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Photo Tutorial — Paint With Fire

Published by Diana Tula · February 6th 2013

Last time we shared a light painting tutorial it was “How to paint a ball of light” by Richard Steinberger. In that tutorial Richard shares his light painting technique using a daylight-balanced LEDs on a 5-foot pole, specific to painting an orb of light.

The technique we’ll be sharing today by Steven Biseker is more extreme and dangerous as it requires handling fire; at the same time it is the most popular method of light painting out there especially when it comes to creating orbs of light. In this tutorial Steven will share with you his tips & tricks, explaining how he got three different light painting photos using the same method.

Before we start with the tutorial we have to go over a not-so-exciting bit first, as this tutorial involves fire and possible injury please read two disclaimers below.

WARNING: The following tutorial features handling of dangerous materials, creating and handling fire, and requires appropriate attire and supervision at all time. 500px Inc. and Steven Biseker advise against imitating this tutorial if you do not realize that this is dangerous.

WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND ASSUMPTION OF RISK: By reading this you acknowledge full responsibility of attempting this tutorial and hereby waive and release 500px Inc. and Steven Biseker from any and all liability arising should you attempt this tutorial.

Step 1: Preparation & Equipment

Before going out and shooting you need to prepare. First you need to gather the right equipment and second scout a remote location with wet conditions. Do not attempt this indoors, at home or in your backyard.

What you’ll need:
  • Wet blanket and/or fire extinguisher
  • Metal dog lead/chain
  • Metal whisk
  • Fine wire wool
  • Lighter or matches
  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Torch
  • Daring friend or assistant (with protective hat, clothing and goggles)
  • Attire: Hat or hoodie, long sleeves, long pants, closed toe shoes, gloves, and goggles. Black/dark clothes work best

Step 2: How to do it

1. Arrive on location & Set up
Your friend or assistant, whoever is going to spin/hold the wool (while you are taking photos) has to dress in the right attire first, see a list above. You have to dress in the same attire as well. Now all dressed head out to the location with all the equipment. Take a moment to set up and figure out the best location to steady the tripod and to place your subject. Keep a good distance between yourself+tripod+camera and person with whisk fire wool, at least 12 feet.

2. Attach the whisk to the end of the chain 
A cheap whisk with a loop at the end of the handle and a dog chain with a quick release catch are ideal for this.?

3. Load the whisk with wire wool
 Use enough wool to fill the whisk without it being too compact.

4. Set your camera
Set up your camera position on a tripod. Use the torch to focus on the position where the wool will be lit. Once the focus is set make sure you have turned auto focus OFF. Although your settings may vary to your own tastes, I used F13 at 20 seconds to make sure I achieved sharper embers moving towards and away from the lens. Feel free to play around with shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings.

5. Get a friend or assistant to light the wool
Use the lighter on the wool, which should start burning bright embers. It will not start a flame.

6. Friend/assistant swings wool on chain
Once the wool is lit it can be swung with various techniques. Above the head, to the side, to the side whilst slowly rotating or randomly. The speed of the swing will also affect your results. The wool should last burning between 30-60 seconds.

Swinging hot wire wool round your head results in red-hot embers flying off. These continue burning wherever they land and, sometimes, larger clumps can fly out so keep away from anything that you could burn of injure. Also have a wet blanket or fire extinguisher handy in case a spark accidentally lands and catches fire. Put out fire no matter how small it looks right away!

7. Take photos
Go for it and experiment. This is good fun if you keep it safe.

8. Post processing
You could leave the images as they are, straight from the camera. I added a simple hue change to the color of the ember trails using a layer mask effect in Photoshop. You could also experiment with layer painting and layer transparency in Photoshop or use Gradient and Paintbrush for colour changes in Lightroom.

9. Tip
You don’t have to take photos late at night when it’s pitch black. Try times shortly after and during sunrise/sunset.

10. Keep it safe, have fun and share your techniques and results
That’s it – that’s how you do it so go get great results, take all the right precautions and stay safe.

Thanks to Steven Biseker for sharing this tutorial and thanks to his fellow 500px photographers Adam Abbott, Richard Lockwood & Richard Youden for shooting idea and company.

Do you have photos taken using this technique? Upload them to 500px and share links in the comments below, we'd love to see your results :)

Let’s share your skills and educate those new to photography. If you have a tutorial you’d like to share, be it in shooting, post production or tips for getting your work out there please get in touch, email

Thanks for reading!


