Shooting Challenge: Steel Wool

Illustration for article titled Shooting Challenge: Steel Wool

You ever see a photo that looks like it's raining sparks? It was probably made through a trick with steel wool. And for this week's Shooting Challenge, you can try the technique yourself, BUT CAREFULLY, AND AT YOUR OWN RISK!


The Challenge

Create a long exposure photograph of sparks, using the classic steel wool trick.

The Technique

This video tutorial is amongst the best I've seen on the topic. It will explain that you can ignite a piece of steel wool (with a lighter or a 9V battery), and using a few contraptions, spin it fast enough to rain sparks that can be captured in a 30-second exposure at night. (Note: 30 seconds may very well be the maximum exposure time on your camera.)

There's also another nice tutorial on negativespace.

A Note On Safety

Realize, when you do this, you'll be hurling sparks all around you. These sparks can ignite flammable materials in your environment. They can also damage your camera lens, if you don't take proper precautions. It's easy to feel invincible when you're behind the lens of a camera. Don't.

The Example

Our lead shot is actually by Shooting Challenge alum Dan DeChiaro. But it's different than your average steel wool shot. It makes use of its (fireproof!) environment to create a striking, integrated effect, as if it's raining sparks outside the tunnel. The technique is stunning on its own. But conceptualizing a creative shot will make your work stand out.


The Rules

1. Submissions need to be your own.
2. Photos must be taken since this contest was announced (read more on that above).
3. Explain, briefly, the equipment, settings, technique and story behind shot.
4. Email submissions to, not me.
5. Include 970px wide image (200KB or less) AND a 2560x1600 sized in email. I know that your photo may not fall into those exact high rez dimensions, so whatever native resolution you're using is fine.
6. One submission per person.
7. Use the proper SUBJECT line in your email (more info on that below)
8. You agree to the Standard Contest Rules - though we DO accept non-US resident submissions.
9. If the image contains any material or elements that are not owned by you and/or which are subject to the rights of third parties, and/or if any persons appear in the image, you are responsible for obtaining, prior to submission of the photograph, any and all releases and consents necessary to permit the exhibition and use of the image in the manner set forth in these rules without additional compensation. If any person appearing in any image is under the age of majority in their state/province/territory of residence the signature of a parent or legal guardian is required on each release.


Send your best photo by Monday, February 20th at 10AM Eastern to with "Wool" in the subject line. Save your files as JPGs, and use a FirstnameLastnameWool.jpg (970px wide) and FirstnameLastnameWoolWallpaper.jpg (2560px wide) naming conventions. Include your shooting summary (camera, lens, ISO, etc) in the body of the email along with a story of the shot in a few sentences. And don't skip this story part because it's often the most enjoyable part for us all beyond the shot itself!

Mark Wilson is the founder of Philanthroper, a daily deal site for nonprofits.




Image is relevant.