Friday, September 06, 2013

Light Painting with Steel Wool

Nikon D800, 30 Second exposure.
Light painting is a technique where you keep your camera's shutter open for long a period of time in a fairly dark environment, and then use some kind of light source to paint the canvas (in this case, the camera's sensor).

An interesting technique for light painting is using steel wool as a light source. Steel wool is highly flammable, and burns bright for a short duration, but its sparks can create interesting patterns.

Spinning flammable steel wool in different directions.
To get started on steel wool light painting, you will need the following items:
1. Steel wool (Grade #0 seems to work best)
2. Dog leash
3. Cake whisk
4. Lighter.

Make sure that the cake whisk has a loop at the end which allows you to easily slip on the dog leash. You can try and do this on the cheap by rigging up something similar, but do make sure that all items (except the Steel wool) is fire retardant.

Ingredients for light painting.
Additional requirements to ensure a safe experience:
1. A fire extinguisher at hand
2. Fire retardant clothes (or clothing that will not catch fire easily). Cover your hair with a cap.
3. An area that is not susceptible to fire from sparks generated.

Setting up the camera:
Once you locate a safe place, set your camera on a tripod and use the following settings:
1. Manual mode.
2. Low ISO (ISO 100 or 200 is more than enough)
3. Aperture (f8 to f11 is sufficient)
4. Shutter speed (30 seconds)

Setting the focus:
Since you must do this in a dark place, your camera will not work accurately if you use Auto-Focus mode. It is preferable to use manual focus for this work. To ensure correct focus, decide where you will be standing and then focus on this area. Having a friend with you helps. You can tell you friend to stand where the light painting will occur, and then shine a torch on your friend. Keeping the torch on, set focus from your camera using the auto-focus feature mode. Once the focus is locked, switch to manual focus, and switch off the torch.

Setting the stage for action:
The actual process of light painting is fairly simple. Stand at the exact spot where the focus is set. Shove some steel wool into the cake whisk, and attach the dog leash to the whisk. Slip the leash handle on your hand and you are ready to go. Light the steel wool with the lighter, and when it catches fire, you fire the shutter of your camera and start moving the whisk around, to create whatever patters you feel like. You will either need a remote control to fire the shutter, or use the self-timer of the camera to activate the shutter release. Again, having a friend around would be useful to make this work.

Here are some samples that I did in the desert.

Spinning the whisk in a circular motion. 
Spinning the whisk and walking briskly at the same time.

That's all there is to it. What kind of patterns you create is left entirely to your imagination.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Remember that this is fire you are working with, and always remember that fire is dangerous. Treat it with respect, and enjoy the creative results.

1 comment:

Kuver Pratap Singh said...

Hi Cajetan Barretto,

Awesome click and very sharp creativity used by you.