Ashleigh Vance » You Can Sleep When You're Dead: Blog by Colleen Miniuk

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May 172015

Photo copyright Ashleigh Vance

After seeing it done in the introductory photo class I help with, I was inspired to shoot my own steel wool light painting photograph. I did some research and once I realized how simple the procedure really was, I became determined to create my own. I took a trip to Home Depot that afternoon and purchased several packages of steel wool, a pair of gloves and a whisk.

The main issue I came across was that of creating a unique photograph. There are only so many ways you can safely spin the wool and only so many angles to shoot it from; because of this, many of the shots begin to look generic and I knew I did not want that.

I spent a lot of time debating where we could go to do the shoot. Between the firework restriction, risk of forest fire and the need to be original, there was only one real answer: the lake.  We drove out to Lake Mary and pulled the car almost all of the way down the boat ramp to the dock. I prepared one of my friends with the spinning equipment, set up the camera and tripod and instructed my other friend on how to work the car’s headlights. Once everything else was ready, I went back to the camera to program and focus the shot.

After trial and error, I decided to go with ISO 100 and f/8 so that the shutter speed would not have to go any slower than 25 seconds. Any more time than that and I found the sparks and movement got too messy. An ISO of 100 was also important to me here because any extra grain would be detrimental to the quality of my shot. As you can see on the dock area, grain was already beginning to show up even at as low as I could go. All light within the image was the result of the moon or the fire.

Once I had the camera settings the way I wanted them, shooting was almost easy. I attached the whisk to a pet leash and stuffed stretched out steel wool inside. I then sent my friend out onto the dock with a candle lighter. Once they lit the steel wool, they quickly began to spin it around at various angles and that was it. Of course it was really important for them to employ effort while spinning so that the light painting was neat.

Overall, I had a great time with this project. It’s still a generic idea almost any way you shoot it, but it’s a lot of fun and looks great. While I will more than likely never be able to sell anything from this album, it was still worth the experience.

About the Photographer:
During my second year of high school, I enrolled in photography by chance. I needed an art credit and I considered photo class little more than that. However, I quickly discovered how wrong I was.

Back when I was in high school, we started on film and in the darkroom. I loved it immediately. I spent the rest of my time in high school in our photography classroom and I owe a lot of my personal development to my former teacher and classmates. I went from the girl who didn’t speak to someone who wasn’t afraid to teach lessons or compete.

In high school, I took senior photos for extra money and competed in various events like the State Fair or SkillsUSA regional/state.  Nowadays, my focus is more on working to get published rather than competitions, but I still freelance often. My favorite type of paid shoot would have to be engagement because my focus is really on portraiture.

I think my work is different from others largely because of how much time I put in to post-processing. If I can avoid it, I will not deliver a raw image to a client. Someday I hope to shoot fashion with a modern post-processing style. Food and retail work also interests me – anything glamorous catches my eye.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!