Below the Ice

Photographing objects within the ice using the E-M5 and Voigtlander - the what, where and how

Photographing what

None of these photos show objects or bubbles on top of the ice, instead all photographic subjects of all pics shown here are several inches below the surface.  The ice itself was clear enough to provide sort of a lens into the subsurface formations, though it also reflected light and was tricky to deal with.

Photographing where

We finally had a couple of nights with temps in the low double digits here in New Hampshire, the thermometer hovering around 10 or 11°F.  Add that to the nights which had already been under 32° and the river has begun to freeze over. 

Horizontal bubbles are pierced by blades of grass growing up from the bed of the river. The small bright circle is not a reflection, but another air bubble a couple of inches above the large one.

Horizontal bubbles are pierced by blades of grass growing up from the bed of the river. The small bright circle is not a reflection, but another air bubble a couple of inches above the large one.

This afternoon I walked down to the river and found ice 2 - 3 inches thick. I know, because it froze almost completely clear and I was able to see air bubbles and debris right through the ice by which to judge the thickness. A few inches is plenty thick to support the weight of an adult. The Army Corps of Engineers says just 2" of ice are adequate to support the weight of a person.

The shadow of my camera lens darkens the area around these bubbles a couple inches below the surface. The silhouetted reflection of the camera on a small tripod is visible in the smallest bubble, as are the colors of dusk settling in over the river. 

The shadow of my camera lens darkens the area around these bubbles a couple inches below the surface. The silhouetted reflection of the camera on a small tripod is visible in the smallest bubble, as are the colors of dusk settling in over the river. 

One of the many unique properties of water is that ice becomes exponentially stronger with thickness. For example, if 2" of ice supports a 200 lb. person, 3" doesn't just support a 300 pounder. In fact, The Corps says 3" is enough to hold the weight of a snowmobile and 10" enough for an 8 ton truck. 

A horizontal bubble a couple of inches below the ice surface with vertically rising air bubbles trapped on their journey upwards.

A horizontal bubble a couple of inches below the ice surface with vertically rising air bubbles trapped on their journey upwards.

When I bent down to examine the ice and saw several inches of thickness, I was not worried about falling in. What I did see though was clear, black ice with bubbles and bits of grass and other river debris deeper down.

One common 'scene' was horizontal bubbles which had formed a couple of inches below the surface and vertical bubbles consisting of tiny spiral needles. These spiral bubbles seem to have frozen in time & place as they rose toward the surface and provided an incredible sense of perspective to these mini-scenes.

It pays to look closely, from different angles & perspectives. Unless I had bent down to examine the thickness of the ice, I would have never noticed these formations.  As with all photography, which recommends we get closer to our subject (zoom with your feet), my zooming was done by getting down on my knees to examine the ice closeup.

Photographing how

Since I went down to the river in the late afternoon and the winter light was low, I thought I'd try the Voigtlander with the .95 aperture.  These shots were all taken with that lens on an Olympus OM-D E-M5 in this gloaming light. Sunset was at about 16:15 and the river lies beneath a large embankment, which gives a large area of indirect light.

As with many of us, I use various tripods, depending on the situation.  Two of them are very small travel units with fixed, not telescoping legs. One of those is genuinely tiny - it actually a plastic fold-out unit, small enough to fit in almost any pocket. Given it's light weight, it only supports the E-M5 with a very small lens, such as the Oly 17 or Panny 20.

As you can see in the setup shown here, I used my other small tripod which provides quite a bit of heft & weight and nicely counteracts the weight of the beefy Voigtlander. In fact, even with the weight of this full metal lens, I didn't need any weights on the tripod.

The nice thing about this setup, is how it places the lens perpendicular to the ground / ice and the lens just an inch or so from the surface if the ice itself.  And since the subjects, the air bubbles, were themselves 2 to 3 inches under the surface, this effectively placed the lens 3+ inches away.  I'm impressed the lens was able to focus on subjects so very close; I'll have to check what the closest focus distance is for this lens.

The close placement of the lens to the surface also minimized extraneous light from disturbing the shots and let me easily position the camera over any desired subjects. For some of the shots, I even had to tip the back leg of the tripod up to get the correct angle.

One minor problem was the shadow created by the lens, as it's pretty wide and obstructs quite a bit of light.  This results in a large dark circle over the ice, as seen in the second ice pic in this post.  I've cropped most of the much brighter, area outside of the lends shadow, away.

This was only an issue on some of the shots, depending on lens angle, amount of light in that area of the river, etc...  In fact for some of the shots, since I used the self timer to activate the shutter, my hands were free and I could position myself to completely block the brighter light with my body.  Crude but effective.

Another minor issue was the cold.  Usually when I use the E-M5 in the cold, it's on a strap around my neck and warmly secured underneath  my jacket until I pull it out for a shot.  This was different as the camera was out in the cold for the entire 30 minute shoot.  I did only use a single battery, but the camera registered a flashing red battery icon.  

I did have charged batteries in my pants pocket to keep them as close as possible to my body and hence the warmest possible.  However, I didn't need them, the red flashing battery lasted 30 minutes and that was good enough.

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Given the close focusing nature of the Voigtlander, it should be possible to use it for other sorts of close ups and the wide aperture should let in plenty of light, even with the lens physically blocking some of it at close proximity.

I'd like to try these same shots with a macro lens to see if that changes the perspective. Perhaps it's possible to get closer to the formations in the ice with a macro?