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Photography Project Accidently Sparks Grass Fire in Kansas

By Hanssie on January 21st 2014

Better file this one under, “Don’t Try This at Home.”

I never understood why the disclaimer, “Don’t try this at home,” was necessary, usually before a crazy stunt demonstrated by professionals or people with no sense of danger or common sense. Evidently however, it does need to be said as it seems there are many people who do things without using their brains.

For instance, playing with fire in an open field of dry grass. Duh.

Steel wool light painting is a pretty awesome photography technique that was super popular a little while back. If done correctly, it can produce fun results like this one:

steel-wool-1

Photo Credit: EKP

Before doing a project like this, photographers should probably check out a tutorial (like this one from our friend Benjamin Von Wong), make sure that you have items such as a fire extinguisher, eye protection and, oh yeah, common sense (i.e. like keeping spinning fire somewhere far away from extremely flammable areas, say, a dry field in a drought ridden Kansas).

A couple of students found out the hard way this weekend, when their photography project, spinning a piece of steel wool, went wrong and ignited a grass fire in Topeka, Kansas. The fire crew extinguished the flames in less than an hour, but it reminds us that we should also take extra caution with photography projects that are potentially hazardous. Luckily, there were no injuries or damage to personal property, but the fire forced a few road closures in the area.

[REWIND: Steel Wool Light Paintings: ‘Light Rorschach’ by Nicolas Rivals]

If you wish to try steel wool light painting, here are some safety tips to consider:

1. Location, Location, Location

Find a place that is free of dry grass, trees, shrubs or anything else that might be flammable. Ideally, the day after it rains or maybe somewhere with snow would be wise.

2. Protect Yourself

Wear long sleeved shirts, pants and something to cover your hair. Lay off the hairspray and gel for the day and make sure you protect your eyes from errant sparks. Sparks can and will fly everywhere.

3. Protect Your Gear

Use a tripod and a zoom lens to stay farther away from the action. Even so, protect your lens with a filter. You may not realize it until it is too late, but yes, steel wool “spinning” involves bits of red-hot metal flying through the air…

Here is the gear we use when steel wool painting.

  • Canon 5D Mark II (or any camera with manual mode)
  • Canon 24-70 f/2.8 Mark II (or any mid-range or wide angle zoom)
  • Filter (we prefer B+W filters)
  • Tripod (See our reviews of MeFOTO GlobeTrotter HERE and Fotopro HERE)
  • Vello Shutterboss (or any similar camera cable release)
  • 9V battery
  • Lots of steel wool (3-4 packages)
  • Looped metal chain (light, around 6-8 feet)
  • 2-3 metal egg beaters (these melt, so you would need new ones each shoot)
  • 3-4 fastening brackets to connect chain together, and the egg beaters to the chain
  • Fire extinguisher (No, seriously.  We know this is not a standard part of a photographers’ kit, but if you want to play with fire you should go buy one!)
  • Bucket of Water (or a garden hose, etc.)

Most of all, USE COMMON SENSE. Especially when playing with fire, or you might end up on the news.

[via @WIBW]

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About

Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at www.hanssie.com. Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jared Stewart

    Hmm…wonder if standard business liability insurance would cover you in a situation like this if it went to civil court?

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  2. Philip Sharpe

    I’m so tired of seeing steel wool burning.

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  3. Jeff Guyer

    It’s unfortunate stories like this that make me wonder why “common sense” is not at all common. I had been wanting to try steel wool a few years ago and waited for snow on the ground. Besides getting a cool juxtaposition of “fire & ice,” the sparks were all extinguished the moment they hit the ground.

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