The Microcosmos of Winter: How I shot ice crystals in sub-zero temperatures with an extreme macro lens

Jan 26, 2023

Jens Heidler

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

The Microcosmos of Winter: How I shot ice crystals in sub-zero temperatures with an extreme macro lens

Jan 26, 2023

Jens Heidler

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

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In the “Microcosmos of Winter,” I wanted to show never-seen-before footage of a soap bubble that starts to freeze. I previously tried to film this two years ago with my Sony 90 1:1 and Raynox DRC-250, which only allowed me to shoot at about 2X magnification. However, the weather in Germany at that time was simply too warm for it to work.

Two years later, and with suitable cold conditions of -10°C, I was ready to try again. This time, I was armed with my Laowa 25mm, which has a 5:1 magnification, allowing me to shoot extreme macro detail.

Requirements

For this to work, it’s imperative that temperatures are below -7°C (-21F). You’ll be shooting outside, of course, unless you have access to a walk-in freezer. You’ll need to wrap up warm accordingly.

Mix 80% water with 10% dishwashing soap and 10% glycerine (sugar syrup also works). This will prevent the bubble from popping, as the wind can be a huge problem. The ratio is not very important. At different temperatures, different crystals will appear. My advice is to just experiment to get as many different ice structures as possible.

You will also need a tripod to stabilize the camera, a camera (obviously!), and a macro lens with at least 2x magnification. I shoot with a Sony α7R IV camera body.

Last year I bought the Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5x to be able to shoot at 5x magnification. This allows me to capture the crystalization process and dendrites with high detail. I shoot at 5x magnification, f/5.6-f/8. I have discovered that apertures higher than f/8 are a little soft with this lens.

How to shoot the crystals

To nail the focus, I recommend that you create the bubble on top of a bottle cap. This way, you are able to consistently make bubbles the same size. It will then be very easy to focus manually.

I set the camera on a tripod and shot using 4K video. The lens is set to 4.5x magnification, which allows me to adjust the focus
without needing to move either the camera or the bubble. If you want to get really accurate, then using a focus rail would be a very helpful choice.

The Microcosmos of Winter: How I shot ice crystals in sub-zero temperatures with an extreme macro lens

After I set the focus manually, I switched to crop mode and started the 4K video. Depending on the crop factor, I get 4K video at 7.5X magnification on my camera.

For lighting, I used a powerful LED continuous light such as this one from Godox. This works great when it’s placed behind the bubble. This allowed me to shoot at ISO 100 at f/8.

The Microcosmos of Winter: How I shot ice crystals in sub-zero temperatures with an extreme macro lens

Ice crystals are absolutely beautiful, particularly when shot in such extreme macro. Filming them forming in real time is actually quite mind-blowing. It almost gives the impression that this is a timelapse, however, it is not. Just very cold conditions.

It really is as simple (and as complicated!) as that! If the weather conditions are cold enough, give it a go! Much of the process ultimately is trial and error, but you’ll be surprised at the images and footage you can create.

About the Author

Jens Heidler is a photographer and filmmaker based in Germany. He is best known for his YouTube channel, Another Perspective where he explores the subjects of macro photography, slow motion, and time-lapse. You can follow Jens on his YouTube channel, or on Instagram.

 

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