Photography 1001 : Light Painting Extended – Steel Wool Photography

In our previous post, we talked about how to Light Paint. I’m sure you have seen many Light Paintings are created with something like a burst of fireworks; that is the wire wool or called steel wool. Many photographers use burning wire wool as a light source for the creation, and they usually do so by spinning the wire wool.

These light domes, orbs and circles are surely magnificent and beautiful in the picture, but did you know that this actually does harm to the environment?



Many people argue that using wire wool would not harm the environment; for after they are burnt out, there are only carbon particles left. These particles can be found anywhere in the surroundings, thus shall not be affecting the site much. As long as people clean up afterwards, it is ok. No pollution and no littering, and I can get a perfect picture, everyone should be happy.

However, not all places can be completed cleaned up; the harm is usually done during the processing of burning. The sparks flying around can easily ruined everything. They can leave burnt marks on concrete, dirt in sand, unnatural substances in the water sources, and this may further affect the habitat of living things, including human beings. In more serious cases, fires are started at historic sites and even mountains.


For instance, an iconic shipwrecked fishing boat in Point Reyes, California, was burnt down on 22nd February, 2016 because a photographer tried to capture the dramatic effect of a lit sinking boat with the use of burning wire wool. Yes, it’s a shipwreck, but the locals love it, and they are totally upset to set it more wrecked than it was.


Another case on 9th April, 2016, three photographers trespassed into the Monroe Station in south Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve and attempt to shoot Light Painting pictures with spinning wire wools on the rooftop. Just a spark and the station lit up. In spite of they tried to stop the fire, it spread too quickly and was impossible to put down. In the end, the historic 1920s gas station, the US National Register of Historic Places in May 2000, the landmark that was in the progress to restore, was burnt down. There are also other cases that you can search online.


Nevertheless, wire wool is undeniably a great tool to create that sparkling romantic feeling in photography. So if you really feel that you need to use it, use as small amount as possible, be careful with it and choose a location that’s easier to clean up. For fire is beautiful but at the same time dangerous to both the environment and yourself.


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