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How to shoot a melting ice still life

How to shoot a melting ice still life

Simulate the coming of spring as we show you a clever technique for shooting a melting still life image.

How to shoot a melting ice still life

Depending on where you are in the world, spring may still feel a little way off – but as a photographer you don’t just have to wait for the moment, sometimes you can create it for yourself.

Frozen subjects have a wintry magic all of their own, and the way the ice around them holds on to and refracts the light as it melts means no two photographs 
are the same.

This project involves finding a bright, vibrant subject, then freezing it in a block of ice. If you’re using buoyant subjects, such as flowers, place them in a pot of shallow water, allow this to freeze, add more water to fully submerge the flower, and then freeze it again.

Once the block of ice is ready, you are going to suspend it above some candles, the idea being to feature a mix of ice, water, fire and perhaps even some smoke all in a single still-life image.

You’ll need a macro lens in order to get really close to your subject, but if you don’t have one you can shoot wider and include more of the candles within the frame using your standard zoom at full zoom. You could also use a cheaper alternative 
to a dedicated macro lens, such as a magnifying filter or an extension tube.

Macro photography provides all sorts of challenges, from requiring extremely precise focusing with a narrow margin for error, to calling on a keen attention to detail when creating your scene. Despite these challenges, with some careful positioning and key settings you too will be capturing stunningly detailed macro melts.

How to shoot a melting ice still life: step 1

1 Deep freeze
Make your ice blocks in advance – start at least the day before your shoot. It’s a good idea to make multiple ice blocks so that you have more options available. Make them in plastic tubs and just pour warm water over the underside of the box to get your block out.


How to shoot a melting ice still life: step 2

2 Back to black
Set up your backdrop and light. We used a black cloth to isolate our subject, with a standard 40-watt household lamp to the right to light the scene. It’s also a good idea to put down a tray that’ll sit underneath your subject to catch dripping water and any candle wax.


How to shoot a melting ice still life: step 3

3 Hold a candle
Position your candles against your background (but not too close), remembering you’ll need to suspend the ice above them. One flame isn’t particularly effective, so we arranged three candles in a line. Wider shots full of smaller tealights can also result in interesting shapes.


How to shoot a melting ice still life: step 4

4 Prop it up
Position your ice above the candles, either by propping it up (use the edge of the tray, jars, cans, or anything you like as long as it’s out of shot), or suspending it from above on string. If you suspend it, use multiple pieces of string to stabilise it and stop it spinning.


How to shoot a melting ice still life: step 5

5 Open wide
As your scene is likely to be low-lit, you might need to use a slowish shutter speed, so place your camera on a tripod if you need to. Keep the depth of field shallow, with an aperture of, say, f/3.2 to separate the subject from the background. Set ISO to 100 to eliminate noise.


How to shoot a melting ice still life: step 6

6 Ice melt
Light the candles and shoot from low down to crop out the tray and any stands used to hold up the ice. The ice will melt quickly; this is great for showing the defrosting process, but means you have to shoot quickly. Only light the candles when you’re ready to shoot.

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