Steel Wool Photography Tips

Steel wool photography is a form of art that creates captivating, abstract images by using steel wool and other objects to capture light. The technique has become more popular in recent years with the advent of social media platforms like Instagram.

Steel wool photography is also known as “luminography.” This technique helps you create stunning images with things you almost certainly have handy.

There are many ways you can go about setting up your own steel wool photo shoot-you can follow the steps below for one easy way!

This article will show you how to make some awesome steel wool photography with only a few special items from local hardware stores.

Steel wool photography with city in background

Finding the ideal location and let the sparks fly!

While steel wool photography can be fun and get amazing photos, It’s best to create your photographs in an area with non-flammable materials (concrete, gravel, snow, etc). It goes without saying that steel wool photography is an outdoor sport!

Never create steel wool photography indoors.

They’ll be sparks flying all over the place, so make sure to stay away from flammable objects.

Horizontal Streaks from long exposure steel wool

What equipment do you need for steel wool photography?

Remember that steel wool burns at about 700 degrees C and can easily burn you

Safety Glasses

Wear protective clothing like a hoodie, or other non-flammable clothing like a long sleeve shirt to protect your hair and skin from the lit steel wool

safety gloves/ protective gloves

stainless steel whisk

steel wool (medium grade steel wool or fine grade steel wool will work)

dog leash


shutter release (so you don’t shake the camera during long exposure photography. You could also use your camera’s self timer)

fire extinguisher

Steel wool photography in an underground tunnel background

Adjust your camera settings for your Steel Wool Photographs

If you whip up a batch of steel wool and hold it in the air, sparks will fly off into the night sky. You need at least 5 seconds of exposure time to capture the spinning motion. The best time for steel wool photography is around dusk when it starts getting dark in the evening or late afternoon. To maintain a clear, bright image make sure the ISO on your camera is set to 100 or 200. Ideally, the aperture should be at f/8 or f/16 so that you can keep entire scenes in focus without lens distortion. When you’re photographing with a dark scene, your camera might struggle to keep the photo bright. You can fix this by choosing a long exposure when taking photos.

Arch throw of steel wool sparks

Choosing your camera and lens

Whether you are just experimenting or taking on more of a professional challenge, light painting photography doesn’t require an expensive camera or lens. Different lenses can influence mood. Steel wool sparks can cause a scratch on your camera lens if they come too close, so keep it far away from the light and use UV or Polarizing filters to reduce exposure. If you’re shooting with too long of a focal length and don’t have a cable release, it becomes difficult to take multiple shots without running back and forth. You could also use a fisheye lens in addition to light painting, produce the barrel distortion.

Halo of orange/red steel wool sparks


Make sure you wear clothing that is not flammable, make sure you don’t do this in an area that can catch fire easily and that you have fire extinguishers and water to hand in case any sparks start to spread. Wait around for 20 minutes after the shoot to make sure nothing is left smoldering. Please do this under adult supervision and you need to wait until after the photo is over and make sure no sparks are accidentally ignited in the shoot. If you are under 18 please do this with adult supervision at this stage of the shoot in a safe area of the photoshoot and use safety goggles and heat-resistant gloves. Remember that anything around you could easily catch fire if you’re not in a safe location. And yes….you should have a fire extinguisher handy just in case.

Find the ideal location

The best time to use steel wool is after rain when it’s still damp. A beach could be a good location for steel wool photography too, but never choose one near historical monuments or highways. There have been cases where photographers accidentally set a building on fire. It’s dangerous and can ruin the photographer’s reputation, so it is important to be careful when handling camera equipment. Steel Wool Photography should be taken after a rainfall, as the damp weather will allow the rain to interact with and show up on the steel wool more clearly. Stay away from the general public when using a technique.

Add other creative photography techniques

Create various effects of your steel wool shots with glow sticks or gel flash. Different spinning can offer you a different image. If you want to create spirals, zoom in and out during exposure to create them. You can use white balance to create different colors and dramatic effects. Using glow sticks or gel flash, you can position a person in the foreground such as the girl with the umbrella in this picture. You could even combine light painting with the spinning steel wool to get amazing effects.

Interlocked white spark ring with dusk background

Perfect your photography in post-processing

Steel wool photography does not require post-processing. You can change images from color to black and white, or add light effects. Cropping your pictures and deleting the background of unneeded items can help you make them look better. Sometimes you just don’t even need to edit your photos at all!

Steel wool spinning techniques

Try different spinning techniques: horizontal spinning, vertical spinning and even light painting.

White sparks with human silhouette


Is burning steel wool dangerous?

Burning steel wool can be dangerous if you fail to be careful when doing it in an enclosed space due to flying sparks. Though the risk of starting a fire is low, it’s always important to consider all the safety hazards that come with this activity.


Remember, steel wool photos can be amazing, but they can also be dangerous if the proper precautions are not taken. Before starting, make sure to find a suitable location and practice spinning the leash, and whisk a few times to make sure you’re not hitting any flammable material.