When people ask me how this shot was done they always look at me like I am crazy when I say, all you need is a six foot dog leash, a piece of steelwool, a small flashlight, and a metal kitchen whisk.
I am going to take you all step by step through the making of this shot. I will try to make it as simple as possable, but if you have any questions at all feel free to ask in the comment box below this article.
First of all I want to start by saying that there is a level of danger when it comes to doing a shot like this. You will be useing fire and very high temp metal that could burn you if you are not careful. Every precaution should be taken to avoid injury to yourself or others and the serounding area.
Ok let's get started! First let's talk about the steelwool or that swirling fireball serounding me. This is what you need.
1. One pack of steelwool 002
2. Metal kitchen wisk
3. Six foot length of rope or dog leash
This setup is simple, just attach the rope or leash to the end of the metal wisk as shown in the image. You must find an all metal wisk that has a hole in the handle for hanging. I got mine from the dollar store. Also I found this six foot leash at the dollar store as well, the clip makes it easy to attach. When you are ready to shoot your image you will pull off a small piece of the steelwool and stick it in the wire end of the wisk. Hold the leash about half way down so that the wisk is hanging about a foot off the ground. Use the lighter to light the steelwool, it will light surprisingly easy. You will start to see bright orange strands of metal in the area you lit right away. Now simply swing the wisk in a circle vertically, like in this image, or horizontal for a different effect. Be very careful when doing this, long sleeves, safety glasses, and water near by is a must. Also it is a good idea to do a shot like this after a hard rain when the ground is not so dry. And remember this hot metal will travel a long way depending on how fast you spin it, as you can see from the image fifty or sixty feet easy. So be smart about where and when you do this, I know it looks like I am in the woods but I am actually standing on a dirt road so as not to start a forest on fire! Safety First.
Now let's talk about the camera setup. This image is what's known as a long exposure, which means that the shutter of your camera remains open for an extended period of time during the shot. To do this it is best that you put your camera in "M" manual mode. In manual mode you have control over all settings so you must know how to adjust them on your specific camera. So dust of your cameras owners manual or search for your model online for the correct setting adjustments. When we took this shot it was about 1o1pm with no moon under a thick canopy of trees, so needless to say it was dark. So dark that you could not see your own hand without a flashlight. With this low light you need l set your camera up to be able to bring in any light it can so first let's adjust your apriture setting. Now from lense to lense this setting will change because of the inner diameter of the lense but just set your apriture "F#" to the lowest possable number. The lense I was using let me go down to F3.5. This is going to open up the inside shade of the lense and allow the most light to get into you sensor.
Next is ISO, I have found that it is better to use a low ISO setting when shooting shots like this because you tend to get a lot of noise when your cameras sensor overly sensitive. So believe it or not I keep with an ISO of 100 even in this dark situation. I would rather give the camera more time than worry about grainie shots. Which leves us with one last setting which is shutterspeed. With this you have a few options first you can use a pre timed shutterspeed that your camera has built in. Most cameras will have at most a 30 sec exposure time, so if you can get your shot done in that amount of time then that will work. Or you can set your shutterspeed to "bulb" witch allows you to open the shutter and leave it open until you want to close it.
With my camera the bulb mode setting can be controlled in two ways. First you have the shutter release button, press and hold this button and the shutter will remain open until you let your finger off the button. This will work but it is hard even with the best tripods not to move the camera while holding the button. Option two is to use a remote shutter release button, you can pick one up for your camera online for relatively cheep. With the remote you push the button once and the shutter opens and you push the button again to close it. Much easier and completely hands off the camera and tripod makes for no movement in the shot. I always recommend the remote method for anyone trying to do this type of shot and if you are attempting it alone there is no other way.
Lastly, in the dark your camera will not be able to autofocus, so you will need to set your camera to manual focuse mode. To focus your shot put bright light on your main subjects and set your focus and leave it. My lense has an infinity setting on the lense that puts everything in focus so check your lense, you may have the same.
Camera setting recap
Shutterspeed "bulb" 45-50 seconds
Now I shot this shot in two ways, with the steelwool only, and with the steelwool and lighting on the trees. Both are great effects and give very different results. Let's talk about light painting the trees.
Light painting is a method I like to use a lot as you can see from my gallery. To break it down to basics it's lighting each object in the shot individually with a small flashlight. Now look closely at the image and you will see me in the background spinning the steelwool. But what you do not see is the rest of the crew walking from tree to tree with small AAA cell led flashlights shinning each tree. As a matter of fact they are in the shot the entire time the shutter is open but there is no sign of them at all. Why? Well with light painting the camera will only see the object that is being illuminated, so as long as they do not shine the light on themselves the camera does not see them.
In this shot as I spun the steelwool Rocky and Brad walked from tree to tree shining the lights up and down there trunks for a few seconds each. In between trees they would shine the lights straight up into the tree canopy to illuminate the beautiful green leaves.
To pull a shot like this off it is a good idea to bring some friends and or family along. It would have never happened without the help from my team! So thank you Rocky for running Lights and Safety, Brad for lighting and cameras, and Dylan for making sure we were all on point out there in the dark. You guys are awesome!