This is something that I have wanted to get into for a long time, but never really managed to step over that great threshold called 'comfort zone'.
Once we actually started doing it, it was surprisingly easy. All you need is some extra fine wire wool (a grade somewhere between 0 and 0000), a metal balloon whisk on the end of a rope or wire, and a 9V battery or lighter.
We went to a location up on the moors that we knew quite well from previous light painting, astro and fireworks photo-shoots. It is always best to do this after it has rained continuously for some time, so that the ground and vegetation are sodden, reducing any fire risk. safety first every time. It is also worth bringing along a bucket of water or fire extinguisher, just in case.
As soon as we arrived, a dog turned up, made a bit of a fuss of us and disappeared again. As we were setting the shoot up, a man appeared asking if we'd seen a dog. Having a lively dog run around would not be a good idea, so we waited until the animal and its owner had been reunited and were on their way before we started.
When we saw headlights coming up the narrow lane leading to the small car park we were in, we worried that we might have stumbled on a dogging site, but it was a police car. Once they realised we were doing some creative photography (we didn't explain exactly what, however), the officer was profusely apologetic for getting in our way and drove off.
And so we were ready.
I had my camera on a tripod, with the following settings:
I auto-focussed on the torch that David was shining straight towards me, and then switched the lens to manual, and made sure I did not have a filter on it, as that can cause light flares.
David stuffed some steel wool into the whisk, fluffing it up as he went along (this is important to make sure you get plenty of air to it to create sparks). He then lit it by rubbing the battery terminals against the wire wool, and started spinning it around.
As soon as David started spinning, I pressed the shutter button. There were sparks going everywhere!
David then tried to pivot on the spot to create a globe-like pattern. I think if we were to do that again, I would like to see the rope a little longer so that the bottom of the globe touched the ground.
Being very happy with my first attempt, I wanted somewhere with a few more rocks for the sparks to bounce off. Along with my friend Lyn went down to a small stony beach a week or so later. We expected to be alone there after dark on a very cold December evening, but far from it: there were several groups of people enjoying picnics, bonfires and BBQs with their families, with lots of children running around. Thankfully no dogs though.
I warned the other people around about what was going to happen, and to make sure they kept a safe distance from the sparks.
We wanted to get there to set up while there was still some light, so we waited patiently for the sun to go down. I quite like the fact that there is still quite a lot of light in the sky on this one though.
For the next one, David spun the wire wool above his head rather than in front of him, to create a different image.
It definitely won't be the last time we try this genre of photography – I am now trying to think of safe places away from crowds where we can have a go next time.
Watch this space.
With a lockdown looming on the horizon, I brought forward my next attempt, and did two in one day - the first at a very shallow beach. We timed the visit with the outgoing tide, and David even bought some new rubber boots for the occasion - not that the water was actually deep enough for him to need them. I wanted the wet sand so to create reflections.
There was quite a bit of wind, as you can see, and my learning curve to take away from this session was to either anchor down my tripod, or have it very much lower to stop any movement.
From this image I took away that I should not press the shutter until the wire wool is well and truly spinning properly, so as to avoid the stray light streak you can see here.
From the beach we moved on to a railway bridge. We'd brought along a traffic warning triangle, and as I was going to be standing in the middle of the road, I was wearing a high viz vest. We also had a bucket of water at the ready, just in case.
For this first image, David stood still while swinging the rope with the burning wire wool, and for the second one he walked backwards through the tunnel while swinging.
And that is all for now, as we will be in lockdown for the next few weeks.