Historic Aspinall Water Wheel House, Adams Creek Falls, Ice and Snow

Former Pennsylvania Gov. William Cameron Sproul built this little hydroelectric plant in 1915 to supply his home with electricity. Sitting above a waterfall on Adams Creek in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, this historic stone water wheel house is individually photogenic and especially-so with its picturesque surroundings. Obviously, this photo was captured in the winter, so I’ll share a few thoughts on ice photography.
Cold Temperatures Required
Obviously, for ice to form, the temperature must be cold. While cold temperatures make us want to stay inside, ice is a great subject to pull us out of our comfortable houses. Note that, even after a long cold spell, a single warm day can degrade the ice formations in some locations. If there has been a period of below-freezing temperatures, don’t wait to take advantage of the ice.
Water is Required
Along with cold temperatures, ice requires water to form. Thus, ice is found where there is water. While that also may sound trivially-basic, start thinking about locations that have water, including non-obvious ones. Or, consider creating your own ice.
Make Safety Paramount
Ice can be extremely slippery and it is a very hard surface to impact upon falling. A thick stocking hat with a thick folded-up rim can keep you warm and add a little protection to what matters most, though a helmet is a better idea in certain scenarios. Other thick clothing can also offer impact protection. Micro-spikes or crampons along with other ice-climbing supplies (and the training to use them) may also be required in the more extreme scenarios. Be careful out there.
Snow Changes the Appearance
Snow tends to stick to ice. While snow can be at least as beautiful as ice, if photographing ice is your goal, snow may cover your subject, turning everything white. Time your ice photo sessions so water has frozen before the snow falls or after water has sufficiently frozen over a prior snow fall. Also, look for vertical ice that snow cannot cling to. Of course, mounds of snow covered ice surrounded by water are great to have in a scene.
Snow Confuses Auto Exposure
Bright ice and snow consuming a significant portion of the camera’s selected metering area will cause the camera’s autoexposure algorithm to underexpose the image. The amount of underexposure can vary, so learn to watch the histogram and compensate the exposure for a brighter result. Enable the camera’s blinking overexposure warning and adjust the exposure so that only a small number of the brightest pixels are blinking to get a typically-best exposure.
Find Interesting Ice
While ponds and lakes can have interesting ice to photograph (and methane bubbles are always calling us landscape photographers), flowing water tends to create more-unique shapes (including bubbles), with falling water creating some of the most-interesting stalactite and stalagmite formations.
Back to the safety concern: combine rapidly moving water freezing at angles with the slipperiness of ice and the safety risk factor grows. Also, while non-moving water tends to freeze to an even thickness and safety can often be discerned (permitting ice fishing, ice skating, snowmobiling and other activities), moving water tends to freeze unevenly and can be risky to walk over. Always use caution if traversing over ice.
Make Ice Secondary
While ice can make an excellent primary subject, it works especially well in a supporting role. Finding a great waterfall is an easy example of this strategy. Consider taking your portrait subject along to photograph in front of or beside the ice formations.
The ice photo shown here incorporates many of these tips. While waterfall photography often works best on a cloudy day, this shoot was secondary to another one and I had to accept what the day delivered. Fortunately, I liked the color balance difference provided by the sunlit (warm) and shaded (cool) portions of the image.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

Camera and Lens Settings
31mm  f/8.0  1/4s
ISO 100
8688 x 5792px

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