Ice is Nice

I love photographing ice. In my opinion, it’s what makes winter photography so special. Working on or near ice has its challenges, however. Here are a few quick tips for getting the most out of your ice photography, and for staying safe and warm. 


—The magic of ice is its translucence and reflectivity. If you have grey skies, you’ll get grey ice, which is not terribly attractive. Colorful light at sunrise or sunset, on the other hand, will bring ice to life.

—Another great thing about ice is that it often forms in random and beautiful patterns, which can open up for you a whole world of interesting compositions. Pay special attention to fissures, lines, and bubbles in ice, and look for stacks of ice shards and other interesting features.

—Look for rime ice forming on trees, boulders, and other features near areas of heavy moisture (such as lakes, areas with a lot of wind, waterfalls, or geothermal features). When ice build-up is sufficient, it can turn such features into beautiful and photogenic ice sculptures. 

—It goes without saying that ice is slippery. When working near large areas of ice, such as a frozen waterfall, consider wearing ice cleats or crampons. You shouldn’t be doing any technical ice climbing unless you have the proper experience and equipment, but a pair of ice cleats or crampons can keep you from falling down and injuring yourself, even when you avoid the technical stuff.

—Take care when working in areas with overhanging ice. Although overhanging icicles make great photographic subjects, heavy falling ice can seriously hurt you (or worse). Try to avoid standing under any large chunks of ice.

—Be very careful before venturing out onto ice on a pond, river, or lake. Make sure the ice is thick enough to support your weight, and check with local authorities about current ice conditions. Remember, there is no such thing as “safe ice.” Even seemingly solid ice can be dangerous if it has been weakened by faults, successive thawing and freezing, or movement of water underneath. When heading out on ice, I typically don a dry suit and personal floatation device, just in case I fall in, and I always carry an ice axe to probe the ice for weakness, much like a mountaineer probes the ice around crevasses. Never travel alone, and avoid “danger zones” such as ice pack edges near open water, areas where water below the ice might be flowing at a particularly fast rate, and any spot where the ice appears thin and brittle.  

Be safe, stay warm, and happy shooting!

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