Be a weather watcher.
Jack Frost is your friend.
Nice ice, baby!
Watch for the melt.
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Winter is the season that often separates the pretenders from the real photographers. Some “retire” their gear during the winter months and remain indoors where it is warm, cozy and comfortable. Photographers driven by a passion to excel, however, are challenging their skills and resolve and heading outdoors into the wind, cold, slush and snow to capture photos that are only available at this time of the year. Which are you?
The fundamental element that will be central to the unique images you can capture is water, specifically water in the form of ice, frost and snow. Follow these tips to find the icy forms, crystalline structures and interesting patterns just waiting for you and your camera. Dress warmly and leave the wimps in front of the fire and explore the winter environment as close as your backyard.
You can certainly find interesting winter images caused by ice and frost if you go outdoors during most any day; however, a smarter, and more efficient, approach is to be aware of the weather, currently and in the future. A heavy frost will provide different types of images than a heavy snowfall followed by rain or melting from warmer weather. Thin or thick ice on a body of water—pond, lake, stream or puddle—have quite different effects on natural materials, such as leaves, twigs, etc.
As with most photo shoots or self-assignments, it’s better to have a plan in mind; and when shooting outdoors during the winter, your plan should be based on current weather conditions that match the kind of images you want to capture.
A thick or thin layer of frost creates interesting patterns on leaves as well as many outdoor surfaces, both manmade and natural. Frost will often gather along the lines and edges of objects, making them much more pronounced and visually unique than photographed without frost. There are typically more frosty mornings during late fall to early winter and late winter into early spring. Here’s another reason why early morning is one of the best times of any day for photography. Consider revisiting an early-morning frosty photography site a few hours later when the warmer sun of late fall or early spring has started to melt the frost. You may discover an entirely different palette of images just before the frost disappears completely.
Ice can be present in a wide range of image-generating forms: thick or thin, dominating or delicate, dull or reflective and slightly melted, pooling and dripping. Look for natural and manmade objects that are covered by various thicknesses of ice, much like the frost tip above. Ice has many effects on bodies of water, from how it freezes along the edges, the places where it doesn’t freeze and how it captures and holds fast leaves, twigs and other objects. Also look for patterns and textures and air bubbles under the surface.
Often, frost, ice and snow offer completely different photographic possibilities when followed by a warm spell, with melting, and then a sudden temperature plunge. It may also rain during the milder period, which then freezes into ice. You’ll see quite different effects on the outdoor environment and discover unique shapes, which the cold/warm/cold sequence will create.
Frost, ice and snow, and any combinations, can present a highly compelling visual scene when found where there is open, running water, such as a stream or creek. Look especially for water that flows over and around large rocks or fallen trees; has small, motionless pools; and cascades over tiny waterfalls. Frost and ice will appear on the objects in the scene as well as on the still water immediately adjacent to the rapidly, moving water.
Although you can probably capture many nice, tight shots of frost and ice with most digital cameras, this kind of assignment is a great opportunity for macro photography. When you’re able to frame and focus even closer, you’ll see and be able to record more of the crystalline structure of frost, ice and snow and their effect on objects and surfaces at that close-up level. Remember, you can rent a macro lens for the weekend at a very affordable rate. That small investment will result in a collection of macro images that few other photographers have. You, however, were brave enough to face the cold and show everyone just actually what kind of photographer you are!
Photo copyright PhotographyTalk member Joe Poulton
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