Creative Photography in Ice and Snow

Creative Photography in Ice and Snow

The calendar says it’s spring here in Colorado, but I think someone forgot to tell Mother Nature. It’s snowing again and colder than __________ (you can fill in the blank yourself).

In honor of the fact that spring seems to have taken a detour, I thought it might be a good time to share some tips for creative photography in the ice and snow.

Hey, it could be your last chance for the year.

Or not.

I know ice and snow may seem like an odd subject to photograph, but once you slow down and really take a look at what Mother Nature can do with frozen water, you may never look at ice quite the same way again.

These are my neighbor’s pine trees. Thankfully, I don’t have any in my yard, because they are really messy. But I got up one morning after the snow and watched the sun rise through the trees. I love backlighting for ice and snow. It really highlights the shape and form of both the cold stuff and whatever it’s on.


snow-covered pine trees

These icicles hanging from the roof of my house in New Mexico are another great example of backlighting. Allowing the light to shine through the ice really helps to define the shape and the texture of the icicles.



When you’re out exploring in the snow, take your time and look carefully. You never know what you might find, like this little blade of grass valiantly poking through a late spring snow. Be careful with your exposure when photographing snow. When the sun is out, the reflectivity of the water can cause your camera’s meter to underexpose the scene. You may need to add as much as 1-1/2 stops so it’s always a good idea to bracket your exposures.

grass in snow


This next series is one of my favorites and probably a bit of a cautionary tale. I was driving down the road in Albuquerque early one bitterly cold morning and noticed that a local restaurant forgot to turn off their sprinklers the night before. Watering the landscape when the overnight temperature is hovering around zero is probably not so good for the landscaping, but it really makes for some fun photographs. I made a quick turn into the parking lot (which, it turns out was also covered in ice–thank goodness it was empty) and had a great time with my camera.

When photographing in icy areas, it is best to choose your steps with care. A pair of of ice grips for my shoes now lives in my camera bag in the winter. I was slipping and sliding all over the parking lot. Thankfully, I was able to stay upright because I really hate having to choose between preserving me or my cameras.

This first shot is what the parking lot actually looked like. I love the texture of these giant ice crystals.

ice and autumn leaf



The sprinklers allowed layers of ice to build up on all of the landscaping. These reeds made a great study in pattern and texture.

frozen reeds

One January, I went to San Antonio for a photography convention. Being tired of winter, I thought it would be a great break since the average daytime high is 62. The entire time I was there, they had freezing rain. It never got over 35 and I never once saw the sun. So much for my break from winter. Lucky me.

On the other hand, that freezing rain made for some really creative photography. My favorite ice shot was this fire escape ladder covered in icicles. I would have hated to actually have to use it.

icicles and staircase


The day I was to leave, the ice was so bad, they closed all the freeways and we all had to stay an extra day. Having nothing else to do, I ventured down to the Riverwalk with my camera and found all kinds of interesting things to photograph like this frozen cactus.

frozen cactus

And frozen marigolds. . .

frozen marigold

And frozen sage. . .

sage in ice


And a palm frond.

frozen fronds


When photographing frozen objects, don’t be afraid to get in close. None of these photos would have had the same impact if I had tried to show the entire plant or the entire staircase or even the entire building. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different angles. Most of these images were taken at eye level with the plants, which requires getting down on the ground. Be sure you are wearing waterproof clothing–or at least keep a dry set in the car to change when you are done. Wintertime photography is a lot more fun when you are prepared for the elements.

Never let the weather hold you back from some creative photography. There are great photographs to be had in every season.

What is your favorite season for photography?

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