Find a suitable plot of ground, devoid of vegetation, vehicles, or flammable material. Think concrete, netball courts, train tunnels, or under a bridge. Spinning steel wool will bounce off the walls of a closed-in space, such as a tunnel, sending random sparks flying. While this is a neat effect, your surroundings should be damp so stray sparks don’t get you in trouble. Err on the side of caution.
Alternatively, a calm pool of water will reflect the spinning orb of light. Sparks may bounce off the water—another cool effect. Gumboots are a godsend. For practical and safety reasons, it is imperative that you have an assistant.
“Whisk Management.” Contrasting colors and shapes make for a dramatic image.
If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail. Just like comedy, timing is critical. Set up during the daylight, so you can scout for a decent composition. It’s best to set up your camera on a stable tripod well before dusk, and pre-focus on your subject before auto-focusing becomes impossible.
The ideal time to shoot is during the Blue Hour—more specifically, half an hour after sundown, when the sky darkens to a deep blue—perfect for a contrasting backdrop. Indeed, blue is the complementary color of the burning orange orb you will be spinning. My rule of thumb is to start the shoot 20 minutes after sunset, so you can make several attempts during this 10-minute window. If you shoot after twilight, the background elements of the scene will disappear into darkness, and the resulting photograph will lose context.