Jenny light painting with steel wool
Last week my friend Jenny and I were finally able to get together and play with some steel wool. We had been talking about exploring this popular genre of photography for a while now. Since none of us had tried it before, the idea was to get familiar with the nuances and work on technique before we tackle our more ambitious creative ideas. It turned out to be some of the easiest fun I’ve had with photography in a while.
Basic light painting supplies
After some quick googling, I found out it was pretty simple to put together. There are of course way more elaborate ways of doing this but I very much prefer the path of least resistance. This means less time tinkering, and more time practicing photography. All you really need is some steel wool, a wire whisk, some steel wire/cable and a lighter. It turns out I already had all I needed laying around the house.
Our first try
Steel wool burns very fast. We did almost two dozen takes. Each take lasted mere seconds but were a veritable light show, even more so on camera as you can see. I set the Canon 5D Mark III on a tripod. My Model, Jenny, held a candle in front of her face while standing on a predetermined spot. This helped me acquire focus on her in live view. I then switched to Manual Focus, and set my shutter to about 5 seconds. This covered most of the take from start to finish. I would light the wool for her, jump out of the frame and trigger the shutter, using and infra red remote control. We got the hang of things pretty quickly. We are definitely ready for our more creative ideas. I can’t wait!
Molten steel embers/sparks can be very very hot. Although they are generally too small to be of any concern, some larger globs/chunks/drops will break loose and continue burning where ever they land. I kept a water hose close by just in case I had to put one out. I also keep several canisters of fire extinguishers on hand at all times. You cannot be too careful. Please allow ample space and nothing flammable around you.
Plane Spotting @SMF – SouthWest N7738A – Canon 5DsR + EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM + EF 2x Extender III
When I was a little boy, we lived practically across the street from a military base and international airport. My big brother Christopher and I would race up the hill as soon as we heard the faintest sound of an airplane. We would sometimes grab our Dad’s binoculars to get a closer look at the action. As I grew up I eventually forgot about aircraft spotting. My brother never stopped however. He routinely spends an afternoon at the end of any runway that has a view and access.
He recently visited and since he’s caught the photography bug from me he suggested we go aircraft spotting so I can give him some tips on how to photograph airplanes. Little did I know I would catch the plane spotting bug all over again. This was only a few days ago and now today I spent my sunset at Sacramento International Airport (SMF) on the lookout for special airplanes – the ones with unique livery, colors and paint jobs. Both occasions have been great opportunities for me to test my gear and add yet another dimension to my photography experience.
The shot at the top is a panorama taken with the Canon 5DsR and EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM with EF 2x Extender III. That a shot this sharp and detailed could be taken handheld at 600mm is a testament to the effectiveness of the camera system. The original image is about 20x more detailed. You can read the fine print on the rear door. This is one of those ideal conditions where the Extender III works at it’s best. It did however soften the incredible sharpness of the EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens ever so slightly.
Yes, I am well aware that the 5DsR is not really designed for this kind of action. However these are the kind of challenges I like to give myself. Yes it is possible to photograph action with the 5DsR – by carefully framing and tracking your subject, paying very keen attention and holding a steady hand. The 5DsR’s fast and effective AF system and accurate metering system more than compensate for it’s slower shutter speed. You just can’t “spray and pray” that you got your shot. You have to focus a little more. I also used the Canon 7D Mark II today. It was just too easy as this is exactly the kind of photography it was designed for.
I also rented the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens from Photo Source for the second day. I noticed that the fixed focal length of the 300mm was not well suited for this type of photography. My 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II was just not long enough for half the scenarios. I have to say the 100-400mm was nothing short of perfect. I simply forgot, stopped thinking about my lens configuration and focused more on my shots. I am tempted to add this lens to my kit.
This was fun and relaxing!