Photographing Ice and Water

 Ice and Water Photography

Ice and Water photo
A stream of water running through a frame of ice covered branches.

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Ice and running water has always fascinated me.

Especially from a photographic point of view.

There are so many possibilities photographing these subjects. Naturally formed ice comes in all shapes and sizes, and with its refraction of light, it creates endless scenarios for photographers.

Shape, color, contrast. It’s a very good subject for abstract photography as well.

H2O in its liquid state is just as intriguing. Especially in motion. Running water and long exposures can lead to some compelling images.
The long exposure is what creates the “cotton candy” effect in the running water.

What kind of photo gear did I use?

I knew I wasn’t going for a long hike, and I had a good idea of the kind of photo I was going for, so there was no need to bring a lot of equipment.
I brought my tripod and my Pentax K-7 with the Sigma 10-20mm F/4-5.6 EX DC lens attached.

How did I find this location?

This stream runs past the house I grew up in, so I have known this place all my life. For this type of photography though, any stream of water will do, with just certain conditions in place.

What formed these particular icicles, were a few coincidences with the weather last fall. Earlier in the autumn, it poured down for a while, making the stream bigger, running over and out of its normal path.

Then suddenly the weather changed, and it got freezing cold. The water level went down, but the stream left its surroundings covered in ice.
As the water went down, the splashing added to the surrounding icicles, and grew them into the result you can see in this image.

I walked along the stream for a while, taking pictures of various combinations of ice and water, until I came to this place.

How did I decide on this composition?

This particular place in the stream immediately struck me as something I wanted to photograph.

I think it had something to do with the way the light came down on the waterfall behind the ice.

With my camera handheld, I tried various compositions until I landed on this one.

Getting in close with a super wide-angle lens will distort perspective in some way. It may exaggerate the sense of depth and/or width of the subjects in the frame.

I chose this framing because of the way the ice creates an imaginary frame/bridge/tunnel for the running water below.

When I found the framing I wanted, after moving around with my camera handheld, I set up my tripod (I would always advice you to move around with your camera handheld before you lock it down on the tripod, as you’ll explore several possible compositions more quickly that way) .

I placed the tripod in the middle of the stream.
Bear in mind, if you do this in strong running water like a big stream or a river this might cause some vibrations through the tripod. That wasn’t of any concern in this case though.

What was a concern here was getting water on the lens. When placed this close to the running water and small waterfall, small drops of water occasionally splashed onto the lens.

When you photograph close to water or in rain, bring a soft cloth to wipe the lens with, and check often for water on the lens. It is annoying when you get home, get the photos into your computer and discover blurry spots on them caused by water drops on the lens.

What camera settings did I use?

I had already decided when I had the idea for this photo that I wanted to blur the water, to create a cotton candy effect.

In order to do that I needed to use long exposure times.
Long in this case is from about 1/4sec and slower.

Since it was an overcast day, well into the afternoon and the surroundings were somewhat dark, I knew that getting long exposure times wouldn’t be a problem.

That’s why I just concentrated on the aperture. I set my camera to aperture mode (Av mode on Pentax), and dialed in f/16, knowing that I would get a full depth of field (the photo is sharp all the way from front to back).

-But wait, I hear you say.

–Where did you focus?

That’s easy.

I didn’t.

I preset the focus ring manually to the hyperfocal distance.

Read more about hyperfocal distance here. To find the hyperfocal distance you can download charts, an app to your iPhone or android phone or you can simply focus roughly one third of the distance into the scene you are photographing to get an optimal depth of Field.

My Sigma 10-20mm lens is most of the time pre-focused at 1m (3ft), which gives acceptable sharpness from about 0.7 feet to infinity.

There was no reason to raise the ISO in this case, so I just left it at 100. Being in aperture mode, the camera now suggested an exposure time of 4 seconds.

Then all settings summed up were:

f/16, ISO100, 4sec, focus on hyperfocal distance.

I triggered the camera with my small IR-remote control.


PS. What I should have done, but didn’t, was to dial in +1EV (aka “stop”) exposure compensation to compensate for all the white in the water and ice fooling the light meter in the camera, making the photo turn out a bit dark (same thing to consider in snowy scenes or other scenes with a lot of white in it). I had to lighten the image a bit in Adobe Lightroom later.

What kind of photo editing did I do?

I use Adobe Lightroom as the only post processing software/raw converter for 95% of all the pictures I take.

I shoot in RAW, so there is always I need for a minimum of contrast/sharpness adjustment on all my photos.

Occasionally, when I need some special effects or more serious editing I use Adobe Photoshop CC. On this image, all I needed was some Lightroom adjustments.

I raised the exposure of the image (lightened) about 1EV. I adjusted the white balance to a slightly colder temperature, making the ice a little bluer.

Then I used the adjustment brush to paint the original warmer white balance back in to the water.

This way the ice “pops” a bit more in the photo. Detailed instructions on how to do things in Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop CC are topics for a later blog-post

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