The above image of burning steel wool being spun in circular motion was taken by local photographer, Bobbie Lewis, a member of Seven Ponds Nature Center’s Photography Club.

Outdoor venue provided setting to test technique

IMLAY CITY — If you were in attendance at last Saturday’s Imlay City Chamber of Commerce Auction, you may have had the chance to witness a “burning class” presented by members of the Seven Ponds Nature Center Photography Club.

At around sundown, Photography Club members gathered around the Eastern Michigan State Fairground’s newly-installed white dome to demonstrate the process of burning and spinning steel wool to create unique photographic images.

Club President Jim Lewis explained that the process involves packing small amounts of steel wool inside a kitchen whisk that is attached to a chain.

Lewis said it is not until the chain is spun that photographers are able to capture the full visual effect.

While the effect cannot be seen in person, photographers are able to utilize long (10-20 second) camera exposures to achieve the desired effect of circular sparks emanating from the steel wool as it burns, breaks off and disintegrates.

“You can’t see it if you’re just there physically watching,” Lewis said. “But the cameras can catch it.”

Lewis noted that measures are taken to assure the safety of participants and onlookers, who typically stand about 20-25 feet away.

“We wear protective glasses, clothing, hats and gloves and have a fire extinguisher handy during the burning process just in case,” he said. “This is not something kids should be doing.”

The burning class is one of many camera techniques taught and used by the Seven Ponds Photography Club, whose 60-plus members typically meet twice a month at Seven Ponds Nature Center in Dryden Township.

Lewis, whose wife Bobbie is also an avid photographer, said the ongoing pandemic has curtailed many of the club’s former activities.

However, the outdoor photo shoot provided about 18 club members the chance to reunite and explore some of their acquired photography skills and techniques.

Photography Expo

Pending future COVID-19 safety protocols, Lewis said the group hopes to host a ‘Photography Expo’ at the Eastern Michigan State Fairgrounds on May 22, 2021.

He said the one-day event will feature used camera equipment for sale, a drone photography program, and introductory classes for adults and children interested in learning about photography.

Photography Club

Membership to the Seven Ponds Photography Club is $15 per person, $20 for families, and is free to children.

For questions or further information, contact Club Vice President/Secretary LeeAnn MclaneGoetz at or visit the Club’s website or Facebook page.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.