Beware: Light Painting with Steel Wool Can Be Hazardous to Your Lens’ Health

The beautiful light painting photo you see here was created using steel wool (here’s a tutorial on the technique). Basically, you fix some steel wool on the end of a rope, set it on fire by rubbing a 9V battery against it, and then swing it around to fling sparks all over the place. While it’s becoming a pretty common photo project, it can also be hazardous to your lens’ — and your body’s — health. Jon Beard, the photographer behind this photo, learned the hard way. See that thick yellow line in the upper right hand corner? That’s one of the bits of burning metal striking his $2,000 Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G lens.

Here’s what he found on his camera lens after the shot:

It’s a piece of molten steel that landed on (and fused to) the front element of his lens. Beard is now trying to figure out the best way to remove the steel without damaging the lens further.

Let that be a lesson to all of you who do steel wool photography: always use a filter if possible (the Nikon 14-24mm doesn’t support filters), and always wear eye protection!

(via DIYP)

Update: Turns out that there are in fact products out there that can help you attach a filter to your 14-24mm. (Thx Christian!)

Image credit: Photographs by Jon Beard and used with permission

  • Gary C

    Could a cheap filter help?

  • Ren Bostelaar

    Reading all 12 lines of this story was too much for you, eh?

  • Ttruga

    Thats why I use a filter on every lens I owe, replacing the filter is way cheaper than replacing the lens

  • f2point8

    Put something on your eyes too. It’s even more painful when this stuff gets in an eyeball.

  • lloyd

    UV filter!!!!

    Altho don’t get the cheapest one out there!

    I had a cheap one and thought nothing of it, then i got a more expensive hoya pro digital and held them both up next to each other. the cheep one looked like glass the hoya looked like there was nothing there.

    The point is, you can protect your camera for cheep and maybe forgo some quality, or pay more and get something that wont be effecting your shots

    (However, i know some people will argue adding glass is worse than no glass, but at this point is no glass really worth an open lens?)

  • Martin Ocando

    You guys (except Ren) need glasses  “(the Nikon 14-24mm doesn’t support filters)”. Neither my Sigma 8-16mm. I’d be on the floor crying if that happens to my lens.

  • lloyd

    I never said this guy needed to put a UV filter on, I can see the bit saying that lens doesn’t support them, I just thought I’d share my experiences about filters as this seems an appropriate time to mention it.

  • fradastio

    You could always use some gaffers tape and just stick a filter on 

  • Gabriel Bousquet

    I did this for the first time the other day but shot it with my 24-105. Because of that the camera was about 40 feet away to get everything in the shot keeping it safe from molten danger. Thankfully!! 

    Was thinking about trying with my 10-20mm so I will use a filter for sure. 

  • Ian Ludwig

     Did you read between the lines to get the 12?

  • B12484

    Since everyone on the internet is so nice, I’ll speak my mind.  I can’t wait for this internet fad to be over.  It is no longer interesting.

  • B12484

    Clarification: By “internet fad” I ment light painting with steel wool, not the internet itself.

  • Anonymous

     There was no way to attach filters to this lens. Now there is.

    This is a magnificent lens, but it was a giant hazard to do anything with this lens outside of studio work due to the inability to attach filters to it. If I still had my Nikon kit and was using this lens, you bet your sweet tookus that I’d be getting one of these little beauties to keep it safe and purdy.

  • Anonymous

     You should probably crawl back into your troll hole. It’s gonna be ages before anyone gets sick of this stuff. Lightpainting has been around for as long as photography has been in existence, so it stands to reason that one technique for creating interesting images with lightpainting is here to stay. You’ll be dead before this “fad” is over is the point. Get over it and quit your bellyachin’.

  • B12484

    No reason to insult.  And I’m not “bellyachin” about light painting in general.   It’s the repetitive steel wool images, these all look the same and are not very creative.

  • Anonymous

    moral of the story? buy lenses that support filters.

  • Anonymous

    so are literally a million other techniques, woe be the limitation of our imaginations :P

  • Jonathan Yao

    It’s funny, just last week I was watching Dirty Jobs and the same thing happen to the camera when they were shooting Mike trying to cut a bearing off with a torch.  You could actually see a hole in the glass.  I believe it was the episode at the medical waste disposal plant.  I do not know if there was a protective plate in front of the lens at the time.

  • Captain Sensible

    Hmm, because spinning red hot metal in the direction of your camera is ALWAYS going to end well. Sometimes I really wonder what’s happened to plain old common sense…

  • Obiwayne

    It’s now officially deemed a superpower.

  • Dov Hechtman

    Old camera assistant trick buy a square of plexiglass you want it with the protective sheets on both sides. Remove the protective material and place plexi over lens flush with the camera ring and use wide black camera tape to attach to the lens.

    If the lens glass protrudes past the ring then take a plexi strip long enough to run from base of camera so it covers the screw mount and has enough at the other end if bent at right angle to sit in front of the lens. then of course heat and bend the plexi 90 degrees and you have a simple cheap blast shield