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Capturing frozen leaves in the studio

Capturing frozen leaves in the studio - Here's a simple technique on photographing frozen leaves which is easy to do and produces interesting images.

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Frozen leaf cropAs we slip further into Winter, the days get colder and the frost and ice will soon appear which may make great photographs but some of us don't like to stand outside and freeze in the name of good photography! So ePHOTOzine have a solution - create your ice pieces inside. By simply collecting a few leaves and freezing them in water, you have a frozen photography set-up that means you can keep your fingers warm but still capture some fantastic frozen imagery.

First you need to go out, collect some leaves and bring them back inside to place in water and freeze. A clear container works best as when it comes to taking the photographs light needs to be able to shine up through the bottom of the ice.

Once frozen, you need to get your lighting set-up ready. Now, a lightbox would be perfect for this as light from it would shine through the bottom of the container and create an even sheet of white, bright light crucial for this type of photography. If you don't have a lightbox at hand a white table, a couple of softboxes and a glass container/stand to lift the box of leaves up will also work successfully. You need a clear stand/object to elevate the box so the light coming down from the softboxes reflects off the white surface and shines back up, through the stand to illuminate the leaves and ice from the bottom. If you don't do this the leaves and ice will appear dark and you won't have the white background that allows the detail in the leaves to stand out.

Leaf photography set-up
Both softboxes need to be angled towards the table you're using and it is easier if your tripod, which needs to be set up in the middle of the two softboxes, has a centre column that can pivot and tilt to make it horizontal so your camera sits directly above the container you'll be photographing.

Even though this method will produce the best results, if you don't have a tripod that has a centre column that can pivot and tilt there are a couple of other options you could try.

If you have a tripod where the centre column can be removed and you also have a ball head you can try the set-up a little closer to the ground. Place your tub and glass container to raise it up on a white sheet on the ground and have the two lights close to it. Then get the tripod, place it over the box of leaves and turn your centre column upside down so the camera sits directly above the tub. Once here, you can adjust the ball head accordingly.

You could also try setting the tripod up as normal and tilt the camera towards the leaves. This will make the tripod top heavy and the legs need to be adjusted accordingly. As a result, you may be further away from the box than you wanted to be but a longer lens will help you get a little closer. You can also tilt the container slightly so it is square-on to the lens however, this will mean the water drains out so you need something to catch it in. You may also like the patterns the water creates and don't want it to drain.

Whatever you decide, once you have the tripod and lights set up, put your studio flashes on full power and dial them down until you reach a setting that will create the best light possible. We found dialling them down to three quarters worked just fine.

We were using an Olympus E30 with a 50mm macro lens attached as this type of lens will let you get closer to the leaves and help you capture the patterns that form in the water and cracking ice as it melts. We had the camera on manual, 1/200sec, f/8 and ISO100 as we didn't need a long depth of field. We turned the camera's flash off and used a remote trigger to fire the two softboxes. As the camera thought we were exposing off the modelling lights, it told us the image would appear underexposed. However, as we were exposing for the flash, the shot's exposure would actually be ok, so we ignored this.

From here, we took an image every fifteen to twenty minutes, occasionally adjusting the camera to focus on a particular area of the ice which had areas of detail we thought would make an interesting image. We did this until the ice melted which was about two hours.

Here's an example of the type of images that were produced straight out of camera but to really see the shapes formed in the melting ice you have to crop in closer.
Final image from the frozen leaf tutorial (no crop).

By putting the images into Photoshop you can zoom in and look for areas of the photograph you think are the most interesting and crop the images down accordingly. You can also sharpen the images to help emphasis the patterns in the ice and water. In Photoshop CS4 you do this by going to Filter, Sharpen, Unsharp Mask and change the Radius, Threshold and Amount sliders to taste, we set the Threshold to 10, Radius to 3 and the Amount to 85%. And that's all there is to it!
Frozen leaves - crop 3 Frozen leaves - crop 8
 Frozen leaves - crop 1  Frozen leaves - crop 5
 Frozen leaves - crop 2  Frozen leaves - crop 5

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spr 8 United States
3 Dec 2009 3:32AM
What, exactly, is interesting here?

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Beckyphotos 10 24 1 United Kingdom
4 Jan 2010 3:34PM
spr - that's a bit rude!

I like the idea of this, although I'm not sure I like the white background as it's not natural - would it not work a bit better with a natural background and maybe some differently coloured leaves such as red maple perhaps. The background could be a sheet of ice in a tray to give the illusion of the leaf lying on a frozen lake / pond / puddle
MattGrayson 11 622 3 England
4 Jan 2010 4:59PM
Hi Becky,
the idea of our techniques is to get you thinking and that's exactly what you've done, not closed your mind to possibilities. We chose the white background to bounce flash under the leaves to get more light in the image but if you wish to experiment then that's what it's all about.


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