Day 230 – Wire Wool Photography – Chasing the Dark

Ever since I saw a photo of someone doing Wire Wool photography, I knew I wanted to try it. I have a safety conscious family who felt I should not try it without knowing the risks involved so where i saw the opportunity online to have a go in a local workshop I just knew I had to book a place, then if I tried it and enjoyed it … maybe I could encourage them to have a go too.


The workshop was run by Michael Palmer – Photo Experience Days. It was arranged that we met in a local pub and then head off to the location to take photos, as a female alone – this was a little nerve racking … the pub was a little run down, and then we headed off into the back of an industrial estate – it was dark isolated and I was the only female attendee. I was also the only person to take any camera gear into the pub … everyone else seemed to know each other – so I felt a little vulnerable …  however being safety conscious I texted my hubby my location – check out this useful app – OS locate and arranged for him to text me after a while to make sure all was OK. It was fine – they turned out to be a friendly bunch of photographers who liked playing with fire … and I don’t even think they were aware of my concerns (although they might be if they read this).

I was given an idea of some basic camera settings and was encouraged to ask questions… and then we played with fire. Essential equipment for the evening included:

  • Safety googles, a hat to cover your hair, some gloves, clothing to cover you skin (coat and trousers) plus sturdy footwear
  • A tripod, camera with manual controls, a uv filter to protect the lens, a shutter release cable and as wide angle lens as possible – I had my 10-20mm Sigma DC HSM on my camera. I have little lights tied onto my tripod so I can see the legs in the dark.
  • A torch – so you can see what you are doing.
  • Quality Steel / Wire Wool, a metal whisk (to squish the wire wool into), a metal chain dog lead, something to light the wire wool with – we used a lighter, I have read online that you can use a 9 volt battery.
  • I would also recommend – a phone (with signal) and knowing where you are incase it goes horribly wrong, making sure there is noting that can catch fire at the location – and having a fire blanket or similar just in case.

These are my results – basic settings were ISO100, shutter speed of 15 secs and about F11, that Michael told us – and then we were free to experiment.

ISO100, F10, 15 sec exposure.
ISO100, F10, 15 sec exposure.

Above is the very first photo I got – you can see someone’s tripod just in shot, Southampton Docks in the background added some additional interest. The trick was to manually focus first on the person who was going to spin the wire wool, and then hope that you got all the effect within the frame. Above the wire wool was swung vertically.

ISO100, F10, 15 sec exposure.
ISO100, F10, 15 sec exposure.

Changing how the wool was spun created a whole different feel. The background lights are more of a distraction now as they compete for your attention as you try to understand the wire wool effect.

ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure.
ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure.

This one was so crazy – you can see the bucket which contained some spare iron wool in .. glowing as it got caught by a spark – it is essential you do this in a damp area where there is no risk of ANYTHING catching fire.

ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure.
ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure.

I never realised how unpredictable this could be.  Time to move back! Depending on how fluffy the wire wool is, how much is put into the whisk, how fast and how crazy it is spun – totally effects the results. When you open the shutter for your 15 or so seconds – you never quite know what you are going to get. It is also interesting to note that the sky at dusk added a lot more interest to the background.

ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure - See the red coat in the centre - that's me!!!
ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure – See the red coat in the centre – that’s me!!!

My turn – if you look closely into the centre of this orb – in the bright orange jacket -that is me. Once you have the hang of swinging it … it is fun! I was lucky here, that one of the other photographers kindly pressed my shutter remote… so this has to be my coolest selfie yet!

ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure - See the red coat in the centre - that's me!!!
ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure – See the red coat in the centre – that’s me!!!

Me again … I span and walked – they were smaller circles and it works well with a panoramic crop.

ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure
ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure

A different photograher has a go – his circle was much bigger and the sparks travelled further.

Split toning used to colour it green - ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure
Split toning used to colour it green – ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure

In Lightroom, I used split tonning to colour the wire wool – I felt this almost could be a giant alien spider attacking the landscape.

ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure
ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure

We changed the location we were shooting into there is a wall in the right of the photo the light is bouncing off and a railing for the light to bounce through. Above you can see what happens when the wire wool shoots out of the whisk in one big lump – we found being spreading it out – adding fluff – it stayed in better.

ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure
ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure
ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure
ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure

Above – does not work as the background and the wire wool are on the same horizontal again – but shooting higher or lower may have helped.

ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure
ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure

This one is a great circle – the spinning was consistent and the floor and the wall are clearly defined.

Experimenting with chaging the colour hue in Lightroom. ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure
Experimenting with chaging the colour hue in Lightroom. ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure

This one – I changed the colour hue in Lightroom, to draw your attention (the power of red) and cause otherwise all the images may look the same … highlights just how crazy this is … and how it could go wrong … the wire wool spun off creating the huge arch!

ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure
ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure

With a little persuasion –  one of the other photgraphers climbed onto the wall and spun from the top of it – being that much higher up meant that we gained sparks at the bottom of the circle too.

ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure - notice how the chap using the wire wool left his head torch on!
ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure – notice how the chap using the wire wool left his head torch on!
ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure - carefully ended to remove the head torch!
ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure – carefully ended to remove the head torch!

Changing the position of the camera created this wonderful effect as the wire spinner walked carefully along the wall, however in the top photo he left his headtorch on- so i had to carefully edit it out.  I like how the embers fall onto the ground and onto the wall adding extra depth to the image.

Changing the colur temperature in Lightroom can also change the effect. ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure
Changing the colour temperature in Lightroom can also change the effect. ISO100, F9, 15 sec exposure

Changing the colur temperture in Lightroom also effects how the image appears – it is easily done when you shoot in camera raw, you can just move the sliders will it looks like the effect you want to achieve.

ISO100, F22, 30 sec exposure
ISO100, F22, 30 sec exposure

My last image – I changed the aperture and shutter speed significatly for this image – I just wanted to see what happened. With the smaller aperture the sparks give off much less light (which is what I expected) but the stationary lights in the background twinkle more.

Do I want to do it again – YES – I just need some friends who want to play too … I am going to get myself some equipment as I am already thinking of possible locations where this would be soo much fun… and or course, I could come back to this location again! If you are local and want to try it … get in touch!

Did you watch the video at the start – are the photos familiar … that was by Photo Experience and I was spinning in the video – did you see my orange coat!!!!

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