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We didn t have our Art Editor NOEL HIBBERT down as a twisted fire starter. Hand him wire wool, a whisk, some bungee rope and a lighter to accompany his D800 and he ll be a very happy man. Catherine wheels, sparklers and rockets are enough for most once a year on Bonfire night, but not for our Art Editor Noel Hibbert. He waltzed into our office with images of him lassoing a homemade firebomb around his head, and worse still, made it look easy! We decided to bring him down a peg or two and quiz him on just how to create illuminated photography with ignited wire wool.


After raiding the kitchen drawer for a whisk and inserting fine wire wool into its dome, Noel attached a 40cm bungee cord to the handle, which is how the mini inferno is spun around in mid air.

He says: "We just tore off the wire wool and stuffed it in the whisk, then stood and did a couple of practice swings while keeping my hand close to my hip. I let the bungee cord and the whisk do a lot of the motion. You donwant your arm to be too far away from you because youless likely to get that perfect circle, but if you try moving sideways youalso manage a spiral effect."

Initially when lighting the wool, using matches proved problematic due to the proximity of the flammable material. So the second time around Noel lit the substance with a long cooker lighter. With a limited amount of time to light your wool, especially during windy conditions, things can get tricky when the air blows against the fire, making it surge says Noel. By trial and error the keen photographer learnt the hard way that the more dense the wool, the more difficult it is to ignite.

Noel said: "The soft stuff is easy to tear and sets fire really easily. The coarse wool woncatch fire though, we tried and it just doesnwork! We set ourselves up on his nice little waterfall where the setting was perfect, but we didnthink to try it. We were waiting for the light to drop enough to shoot, and then it was too late. So make sure you buy the really fine wool which will make photographing the scene much easier."

To avoid close calls, resist overloading your whisk with wool too, Noel advises. A few spins in five to ten seconds is just enough time to score your perfect shot.


"Torches are a must when setting up your frame, but be aware ita two man job," Noel states, stressing the importance of keeping your compadres within close range. "Donrisk experimenting on your own either, because as it gets dark the cameras find it difficult to focus. Youneed to put a marker down on the ground showing where yougoing to stand and then ask a friend to stand in place with a torch so your camera focus can lock on to the position where youspinning the wool. Then flick it off autofocus onto manual and snap away."

A remote lead or trigger, and tripod are usually essential for this kind of photography, but in this instance Noel used a 10 second timer which leaves plenty of time. When it comes to lenses, Noelfull frame camera provides a good width so he used a 24-70mm f/2.8 though it didnmatter because he was firing above f/10. A standard 18-55mm would work just as well, or for a funky effect why not try a fisheye lens.


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The time of day you choose to begin playing with fire will affect your aperture. However, between f/10 and f/13, anything between a 10 to 30 second exposure is the setting Noel opts for because "you want to get everything in focus, and if your depth-of-field is too shallow, it could look awful," he says. The first time Noel was crowned a fire starter was during a cloudy night at dusk, which meant using f/10 at around 10 seconds with street lighting around. On his second shoot, conditions were more pleasant, minus the strong street lights and a darker sky. For more glamourous effects these magical dusky skies will allow you to retain detail in the background and heading out around 9pm will leave plenty of time for you to create your own ring of fire. Leave it any later and the results will be lacklustre. He says:

"If ittoo dark all you see is the wire wool and the sparks coming off with someone stood in the middle because they are static while spinning." In situations like this, he advises going for longer shutter speeds, say 30 seconds (or use Bulb mode) to gain background detail.

Though Noel left his flashgun at home, thereno reason why you couldnuse a burst to pick up details such as graffiti and other movement or paint an item with a torch. In terms of ISO settings, it wonmatter too much because of how bright the sparks are, though his Nikon D800 was a perfect match for this low light photography.

He says: "I probably use ISO 100 or 200 because you donwant it to be too sensitive and have to use a faster shutter speed."


An urban skate park in Cheltenham and a park with historic buildings for contrasting environments were Noelfirst location choices, which help to frame the spider like limbs springing from the alight wire wool.

"The first time we experimented with wire wool was at a skate park, which we chose because it was quirky and the graffiti was different. Plus we needed an open space which wasngoing to be dangerous (we checked there were no kids around first) as we didnwant to be in the middle of the woods and setting fire to trees!" Noel warns, while mentioning that using an interesting backdrop will help your images become vivid and varied. He adds: "When youin an environment and itnot too dark it really benefits the fun aspect, such as under bridges or arches." Noel found his inspiration on from low ceilinged architecture and images of sparks reflected in puddles within a warehouse. And if you do browse the web for wire wool painting photography, hundreds of illuminated archways will boost your imagination. However, although they look stunning, they can be more of a challenge.

"You donwant a really low arch because sparks will be closer to you." Noel says. "Our archway was six or seven feet above our heads, but if youin that confined space youget a circle above you. Subways are a really cool place to do this too, though the arches might be lower. For a different setting try landmarks in your local town." If itspooky reflections which light your fire, lakes and mirrors will act as a shimmering mirror to showcase your subject too.


Noel had a close call when a red hot ember crept down the neck of his coat. "The first time I tried photographing lit wire wool I kept the packet next to me and set it on fire accidentally! I was stamping on it like mad to put it out! Luckily it was only small so it didnreally hurt that much.

"You do have to have an element of caution about you because these are hot bits of metal flying around so itreally important to wear a hat and gloves. We wore a hooded top (to stop embers going down the back of the neck) with a hat over the top. Also remember that itmuch more dangerous under an arch because the sparks will flick back down onto you. Out in the open itnot so bad."

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