Dale Mears uses little more than a stainless steel whisk and some wire wool, plus his trusty D700, to capture his award-winning light spirals
Learn what it takes to be the best wire-wool spinning photographer in the UK
An interesting article in
N-Photo a few years back prompted me to have a go at spinning wire wool. I thought it looked really cool, so I instantly wanted to try it. After picking up a whisk and some steel wool from a local hardware shop, I was excited to try my first spin. Looking back I didn’t have much of an idea of just how involved wire wool spinning could be, but nevertheless I was hooked straight away.
Steel wool spinning involves packing a stainless steel whisk with wire wool, tying a length of string onto the handle, and then setting the wool alight and spinning it around at arm’s length as it burns.
You can spin the wire wool vertically, horizontally or while you walk, to ‘paint’ different shapes into the photo. Long exposures ensure that all of the streaks and spurts of light are captured, so you need to keep the camera steady. When sparks spray out it looks cool, but it’s also a reminder of why you have to wear protective clothing and eyewear at all times.
My first wire wool photos were taken in a series of abandoned ice tunnels in the grounds of Wollaton Hall, in Nottingham (the hall has since been used in Batman movie The
Dark Knight Rises). The tunnels were ideal for the shoot because they were naturally dark, and after a bit of trial and error I had some reasonable shots.
For my next set of shots, my good friend Paul Clark and I had noticed four ex-military helicopters  on the site of a cross-country adventure race that we were both at. We didn’t want to pass up the opportunity of photographing some wool trails here, so we spoke to the land owners and they were happy for us to shoot the helicopters. We went to two locations to try to make the