How to do Wire Wool Photography

Original creative photography ideas can be hard to come by these days as most things have been done before – take for instance wire wool photography. We’ve all seen the pictures on flickr,  were it looks like someone holding a Catherine wheel whilst it explodes and spins in their hands, sparks flying through the air, bouncing off walls and ceilings of derelict buildings. It makes for great urban photography. So what is it? Wire wool photography is very simple, set fire to some fine wire wool stuffed into a whisk attached to some rope, get your camera set up on a tripod with a long enough exposure to capture the wire wool flying all over the place creating amazing light trails. The wire wool disintegrates as you spin it around  and creates sparks that look stunning.

Lots of people try this and fail for different reasons, jesus some even set themselves on fire! The main thing is steel or wire wool photography can be a lot of fun as long as you take care with location choice and keep and eye on what the weather is doing. Ideal place – the beach, perfect location and plenty of water incase things go wrong ;) Stupid location – in a wood or field with lots of dry wood, grass or leaves. This is not a good location. If you find a great place to shoot maybe wait until its been raining to go try this out. Oh and make sure its nice and dark too!

So a few weeks back we took to the streets at stupid o’clock on the hunt for a good location to do some wire wool photography. After driving around for a wee while I remembered a great location – a raised bridge that is now out of action. Its a really cool place and even has double yellow lines running up it! The weather was damp so no worries about accidentally setting anything alight so we headed there.

The Set up for wire wool photography

Choose your composition and lock it off of the tripod. Dialled in a shutter speed of 15 seconds to get enough ambient light into the camera and to give enough time to light and spin the wire wool, chose f9 to give a decent depth of field, manually set the white balance to 3200k and kept the ISO at 100 to keep the noise levels down and image quality as high as possible. Took a shot and this is what I got (below). Looking good to me as the wire wool will introduce a load of light into the scene so you do want to make your ambient exposure a little on the dark side.


15 seconds, f9, iso100



So everything is set, the wire wool photography adventure is ready to being! All I need now is someone to set alight the wire wool and stand there spinning it around – cue my nephew and fellow photographer from plutophotography. He gets into position and gives me a shout “Ready!” I wait for him to start spinning that whisk and I press the shutter. At this point I’m ducking out the way as sparks come flying at the camera and more importantly me! :) 15 seconds has passed, time to have a look.

creative photography ideas

Can you tell when I had to duck for cover??

Its easy to miss the fun in photography sometimes as well as lack a bit of inspiration, so why not plan your next photography outing and give wire wool photography a try! If this has inspired you to have a go why not come share the results in our google+ “no snobbery photography” group? Link in the right hand side bar near the top.

If this has given you inspiration to try out some cool photography techniques then you will want to check out Trick Photography and Special Effects Honestly I cannot recommend this highly enough and I guarantee you will be blown away by what you learn here!

Link to a video below of behind the scenes footage of me being hit by sparks (starts are 1min 40). The video itself is from plutophotography’s youtube channel, so if you like the video be sure to give it a thumbs up and subscribe!

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