Photographing Winter Glaciers

Shoot Recipe | Photographing Winter Glaciers

photograph winter glaciers

Summer glacier views are dramatic, in winter they are surreal.

Rivers of azure ice contrasts sharply with the tone of surrounding landscape. Though they don’t command the same immediate attention when snow enfolds them in it’s embrace, their blue heart shines through. It’s the density of the ice that brings it out. 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 overall color tones lean toward cool. Snow cover can intensify it further. This is but one of the many advantages to exploring and photographing glaciers in winter. Another is accessibility. They are more stable in the freezing months, and muddy ground at the face of landlocked glaciers can be easily traversed when it hardens, making it possible to explore features that are impossible to reach during summer. As for photographing them, this post will be more generic than the other shoot recipes in the series. There is no basic formula because conditions vary widely.

You will need:

  • access to a glacier (see below)
  • camera (preferably with manual settings)
  • lens(es) ranging from 16-200mm
  • remote or shutter cable release
  • sturdy tripod
  • several fully charged batteries
  1. Find the ice. Throughout Southeast and Southcentral Alaska, there are many types of glaciers with various access points and transportation mode requirements to reach them. Some of these modes include: fixed wing plane, helicopter, ATV, boat, and even car for a few glaciers. In each case, it’s best to go with a guide who knows how to read the ice and where the best features are, which are constantly changing.
  2. Don’t be discouraged by dismal looking weather. Remember, dull days bring out the most vibrant blue.
  3. Take your time and photograph as many features as possible. Look for unique shapes and contrasting colors. Experiment!
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. Be sure to review 4 Tips for Great Winter Photography in Alaska for additional photography tips and safety information.

Happy snapping!


Twilight Photo Tour is a fun way to explore the winter landscape around Anchorage. A professional photographer guide will drive you to a variety of scenic locations and provide photographic support along the way, helping you make the most of your winter photography.

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