Milwaukee winters do not only bring snow (yes, I am sure it will arrive sooner or later) to photograph. On those days when it gets just slightly warm enough during the day that some of the snow on roof tops begins to melt and then evening and morning hours bring freezing temperatures again, we discover the wonderful world of icicles. Inside home warmer temperatures can also create a heating of the roofs that will result with snow melt and creation of the icicles. Visit a near by shore of Lake Michigan and find them hanging from piers, light poles, boats and jetties. Days such as today when it is raining (at the end of December versus snowing) all day and then the temperatures will freeze tonight will more than likely provide us with some smaller icicles that might just be worth hunting down. Icicles are magical formation to photograph with proper natural lighting or manmade, hand held lighting such as flashlights.
Capturing photographs of icicles will require getting the proper lighting behind the subject in order to capture the glossy reflection of it. This can be done when the sun is lower in the sky, of course, if the icicle is in the right place. In those instances when the ice and sun are not aligned properly, position your off camera flash to one side and aim it right at the icicle to get a wonderful reflective shot. Take along a flashlight with fresh batteries in case other options are not available for lighting.
Shooting icicles with morning sunlight will provide some rosy, warm light and the later afternoon shots will provide some dark blue reflections. As each icicle is formed layer after layer of dripping water freezing upon the layer below it, icicles act almost like crystals and are as individual as snow flakes, each with their own character. They will provide a foray of photographic opportunities throughout the day depending on the lighting as well as their individual size, shape and character. When photographing icicles, be sure to expose for the side on which you are shooting from which means a low light setting.
Play around with a couple of the scene modes such as the night landscape or night portrait (or moonlight mode). These modes seem to bring out the character of the inside of the icicles whereas an auto setting seems to capture just the outer characteristics of it. I'm guessing this is because of the slower shutter speed allowing more light to 'get through' to the center.
Move around your subject and shoot the icicles from different perspectives to capture different formations and crystal-like refractions within each one. Notice also how different 'props' per se (trees, homes, other environmental objects) change the coloration and characteristics that your camera captures. Take along some objects with different colors and 'set up' the scene in different ways to see what creative images you can capture. Capture the icicle at different points throughout the day as well as day to day and week to week as it changes it’s characteristics and, therefore will provide you with a variety of enchanting icicle pictures.
One of the most difficult factors about photographing icicles is holding focus if you are using automatic focus features of your camera. The smooth, lightly defined edges of the icicles can confuse the meter of the auto focus on cameras, not giving it a clearly defined area to focus on. Focus on the top of the icicle where it is broader and recompose to the portion of the icicle that you actually want to photograph. If you are doing close up, macro photography, remember that your focal length will be small so not all of your icicle will be in focus. If you want more in focus, use a smaller aperture. If needed, go into a manual focus mode and use a tripod. Tripods with ball heads that move around and legs that expand out and let you get low to the ground, can give you added stability and perspectives for your images.
Icicles are just another of those wonderful, magical subjects that will keep you totally fascinated with throughout the winter months. If you are lucky and have some forming on the eaves of your home close to a window, you might not even have to go outside. Watch also for those frosty crystals that form on windows from the temperature difference between outside and inside. These, too, will capture different lighting and characteristics that make for wonderful photography opportunities.
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