How to Photograph Glaciers in Winter

How to Photograph Glaciers in Winter

Glaciers are dramatic any time of year, but in winter they are surreal. Though more subtle when snow enfolds them, their blue heart shines through. It’s the density of ice that brings out this startling color. Longer wavelengths in the color spectrum (red) are absorbed while shorter ones (blue) are scattered. This effect is enhanced on overcast days and in dim light, when the natural color cast already leans toward blue. Snow cover can intensify it further. This is but one of the many advantages when you photograph glaciers in winter. Another is accessibility. Ice is more stable in the cool months, and muddy ground at the foot of landlocked ice can be easily traversed once it freezes over; opening up a way to explore features that are impossible to reach in summer.

foggy scene of blackstone glacier - photograph glaciers in winter

Nikon D800 | 70-200mm f/2.8 Nikon D800 | f/7.1 | ISO 400

Step 1 – Find Ice

It’s estimated Alaska has 100,000 glacier – and 60 of them are within 50 miles of Anchorage. All 8 types are found here: continental ice sheets, alpine, piedmont, hanging, cirque, rock, valley, and tidewater. Depending on the glacier, they can be reached a variety of ways including bush plane, helicopter, ATV, train, boat, bike, and even drive up. Study the glaciers in a select area and then target one that is accessible, attractive, and has support available in the area… which leads to the next step.

guide and photographer hiking through crevasses on matanuska glacier - photograph glaciers in winter

Nikon D800 | 24-70mm f/2.8 1/250 sec | f/16 | ISO 400

Step 2 – Stay Safe!

Beautiful as it may be, Alaska’s environment can be incredibly unforgiving. Even a seemingly easy walk out to the foot of a glacier can quickly turn into an ordeal if one is not prepared. It’s highly recommended to go with a guide who knows how to read the ice and is current on the best features, which are constantly changing. At the very least, study the glacier you intend to visit, prepare (taking into account safety precautions), pack the right gear, and don’t go alone.

Sony A7II | FE 16-25mm f/4 1/8 sec | f/4.5 | ISO 800

Step 3 -Be Creative!

Take your time and photograph as many features as possible. Look for unique shapes and contrasting colors. Experiment! Since the subject is not moving (at least not very fast), you can always shoot ISO 100 with a tripod for the best image quality. Remember to include a foreground, middle ground and background for a powerful landscape composition that invites the viewer’s eye to wander through. Similarly, make sure the entire image is tack sharp from front to back by shooting with a wide angle lens and smaller aperture and/or, use a depth-of-field calculator to calculate the best settings (with focus point set on the foreground subject in either case). Consider putting a person or two in the frame for a sense of scale. Wearers of brightly colored jackets are the best subjects for this. You might need to hand hold with a higher ISO these types of shots depending on conditions.

man photographing sunset at beluga point - winter photography tips

Pressure ridge on toe of Matanuska Glacier in December.

Sony A7II | FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA

1/60 sec | f/16 | ISO 100

Check out Winter Photography Tips for additional photography advice.

Twilight Photo Tour is a fun way to explore the winter landscape around Anchorage. An Alaska Photo Treks guide will drive you to a variety of scenic locations and provide photographic support along the way.

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