A few days ago, during our recent cold snap, I stuck my Canon G12 compact camera in my pocket and headed out the door for a walk around our block. Where we live, that means walking at the side of the road for about a mile and a half. It was crisply cold and the late afternoon sun was low in the sky as I left the house.
I found several nice photo subjects along my route, but spent the most time lingering over a single frozen puddle, exploring the patterns and textures in the ice. It’s an intriguing and ephemeral subject, one temporarily frozen in time as well as temperature. I was reminded of the patterns in the sand from waves washing ashore, or the waves themselves when caught by an instantaneous exposure. There were figures, akin to the what you might see in the clouds while laying on your back on a warm summer day. And there was this luminous quality to the late afternoon light as it caught the ridges and textures in the ice. In short, I was entranced by this simple frozen tableau and lingered until the knees of my Carharts were soaking wet, my fingers frozen, and the sun had dipped too far below the horizon for a reasonable shutter speed.
I didn’t carry a tripod because I didn’t know whether I’d find anything interesting and I didn’t want to be bothered. That meant that my hand-holding technique had to be very good to end up with sharp photos. Most of the images I made were with my camera’s zoom lens at its widest setting. When you zoom in, you amplify every little jiggle. I knelt at the edge of the ice and held my camera as parallel to the surface as I could for all the images shown here. There were others where I placed the camera right on the ice, shooting across the surface for a different perspective. Both techniques allowed me to get sharp photos at 1/25 or 1/30 second exposures.
The blue hue to the ice is natural, but enhanced by setting my camera’s white balance to the daylight setting even though there was no direct sunlight hitting my subject. I experimented later with making the color more neutral, but decided I liked the cool blue better because it felt more like the cold ice I was photographing. As usual, my camera was set to aperture priority so I could control depth of field, although with the straight-down angle that wasn’t terribly important. My technique for slow shutter speeds includes bracing my elbows against my body, composing carefully, then holding my breath as I gently press the shutter button.
The camera I used wasn’t particularly important. I could have made very similar images with my big DSLR on a tripod, or with my iPhone camera. I used the camera I had with me, concentrating on exploring my subject as long as I could.
My biggest resolution for 2015 is to spend more time relaxing, playing, and not working. Does making photographs that likely have no commercial value count as play? I’d rather like to think so. We all need time to unwind and explore our creative side without the pressure of clients and business responsibilities. I hope you find your muse this year.
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