Blog Post 7 - Steel Wool

It all started with an idea. The idea was to put lots of things that don't go together into one portrait, then light it on fire. My friend Chris arrived at my house at around 9:00PM on Saturday the 20th of February. We wanted to go to a near by field and try to take a photo of the stars, but overlooked the fact that it was a full moon, so there were barely any stars in the sky to photograph. Disappointed, we headed back for my house. The night was still young and we knew that some sort of photoshoot would need to happen in order for us to feel satisfied. Chris and I scavenged the internet for any sort of photo idea we could try to recreate or use as inspiration for another photo. While looking, I found an entire genre of photos dedicated to people holding umbrellas while steel wool sparks are raining down onto them. When lit on fire, steel wool will fall apart in little sparks which are very bright and hot. If you take a long exposure photograph (a long duration shutter speed to sharply capture the stationary elements of images while blurring, smearing, or obscuring the moving elements), the sparks will leave an orange light trail which can turn into a pretty cool effect. Chris saw this and had the idea to do a photo of him sitting at a desk with a bunch of random things on it. This is when the night really began. In my driveway at 10:00pm we started setting up for the shoot. I had an old table in my garage that we used as the desk. On the desk was a Mac Classic 1984 (Which still works 32 years later, Apple makes quality products), A stack of books with a globe on it, a mason jar of water (Incase Chris’s hair caught on fire), a lamp, and a log with an axe in it. After adding all these elements together, we felt that our desk set up was complete, but the location was not great because there was potential for lighting near by trees on fire. Chris and I ended up moving the desk 4 times (Including taking all the stuff and putting it back on) before we made the decision of its placement. Once location was resolved, it was time to take the photo. The hardest part about this shoot for me is that I had to completely guess the exposure since the steel wool would light the scene differently every time, but eventually I figured it out. For the photo, Chris’s ensemble consisted of a plaid shirt with a tie that didn’t match, a sports coat, Khakis, and brown clarks. The outfit didn’t go together and that was exactly what we were going for. One challenge we faced is that there was no one to actually take the photo because Chris was sitting at the desk, and I was on a latter spinning the steel wool. The only solution to this issue was to put the camera on a 10 second time delay. I would hit the shutter button and then have ten seconds to run out to the ladder and light the steel wool. With a few practice runs, I got the system down and ended up with a few shots that both Chris and I liked. The shoot wrapped up around 1:30AM. Clean up was half an hour and editing was two, so Chris and I went to bed at 4:00 and then woke up at 7:00 because of plans in the morning we had. After a long set up time, lots of planning, fear of accidental arson, and three hours of sleep, I think Chris and I can say we are very pleased with the results. To check out the vlog of this event, visit

Until next week - Evan