JOBY advocate Dale Mears took some time to walk us through his world of steel wool spinning photography. He’s been perfecting his style for a while now and recently came up big, winning a popular online competition versus many other talented spinners. Read his journey to spark some ideas in your photography!
I started spinning steel wool after seeing a shot online and instantly knew it was something I wanted to try. I went and bought myself a metal whisk, some steel wool, and some rope and called up a few friends.
I didn’t have a clue exactly what I was meant to do or what would happen, so I set my camera up on a GorillaPod and headed out to our local park at night to find some tunnels. With cameras set up and on a release shutter, we lit the wire wool, and I instantly knew it was something that I would have to do again. Sparks flying everywhere and the whole tunnel lit up was a real thrill. Back to the camera and waiting for the exposure to finish and up flashes the preview, we thought “wow, let’s do it again” and again and again. Our images got better each time and over a few months we tried a few locations and left it there.
A couple of months later I had a conversation with a friend of mine who said: “I know where there are some fields full of helicopters.” We had to visit the field, so we went a few times to grab some new steel wool shots.
We have since visited some cool location here in the UK based in Nottingham.
I have always had a thing about light painting and seeing what I can do with a camera and some cool toys, so this is the perfect hobby.
Earlier this year, I was asked if I wanted to take part in a UK competition called Battle of the Underdogs, an invite-only steel wool spinning competition over on Instagram. Of course, I had to say yes. The competition gives twenty contestants who have been spinning steel wool but were are not well known for it, a good chance to get some exposure.
It all started over at @steelwooldaily_uk and was a knockout format head to head. It was the best thing having to shoot specifically for the competition and go up blind against a competitor. The competition was judged by two well-known judges one of which Sergey the founder of Light Painting World Alliance so had to go large with the shots.
The competition went well and pushed me to travel with friends to some cool locations like a church carved into sandstone recorded to exist from 1658, some fresh graffiti ridden tunnels and a disused railway where we used the signal posts to club up high.
I ended up winning the competition thanks to the judge’s votes and, of course, a number of JOBY fans who gave some of my images a vote. A massive thank you from me!
If you haven’t had the chance to check out steel wool spinning, go and give it a go. If you need any tips check out the JOBY labs video guide!
My main piece of advice for someone wanting to start is to buy a nice comfortable dog lead and a good sturdy medium sized metal whisk. The dog lead will prevent you getting some real sore blisters. Make sure you have a sturdy tripod – I love to use my GorillaPod Focus + Bullhead X or SLR-Zoom as I can pack them in my bag without the hassle of carrying a big tripod and you get a nice low perspective. Use grade 00 or fine steel wool as this burns much better. Make sure you have some old clothes; a hoodie works nicely, so sparks don’t go down your back. Please be sensible and keep an eye on your surroundings, so you don’t burn anything.
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