Ice and reflections, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Ice and reflections, Yosemite. The gold color comes from reflections of sunlit cliffs, while I used a polarizing filter to bring out the prism effects in the ice. 168mm, 3 seconds at f/16, ISO 320; focus-stacked and blended with Helicon Focus.

I love photographing ice. It’s highly photogenic stuff, with lots of interesting patterns, and crystal facets that catch and reflect the light in beautiful ways.

During our recent workshop in Yosemite Valley temperatures were cold enough to create some wonderful ice formations along the Merced River, next to Bridalveil Fall, and in some of the creeks, so of course we had to make time to photograph the ice. We were often looking for places and angles where ice in the shade would catch golden reflections from sunlit cliffs across the valley, adding a splash of color to the patterns. And in some spots, with the right kind of ice, in the right light, we could see prism effects in the ice through a polarizing filter.

We could only see reflections in the ice at certain angles, which meant I was often photographing across a patch of ice, rather than straight down. That meant the depth of field was rather extreme, making it impossible to get everything in focus with one frame, so I did a lot of focus stacking. While focus stacking can be impossible with moving subjects, like flowers blowing in the wind, it works very well with ice, since ice is usually nice and solid and unmoving.

I usually use Helicon Focus to blend focus-stacking sequences, but found that Helicon Focus often didn’t work well on the flowing water in some of my images. Helicon Focus tries to make every part of the frame as sharp as possible, which sometimes gives the water an uneven texture. So when an image included flowing water I blended the focus stacks in Photoshop, either by hand with layer masks, or by using Photoshop’s Auto-Blend Layers option.

Here’s a small collection of my favorite ice photographs from the workshop, with extended captions to describe how they were made. We also had some wonderful clouds and mist, so I’ll post some of those images soon.

— Michael Frye

Ice, reflections, and cascade, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Ice, reflections, and cascade, Yosemite. 140mm, 1/6 sec. at f/16, ISO 320. I blended four focus-stacked images by hand in Photoshop using layer masks.

Ice alongside Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Ice alongside Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite. 145mm, 1/2 sec. at f/11, ISO 100, polarizer.

Frozen cascade, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Icy cascade, Yosemite. 154mm, 1/4 sec. at f/16, ISO 320. I blended nine focus-stacked images in Photoshop using the Auto-Blend Layers option.

Related Posts: Ice, Frost, and Mist; Ice in July; Focus-Stacking Season

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.