The following post about working with dry ice was made by Morgana Creely.
Working with dry ice can be a lot of fun and certainly adds a dramatic flair to your images. However there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind.
Dry Ice is extremely cold [-78.5°C/-109.3°F] and needs to be handled with care at all times. To avoid burns, keep it away from the skin at all times, and wear heavy gloves where possible.
It’s also important that when using dry ice you are in a well-ventilated area. Dry ice is a form of carbon dioxide and use in a poorly ventilated area will cause headaches and nausea.
What Will You Need?
Okay so you’ll in a well-ventilated room with heavy gloves at hand. What else do you need?
- The dry ice pellets [in a cooler or esky]
- A towel
- Boiling water in a jug
- Tongs [for handling]
- The object to hold the dry ice
- A large saucepan or bucket.
Using Dry Ice
For my first shoot, I wanted to photograph the dry ice coming out of a pair of small plastic feet, which I set up on a bench to shoot. Nearby on the bench I also placed the container of dry ice on a towel. Dry ice is so cold that ice will soon form on the outside of the container, and as it mixes with the room temperature will melt. The towel is to soak up the resulting water. Dry ice can also sometimes split, so the towel comes in handy there too. :)
Dry ice needs hot water to react. The hotter the water the stronger the reaction. I like to use boiling water for the extreme reaction. So I carefully poured boiling water into the feet then dropped in a couple of small pieces of dry ice. At first the reaction was so strong that I couldn’t see the feet at all, so I waited until the reaction died down a little to get the shoot.
The water cools down very quickly, and sometimes you don’t get the exact shot you wanted the first time around. This is where the saucepan or bucket comes in handy. Tip the now cold water into the saucepan
Next I decided to use something a little bigger – a martini glass and a wineglass. When choosing your objects you need to keep in mind you’ll be pouring boiling water into them and then dropping in something extremely cold, so the vessels will experience sharp changes in temperature. I don’t recommend using really delicate china or glassware.
The water temperature is not the only thing that influences how dry ice reacts. The shape of the opening of the container is also a factor. Here is an example using a martini glass and a wineglass. The dry ice in the martini glass thins out more quickly because of the bigger opening, whilst the dry ice in the wineglass tends to be more dense and slower.
Here is an example using a glass bowl which shows clearly how the dry ice is reacting to the boiling water; note also that the bigger opening of the bowl allows more dry ice to escape and move around.
The most common questions I get asked about dry ice are:
“How does it behave differently to smoke?”
The basic behavioral difference between smoke and dry ice is that smoke tends to waft around in the air, where as dry ice usually stays very low to the ground. If a candle is engulfed in smoke it will continue to burn. If engulfed in dry ice, it will go out.
“Where do I buy it?”
Here in Australia dry ice can be purchased from your local Gas Merchant. For your local supplier check out Dry Ice Directory.com.
“How much do I need?”
How much dry ice you need depends very much on what the shoot is and what you are trying to achieve. However given that it’s inexpensive, I tend to just fill up my small ice cooler [pictured above at the beginning of this article] for around AUD$20.00.
This does usually mean I have a little or a lot left over, to play with and experiment. Which also answers the question: what happens if I use the whole lot at once! ;)
Morgana Creely is a fine art photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. Morgana specializes in alternative portraits and conceptual images. You can check out more of her work, tips and image at her blog or at her website.
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