Midwestern Wanderlog

2016-01-19 – Photographing frost


What a glorious morning.

Though it didn’t start out that way.  It started groggy and painful, with a ragged cough from a swollen throat nearly touching off a gag reflex.  That plus the thought, what could one day hurt? will get you a near-miss on a quitter dropping yet another project.  Because one day becomes two becomes a week and pretty soon there’s no more project.

DSC03160But step by step, one foot following another, the morning became bright and colorful, with sparkling frost coating every feather on every wisp of grass on the Bluff.

Have you ever tried to photograph nature’s shiny glitter?

You would think it’s just a matter of pointing the camera and opening the shutter – after all, there are sparkles everywhere, right?  Some of them will appear in the image!

DSC03166Not so much.  This is one of those areas where what our eyes see differ from what the camera sees.  For one thing, seeing the light glitter off individual flakes of frost kinda depends on the movement of our head; the more we move, the more we see.  And that won’t work for setting up a shot – move the camera and you might get more of those lovely points of light, but the image itself will be blurred instead of crisp.  For another, since we have stereo vision that creates our depth perception, we actually see those tiny reflections independently with each eye.  So part of the sparkle that attracts us is our brain putting together those two images into a single composite with twice the glitter!

So how to capture it?  Still researching and experimenting, myself, but here are a few things I’ve managed to learn:

  1. Work with a tripod, even if you can turn the ISO high enough to keep the shutter speed above 1/60.  You can eliminate at least one variable that way.  Yes, it’s not as convenient as freehanding and might put you in some awkward spots.  The added stability really is worth the inconvenience.
  2.  Use a narrow aperture; more detail and a longer field of view means a better chance of capturing those pretty sparkles in sharp relief; compensate for the light balance with ISO or shutter speed (preferably ISO – even if you’re working with a tripod, you want that puppy fast enough to prevent motion blur if there’s any kind of breeze teasing the grasses and twigs.)
  3. DSC03233If the sun is out, try backlighting your subject.  But watch for lens flare.  A circle of yellow light in the wrong spot can absolutely ruin an otherwise perfect image.
  4. Fire the flash.  Nature’s glitter is caused by direct reflection; what could be more direct than your own camera’s flash?  If you find you need to reduce the intensity somewhat, carry a blank index card in your camera bag and hold it right up against the flash as it fires – a cheap, homemade diffuser!
  5. Depending on what photo editing software you have, try taking ten-fifteen-twenty photos as the light changes and then layer the photos  – both Lightroom and Photoshop work to create composites.  (This is where a good tripod is worth carrying with you and using.  Unless you have the superhero ability of freezing in place and not getting tired, there is no way you can effectively freehand a series of photos like this.)
  6. PLAY.  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, nothing is so effective a teacher as playing.

And if you come up with a technique that you find creates brilliant sparkle out of those teensy frost flakes, feel free to share!

Panoramic 019

4 thoughts on “2016-01-19 – Photographing frost

    1. Ellemar Post author

      You are so welcome! I really like a good solid frost – kind of fun to realize that even nature enjoys bedazzling!

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