My Adventures In Photography

A while back I started a photography column for my hometown's local newspaper — you'll find all of my columns from those pages here as well as new ones that I write.

To see all of my blog posts to date, click here.

Let the sparks fly

 LIGHT SHOW: This is a really fun project if done correctly and safely. Simply use some steel wool inside of a whisk and find a rope or leash to swing it around after setting the wool on fire. Remember, safety is first with this kind of project. Be cautious and have fun.

LIGHT SHOW: This is a really fun project if done correctly and safely. Simply use some steel wool inside of a whisk and find a rope or leash to swing it around after setting the wool on fire. Remember, safety is first with this kind of project. Be cautious and have fun.

Capturing light is a photographer's business and livelihood.

Light is what makes a photograph a photograph. Differing hues and values of light come together to create an image and that is a very beautiful thing.

Many photographers use their cameras to capture a scene just how it looks to the naked eye, others manipulate the lighting in the scene to make the image look how they want.

However, this post isn't about capturing any scene. This post is about capturing light itself.

 MATERIALS USED: The materials to create this image are very cheap and easy to purchase just about anywhere. Be sure to use fine-grade steel wool. The thicker stuff will not ignite.

MATERIALS USED: The materials to create this image are very cheap and easy to purchase just about anywhere. Be sure to use fine-grade steel wool. The thicker stuff will not ignite.

Many photographers have discovered the fun of playing around with steel wool. Fine-grade steel wool is flammable if you use a lighter or a 9-volt battery to ignite it, and adding oxygen to the mix only makes it more volatile. If you search for "steel wool photography" on Google, you'll find a lot of interesting results.

This isn't my first experience with steel wool. I tried it a few years back when I only had a tiny Canon Rebel t1i. So, now that I have some better equipment, I figured that I would try it again for this post.

The trick is to put the steel wool in a whisk (y'know, the one you use in the kitchen), and tie a rope to the end of that whisk so you can violently swing it around.

The results? A flurry of sparks scattering in the air.

It's a fun visual.

Before I get into the technical stuff, let me rewind a bit and say that the scene did matter for this photograph. Yeah, the focus is on capturing a photo of the sparks, but I did put some thought into the location.

There are these tunnels outside of Evart that go over the Pere-Marquette Trail heading east. The tunnels serve as a bridge for roads overhead. I simply chose to visit one of those tunnels and take the shot there because the sparks would reflect and ricochet off of the corrugated steel walls.

Another place I considered was going out onto a dock on a lake. The reflection of the sparks on the water would be beautiful. Maybe some other time.

A word of warning: Seriously. This is a HUGE fire hazard.

Do NOT do this without considering fire hazards. I picked a day where the ground was somewhat wet AND I was inside a steel structure to limit any fire risks.

However, I wasn't too bright by not wearing a hard hat and eye protective gear. I seriously recommend wearing protective gear if you attempt this. A lot of sparks hit my head and it didn't feel very good ... Lesson learned.

Alright, here's the technical stuff:

It was dark out, so I used a tripod for this shot. To get my focus properly set, I had some help from my girlfriend (she often joins me on these little adventures). I simply had her stand in the place I would be standing with her phone's flashlight app turned on.

Getting the settings right on my digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera would be a touch trickier than setting focus.

I knew I wanted to start with a low ISO and a wide open aperture, so I set my ISO to 200 for a clean image and my aperture to f/2.8 to allow in as much light as possible, however, determining the appropriate shutter speed would be a different task altogether. I tentatively set the shutter speed at 10 seconds for a quick test shot.

I figured 10 seconds was a good place to start because I was going to be creating a lot of light with the steel wool and because going any longer would run the risk of overexposing the photo.

Well, I was right. In fact, I had to shorten the shutter speed down to five seconds so I wouldn't overexpose the image.

I kept the 10 second shot, however, because it was useful in keeping some of the image quality on the edges of the photo somewhat exposed decently.

So, fusing the two photos together in Photoshop after some color correcting in the Camera Raw plug-in was just the thing that was needed to make the image shine.

If you attempt this, please take preventative measures and ... have fun. It's a rewarding shot if you get it right.