Unlike many of the eastern states of the US, we’ve had a dry winter. Very little snow, but plenty of cold weather. While this has robbed us of “winter wonderland” shots, it has provided the next best thing: ice.
I like shooting ice. In ice patterns I discover crystalline abstracts or jigsaw puzzle chunks that make photogenic forms.
What keeps me interested is that ice patterns change, often dramatically, overnight. Every day I walk to the harbour, the ice has a different look, a different personality. The overnight weather, combined with currents under the ice, rearrange the extent of the ice cover as well as its shapes.
I like ice shooting best on overcast days when there’s enough light for modelling, without too large a dynamic range. In this light ice presents subtle dark and light patterns, which can later be accentuated in post processing, or left as is.
On bright days the challenge is finding just the right angle to backlight ice crystals and floes without blowing important highlights.
We’ve had a few light snowfalls — dustings of fresh snow on the ice surfaces. It’s then that the hidden life of the harbour emerges. Duck prints, goose prints, mink tracks, even squirrel tracks appear on the surface. Sometimes you see skid marks where a goose or duck has come in for a landing and slid to a stop. Occasionally you see a wingbeat impression where one of the waterfowl took flight.
The ice forms, melts, and reforms, according to overnight temperatures. At this point, late in the winter when the sun is getting stronger during the day and the temperatures more moderate overnight, the ice begins its annual retreat. At the winter’s coldest, the river ice extended out to the mouth of the harbour, into Lake Ontario.
Today it has retreated up river to the north of the auto traffic bridge. As the weather fluctuates, it will retreat and advance, but gradually lose its hold until it breaks apart into chunks of ice floes that are carried downstream by the current. These too provide good shooting, especially when you nab one with riders aboard, such as ducks or pigeons. Bird rafting.
Like all local photographers, I look forward to spring, with plants, flowers, insects, and green parks, but winter doesn’t rob us of photo opportunities. While not as exciting as living things, ice offers a kind of photographic purity — the shooting of shapes, light, and shadow. Or, to paraphrase Robert Frost, “ice is nice, and will suffice.”
There are additional ice shots in my Flicker Winter Set.