just to make sure there are no loose sparks left. If this happens, use the extinguisher. Ideally, you should also have a second person there with you, to make sure you don’t overlook any of these things.

About The Author

Evan Sharboneau is the owner of PhotoExtremist.com, a website that provides unique tutorials and images to photographers, artists, and photo manipulators.

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  • Janice M. Villa

    Hope that one of my friends is interest enough in trying this with me ~ it would be like the 4th of July ~ maybe? and Christmas rolled into one! Thank You ~ love sparkly things! Janice ~

  • hi Janice,

    Don’t wait! Just do it!