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Fire spin photos take light painting and turn it up to 11! If you’re looking for a photo project that is guaranteed to turn heads and leave your friends and family members wondering how you pulled it off, then a ‘fire spin’ photo is the project for you.
While not for the faint-hearted, a fire spin image can be created by packing a metal whisk full of wire wool and igniting it, tethered to a dog lead you then spin it around quickly, and use a long exposure on your camera to capture the brilliant light trails as the sparks fly off in all directions, also lighting up the night scene with exciting and vibrant effects.
Of course, working with fire is dangerous and won’t be for everyone. If you don’t like the idea of working with wire wool, you could instead securely attach a torch to piece of string to get an idea of how the technique works.
If you would like to try out a fire spin then it goes without saying that safety comes first. We strongly recommend shooting with a friend so that you can take the pictures while your friend does the fire spinning – why not pair up with another photographer friend and alternate?
We also shot at the coast next to open water so that there was much less chance of starting a fire, and of course had a fire extinguisher to hand too, just in case. You’ll also want to avoid wearing flammable synthetic clothing, so wool is a good choice. Gloves, hat and eye protection are also essential to protect yourself against any stray sparks. Raring to go? Here’s everything you need to know...
1. Camera settings
It’s best to shoot a long exposure of several seconds to build up a bright and vibrant fire spin effect. This means setting up on a sturdy tripod so you can shoot a sharp long exposure. For safety, we also shot at the coast next to water to mitigate the risk of anything catching fire from the burning steel wool (and had a fire extinguisher to hand too).
For settings, put your Canon to its Manual mode (M on the mode dial) and dial in ISO100 for best image quality and a shutter speed of 4 secs – this should give you enough time to catch a good spin. Then tweak the aperture value until your exposure looks good and take a few test shots. You can open the aperture or extend the shutter speed as it gets darker.
2. Focus on a friend
One of the trickiest parts of a fire spin photo is nailing the focus, so to make things easier bring a friend that can do the spinning while you stay behind the camera taking photos. Have your friend stand in the scene where you want the fire spin to appear. Also make sure they’re wearing dark clothing and shoot at night so that they don’t appear in your images. Compose and focus on your friend in the blue hour, or if it’s too dark to autofocus, have them shine a bright torch on themselves so you can lock the focus on them.
Then you need to switch the focus mode to manual (MF) so that it’s locked off and won’t move between frames. Just make sure your friend doesn’t move off their mark during the spinning.
3. Prepare your whisk
To create the fire spinning effect, you’ll need to get hold of a metal balloon whisk with a loop at the base of the handle. To this you’ll attach a sturdy dog lead so that you can spin it around safely at arm’s length. Some of the cheaper whisks have a very thin ring at the bottom of the handle which can easily slip out of dog lead’s clip, which is far from ideal! So make sure the attachment point is a few millimeters thick, or attach two dog leads so you have an extra layer of security.
Next, you’ll need to pack the balloon whisk with your wire wool. It’s best to use a fine wire wool, such as 00 or 0000. You can even carefully fold a mixture of the two together and pack them into the whisk snugly.
4. Start spinning!
Now it’s time to attempt your first fire spin. The easiest way to light the wire wool is to quickly bring it into contact with a 9v battery (above) and then have your friend spin it around in a smooth circular motion – as oxygen gets into the wire wool as it spins it will glow brighter. Keep continually firing your long exposures back-to-back until the fire has died.
You can then check your shots and work out if you need a longer or shorter exposure time, or to open the aperture a little wider if it has suddenly become a lot darker with the light levels fading. Make sure your friend stays on their spot so that your next shots are pin sharp, and have another go!
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