What is wire wool spinning....

Put simply this is where you take wire wool (also known as Steel Wool) and ignite it... then using one of various different methods spin the burning wool around you capturing the sparks as they fly by using a long exposure

Buddy System (Ideally)

Ideally when wire wool spinning you will do it with another photographer, or even a group of photographers where you’ll have a spinner and another controlling cameras...

What you need...

So what do you need to get spinning wire wool, actually not all that much to be honest, if you shop around you should be able to get all the spinning kit so wool, spinner and chain/rope for less than £10

Things that you’ll need (camera gear)

§  Camera (must be capable of a long exposure)

§  Tripod

§  Trigger/Remote Release (ideally)


Things that you’ll need to spin (more details below)

§  Wire/Steel Wool

§  Spinner (container for ignited wool)

§  Chain/Rope

§  Means of Ignition

§  Protective clothing

§  Fire Suppressant


Wire/Steel Wool - Generally this will come in three grades fine/medium/coarse the thicker the grade the slower that it burns, and each grade will provide a different effect, the thicker grades can be very good for more explosive sparks when they collide with say rocks/walls whereas the finer grades produce a lot more sparks, best results are achieved by using a mix of grades..

Spinner - Each person has their own preference when it comes to what they use for spinning, personally I prefer a metal bird feeder (available from most good pet stores and garden centres) however other people use cages made from chicken wire, whisks and bull dog clips, this really is a case of whatever you're comfortable using

Chain/Rope - You need something to hold and attach your spinner to the other end in order to allow you to spin your wire wool, one of the best things that I’ve recently heard of is for people to use a dog lead this appears to be a great idea and something that I intend to test

Means of Ignition - You need some way to get the wire burning, this should normally be possible with just a lighter or alternatively a 9v battery, sometimes some accelerant is required in this instance I have found lighter fluid to be very effective

Protective Clothing - It depends on the level of protection that you want however personally I’d be inclined to recommend long sleeved top, long legged trousers, gloves, hat and eye protection, avoid flammable materials such as nylon. Also I recommend dark cloths as that way when spinning you show up a lot less in the middle of the wool...

Fire Suppressant - I don’t recommend spinning in any location where you think that there is a fire risk, but still ensure that you have means in a worst case scenario to douse any hot spot/fires you cause (please be responsible when spinning, don’t be the one that spoils the past time for all photographers)

Getting Started

So you’ve got everything that you need to actually do a spin, now to actually think about the spin. This basically comes down to what you want to achieve and where you want to do it.

What you can achieve is limited by only your imagination, whether you want to just do a spin or lasso, or an orb or maybe a tunnel its entirely up to you.

Equally there is no real limit to where you can do a wire wool spin, but ideal locations are rocky areas, tunnels etc where the sparks can hit solid surfaces and create nice sparks, water locations are also great for their reflective quality... BUT (and I really do mean to shout that) please whatever you do be sensible about a location you choose, don’t put yourself in danger and don’t put other people or their property in danger, you will see people say that wire wool will not cause damage or burn stuff, trust me when I say you're dealing with burning molten steel, it can and will cause damage or burn stuff, so if it’s been dry for a few days don’t go and do a spin where there is dry vegetation or flammable material, nobody wants to see reports of photographers causing fires

With that in mind the key to a location is to think it through if you can go and take a look in daylight have a look around, also be prepared that if someone see’s you doing this you’re highly likely to get a visit from the local constabulary so don’t forget that they’re only acting on information received

Setting up your camera...

Setting up your camera...think about where you want your camera in relation to where you’ll be spinning from, keep in mind that the sparks will depending on spin style travel to around 10 metres so take this into consideration with your positioning, a spark hitting your camera especially your front element can and has been known to cause damage, this is one of the few occasions in my opinion that a UV filter could be useful though it does add the risk of unwanted lens flare, its something for each photographer to consider...

...So you’ve positioned your camera, now for focus quite easy to do even in the dark when using the buddy system, the spinner get’s into position and then by shining a torch this will allow another photographer (buddy) to achieve AF (Auto Focus) once focused remember to switch to manual and as your on the tripod if you have it IS/VR (Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction) needs to be in the off position

Camera Settings...This is not an open and shut case the different locations and different visions on what you want to achieve will need you to tailor your settings to the situation but in general I would suggest camera set to “Bulb” and aperture around f/8-16 and ISO from 50-500 though generally an ISO towards the lower end is optimal

Your set up and ready to Spin

This bit depends what spinner you’ve opted for but generally this bit is the same take some wire wool and pack your spinner, try not to pack it too tightly as this will affect the speed of burn and usually results in excess unburned wool, once packed if you're going to use an accelerant now is the time to apply it, you shouldn’t need too much to get things going.   Once everything is ready light your wool or if using a battery apply that to the wool to get things going, then spin how your imagination takes you

Once you’ve started to spin, now is the time to fire the cameras, this means that you don’t suffer from any bit’s of sparks while getting things started if you start your exposure before the spin is up and burning

Final thoughts...

So you’ve now been given a glimpse into the dark art that is wire wool spinning, now you’ve got to go out and have a play and see what results you can get to give a little more inspiration here are a few photo’s to spark your imagination