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Susan Petry  about 1 month ago
Momen Kanech  about 1 month ago
Dan Whitaker  about 1 month ago
On film:

From below:

Stephen Cullum  about 1 month ago
I'm curious how you were able to do the hue change/mask to ONLY the sparks... I managed to do it on one of my images, but still had a bit of a halo around the sparks... I had to manually try and mask those bits out... Anyhow, if someone could share the technique, that would be awesome!
Steven Biseker  about 1 month ago
Most of the images were pretty simple to change the colour. Here is a before and after image
Bafore + After
With the green image I used a hue adjustment layer and masked the areas I c=wanted to change.
I hope this helps.
Dan Whitaker  about 1 month ago
I'm guessing they lit the foreground then used a coloured filter on the lens for the sparks.
Iftimie Constantin  about 1 month ago
Awesome Account
g b  about 1 month ago
A couple of mine:

Antoine M  about 1 month ago
I have a couple of theses too :
Take a look :) Great tutorial
Hamda Kort  about 1 month ago
Tried to do something fun
Equinoxe 8TH (Jorge Polo García)  about 1 month ago
Mi Work with fire:

Stuart Feltham  about 1 month ago
I was out doing this for the first time just the other night... this was the result:

Azri Suratmin  about 1 month ago
I love to play with steel wool during blue hour and sunset

Lou Guarneri  about 1 month ago
I mess with steel wool and light painting all the time, check out this one!
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Thomas Jergel  about 1 month ago
Experimented with wire wool around two years ago and wanted to get something other than the typical shots where people simply stand still and spin it.

Here's my best result:

kadriye altıntaş  about 1 month ago
When i was played...
HH- Foddo  about 1 month ago
Hey I have already made

and also with a small flash light

Awesome Account
Mattia Bonavida  about 1 month ago
that's mine!: a very great tutorial and tips! Keep up the good work!
Alberto Salvaterra  about 1 month ago
I also add car light!
Good tutorial!
Ian Mears  about 1 month ago
I had a go at this a while ago. Great fun although a little painful at times!!
Nikesh Kadia  4 months ago
Amish Jain  4 months ago
Really thankful for the tutorial.
I tried this. Please review and leave your comment if any correction is required.

Thank you

Ben Cooper  about 1 year ago
I did these a few weeks ago, right after it snowed .
Steven Biseker  about 1 year ago
Great twist on this Ben. Great work.
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Diana Tula  about 1 year ago
It is great! Did you invert the colours or used an infrared filter?
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Matt Payne  about 1 year ago
Thanks for the inspiration - I always wanted to get out and try this. Here's my first try!

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Diana Tula  about 1 year ago
Hey Matt,

What an awesome try! I love the use of umbrella, it reminds of classic staple images at 500px when a rainbow colour umbrella is used i.e. &

Casey Rubenok  about 1 year ago
That is a neat technique, I'll have to give it a try. In the meantime, here's a similar one that I did with birthday sparklers.
Achim Heep  about 1 year ago
nice tutorial!
check my last fireball:
DK Baker  about 1 year ago
It takes a little practice, but is pretty easy to master and super fun to do!!
One of my shots. Thanks for looking!!
Steven Biseker  about 1 year ago
Great work :-)
Lucas Coersten  about 1 year ago

I've also tried this out :-)

Check out my page, or the pictures of steel wool :-)

Steven Biseker  about 1 year ago
Good work. I really like the first one with the angle of the light trails. Like it
DK Baker  about 1 year ago
It's quite a bit easier to light the steel wool with a 9V battery. Lighter's won't work in temps under freezing and matches are much more awkward.
Steven Biseker  about 1 year ago
There are some great example below. Good work everyone and thanks for reading :-)
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Gareth Brooks  about 1 year ago
Please check out my work if you wish to view some light painting photography. I shoot every photo in 1 exposure and don't use any Photoshop to create any effects seen. My profile -

Here's some Wire Wool pics i've done;

Steven Biseker  about 1 year ago
Great light painting work Gareth. Like it
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Gareth Brooks  about 1 year ago
Comment hidden
Reagan Davis Pufall  about 1 year ago
similar idea different technique and result
Steven Biseker  about 1 year ago
These are great. I especially like the first and forth shots. Your other work is pretty amazing. Had to follow you :-)
Andrés Felipe Carmona  about 1 year ago
Manuel Becker  about 1 year ago
Greg Manchester  about 1 year ago Welsh fire throwing
AtomicZen : )  about 1 year ago
I experienced this photography in 5 months ago around southern coast, NSW, Australia. A big FUN for us! This is one of my shot taken in that night:

Steven Biseker  about 1 year ago
You have some great images. Very impressive work.
AtomicZen : )  about 1 year ago
This is a direct link Thousands thanks!!
SNICOL PHOTOS  about 1 year ago
Nice overview.... here's a few of my attempts

Smiley face


Rolling rings

The hand grenade


Devanshu Jain  about 1 year ago
Favorite photography project ever.
here is a sample:
Devanshu Jain  about 1 year ago
Another sample:
Neal Alan Sacheck  about 1 year ago
Playing with steel wool is soo much fun...can't wait to do more!
Here is one of my examples:
Jim Weise  about 1 year ago
I definitely love spinning sparks, and find one of the safest places to do so is down at the beach.

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