10% off all photos on 500px Prime until July 31Start exploring now!
Blog header

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 blog@500px.com.

Thanks for reading!

     

Login or sign up to comment on this post.

Coinneach
Awesome Account
Kenny McLean  3 months ago
http://500px.com/photo/68311209
petrysl
Plus Account
Susan Petry  5 months ago
http://500px.com/photo/56485872
MomenKanech
Momen Kanech  5 months ago
http://500px.com/photo/8428484
http://500px.com/photo/6618953
http://500px.com/photo/6618723
http://500px.com/photo/6718575
http://500px.com/photo/6618778
DanWhitaker
Dan Whitaker  5 months ago
On film: http://500px.com/photo/58857202

From below: http://500px.com/photo/37120934

CreativeDragonPhotography
Stephen Cullum  5 months 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!
Biseker
Steven Biseker  5 months 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.
DanWhitaker
Dan Whitaker  5 months ago
I'm guessing they lit the foreground then used a coloured filter on the lens for the sparks.
constantiniftimie86
Iftimie Constantin  5 months ago
http://500px.com/photo/62919727
http://500px.com/photo/61794413
Nemo7676
Awesome Account
g b  5 months ago
A couple of mine:

http://500px.com/photo/39770130

http://500px.com/photo/39759644

AOVM
Antoine M  5 months ago
I have a couple of theses too : http://500px.com/AOVM
Take a look :) Great tutorial
Jestar
Hamda Kort  5 months ago
Tried to do something fun
http://500px.com/Jestar/stories/46693/put-colours-to-the-night
Equinoxe
(Equinoxe) 8TH  5 months ago
Mi Work with fire:
http://500px.com/photo/26343459

http://500px.com/photo/61569149

sfeltham
Stuart Feltham  5 months ago
I was out doing this for the first time just the other night... this was the result:

http://500px.com/photo/62964563

AzriSuratmin
Azri Suratmin  5 months ago
I love to play with steel wool during blue hour and sunset

http://500px.com/photo/62992397

sweetlouphotography
Lou Guarneri  5 months ago
I mess with steel wool and light painting all the time, check out this one! http://500px.com/photo/62951359
ThomasJergel
Plus Account
Thomas Jergel  5 months 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:

http://500px.com/photo/39534360

kadriye-altintas
kadriye altıntaş  5 months ago
When i was played...
http://500px.com/photo/60875818
http://500px.com/photo/44188456
http://500px.com/photo/2182340
http://500px.com/photo/2182183
http://500px.com/photo/2182194
HH-Foddo
HH- Foddo  5 months ago
Hey I have already made
http://500px.com/photo/55669904

and also with a small flash light

http://500px.com/photo/60878746

MattiaBonavida
Awesome Account
Mattia Bonavida  5 months ago
that's mine!: http://500px.com/photo/62104061 a very great tutorial and tips! Keep up the good work!
albertosalvaterra
Awesome Account
Alberto Salvaterra  5 months ago
http://500px.com/photo/62913305
I also add car light!
Good tutorial!
ianmears
Ian Mears  5 months ago
I had a go at this a while ago. Great fun although a little painful at times!!
http://500px.com/photo/61116536
nikeshkadia
Nikesh Kadia  7 months ago
http://500px.com/photo/29506171
amishjain17
Amish Jain  7 months ago
Hey
Really thankful for the tutorial.
I tried this. Please review and leave your comment if any correction is required.
http://500px.com/photo/56166192

Thank you

BenjaminCooper
Ben Cooper  over 1 year ago
I did these a few weeks ago, right after it snowed .
http://500px.com/photo/23886023
Biseker
Steven Biseker  over 1 year ago
Great twist on this Ben. Great work.
detula
Awesome Account
Diana Tula  over 1 year ago
It is great! Did you invert the colours or used an infrared filter?
Matt-Payne
Awesome Account
Matt Payne  over 1 year ago
Thanks for the inspiration - I always wanted to get out and try this. Here's my first try!

http://500px.com/photo/26158599

detula
Awesome Account
Diana Tula  over 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. http://500px.com/photo/22641877 & http://500px.com/photo/25044237

crubenok
Casey Rubenok  over 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. http://500px.com/photo/25436315
achimheep
Achim Heep  over 1 year ago
nice tutorial!
check my last fireball: http://500px.com/photo/25239929
DawnBaker
DK Baker  over 1 year ago
It takes a little practice, but is pretty easy to master and super fun to do!!
http://500px.com/photo/21295769
One of my shots. Thanks for looking!!
D.
Biseker
Steven Biseker  over 1 year ago
Great work :-)
LucasCoersten
Lucas Coersten  over 1 year ago
http://500px.com/LucasCoersten

I've also tried this out :-)

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

http://500px.com/photo/15383585
http://500px.com/photo/15740305
http://500px.com/photo/19305349
http://500px.com/photo/23739523

Biseker
Steven Biseker  over 1 year ago
Good work. I really like the first one with the angle of the light trails. Like it
DawnBaker
DK Baker  over 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.
:)
Biseker
Steven Biseker  over 1 year ago
There are some great example below. Good work everyone and thanks for reading :-)
garethbrooks
Awesome Account
Gareth Brooks  over 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 - http://500px.com/garethbrooks

Here's some Wire Wool pics i've done;
http://500px.com/photo/22387927
http://500px.com/photo/15921409
http://500px.com/photo/16204019
http://500px.com/photo/25352477
http://500px.com/photo/24058943
http://500px.com/photo/25352477
http://500px.com/photo/9017813
http://500px.com/photo/4937042
http://500px.com/photo/6042384

Biseker
Steven Biseker  over 1 year ago
Great light painting work Gareth. Like it
garethbrooks
Awesome Account
Gareth Brooks  over 1 year ago
Comment hidden
ReaganPufall
Reagan Davis Pufall  over 1 year ago
similar idea different technique and result
http://500px.com/photo/24131835
http://500px.com/photo/23522223
http://500px.com/photo/25158495
http://500px.com/photo/24079501
Biseker
Steven Biseker  over 1 year ago
These are great. I especially like the first and forth shots. Your other work is pretty amazing. Had to follow you :-)
andresfelipe_caraval88
Andrés Felipe Carmona  over 1 year ago
http://500px.com/photo/23417173
manuelbecker
Manuel Becker  over 1 year ago
http://www.der-webdesigner.net/galerie/20-stahlwoll-fotografie
GregManchester
Greg Manchester  over 1 year ago
http://500px.com/photo/12650497 Welsh fire throwing
AtomicZen
AtomicZen : )  over 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:

http://500px.com/photo/14356835

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

Smiley face
http://500px.com/photo/19379677

Pyramid
http://500px.com/photo/19379467

Rolling rings
http://500px.com/photo/19379369

The hand grenade
http://500px.com/photo/19379657

Scott

Devansh
Devanshu Jain  over 1 year ago
Favorite photography project ever.
here is a sample:
http://500px.com/photo/25248533
Devansh
Devanshu Jain  over 1 year ago
Another sample:
http://500px.com/photo/25249277
NealAlanSacheck
Awesome Account
Neal Alan Sacheck  over 1 year ago
Playing with steel wool is soo much fun...can't wait to do more!
Here is one of my examples:
http://500px.com/photo/14611613
wiseguyvisuals
Jim Weise  over 1 year ago
I definitely love spinning sparks, and find one of the safest places to do so is down at the beach.
http://500px.com/wiseguyvisuals/sets/portals

Our thoughts on photography, web development, and life. Join us for updates, interviews, reviews, and stories.

Subscribe to RSS

Popular Photos


BorrowLenses. Get 10% off your next order with the 500px gift code