Many of us who live in the country love to light up all kind of fireworks in July around the Independence Day holiday. This also gives us a chance to experiment with photographing fireworks, and other types of combustibles, as long as we do so safely.
One trick that’s been making the rounds on the web for a few years now is the “steel wool in the whisk trick.” This one is a fun photographic adventure.
You will need
• The finest-grit steel wool you can buy. I found mine, labeled #0000, in the paint department at Walmart.
• A large whisk, preferably with a handle or loop on the end, with a piece of string or wire tied to the loop.
• An ignition source like a lighter. I use the long ones that are made to light a grill or camp fire.
• A large, open area where it is safe and legal to have an open fire.
• Some way to safely extinguish the fire and deal with hot embers.
• A hat and gloves.
• A tripod and a camera with a controllable shutter capable of an exposure of at least 15 seconds.
Unroll a pad of steel wool and fluff it out, then push it through the openings in the whisk. The looser the steel wool, the better it will burn because more oxygen can get to it.
The idea is to open the shutter and light the steel wool, then move the whisk with the burning wool inside to “paint” with the light its fire creates. Most internet tutorials recommend spinning the whisk on the end of the string, since it will move through the air faster and burn brighter and because it throws off neat-looking sparks. I’ve done that, and I liked the results.
Working in the dark with an unpredictable medium like burning metal is slightly dangerous, which is why I wear work gloves and a hat. Coordinating shutter opening and lighting the metal is awkward, too, since it doesn’t always light right up, and since brightness of the surroundings and the burning metal may vary.
These techniques translate well to photographing fireworks of various kinds as well, and as long as you are safe, they lend themselves well to all sorts of photographic experimentation.