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Ice Photography Tips

Ice makes an interesting photographic subject, as this article will show you.

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 Canada, Abraham Lake detail
Photo by David Clapp -


  • Tripod
  • Macro lens – gets you closer to the patterns
  • Telephoto lens – use when it's not safe to use a macro lens
  • Polariser – can help cut down glare
  • Warm clothing


When temperatures begin to fall, lakes, ponds, puddles and even waterfalls (when it's really cold) freeze, all of which make excellent close-up photography subjects.

What and where

Air bubbles trapped in the ice and cracks as the ice begins to melt produce interesting and often intricate shapes, which when shot with a macro lens, result in a large collection of abstract shots. Look towards the edges of ponds, lakes and streams too for areas where leaves and other debris have got trapped in the ice. Near waterfalls, even if it's not cold enough to freeze their movement, look for nearby plants, grass and rocks that water's splashed on to as it could have frozen, resulting in stalagmites and other shapes forming on them.

Be safe

A macro lens will get you close to the patterns in the ice but don't put yourself in a position where you or your kit could end up in the freezing water. Instead, use a telephoto lens to pull the detail to you.

Reflection problems

To cut down on reflections and glare, particularly when you're trying to show what's stuck inside the ice, fit a polarising filter. If a polarising filter doesn't cut down the reflections as much as you'd like, try standing so you block some of the light/reflection coming from the sky. This will make your shot darker however so keep an eye on your exposure, checking your histogram and using a longer shutter speed, if needs be, to pull more light into your shot.


Side lighting can help create more texture in your images but do remember ice can melt quite quickly when the sun's out so don't work too slowly and keep shooting as different patterns will begin to form as more of the ice vanishes.


Darker backgrounds will help give the ice more punch but aren't a necessity. Although, if you want to ensure you have a dark background every time, put a piece of dark material or card in your camera bag that you can substitute as needs be.

Your camera may be fooled

Large light, white areas can fool your camera into underexposing your shot so make sure you regularly check your histogram and use exposure compensation (+1 or +1.5) to give the ice that glisten everyone expects to see. Most cameras, such as the Nikon D600, have this feature. The D600's exposure compensation range goes from -5 - +5 EV in increments of 1/3 or 1/2 EV.
Nikon D600
If you're shooting against a dark background, you may have the opposite problem where your areas of ice end up overexposed as your camera's chosen to meter for the larger, darker area in the shot. Again, keep an eye on your histogram and use exposure compensation accordingly.

Adjust the colour temperature

If you want to increase the cold feeling in your shots, adjust the colour temperature either with your camera's white balance or during post production. Tweaking the contrast of your image will also give the patterns and textures more definition, giving you a more interesting abstract overall.


If it's not cold enough for ice outside, have a try at creating your own. Get a shallow container (Chinese takeaway containers are perfect as they're a good size and are transparent), fill it with a few inches of water and stick it in your freezer.

Once it's frozen, take it out and create your set-up. If you're working indoors, keep the ice in the container (that's why transparent containers are good) so no water ends up on your carpet or frying electrical equipment, but if you take it outside, feel free to take it out of it's container if it makes it easier to shoot. If you want to add colour to your background, use coloured paper/card and if you need a little more light, try using a table lamp or light from a window (if working indoors) that's positioned to the side of your set up to help emphasis the textures and shapes in your shot. Small apertures, around f/22, will give you greater depth of field which means you'll be able to shoot every detail of the ice and do keep an eye on your meter readings as lots of reflective light, shining off the ice can confuse your camera into thinking the scene's brighter than it actually is.

Look for interesting designs created by air bubbles and cracks that have cut across the ice. You'll need to keep shooting on regular intervals too because as the ice melts, different patterns will be created by air escaping and more water filling your container (if you use one).

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StrayCat 18 19.1k 3 Canada
19 Nov 2012 3:33AM
This is one of my favorite subjects, but it's been mild lately, and I like to go to my favorite spot for this after about a week-long cold snap.


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