Take superb shots of leaves in ice

Get outside and take some creative macro images of our winter wonderland, or make your own at home

When the temperature drops, the outside world gets a new lease of life, which brings endless opportunities for macro photography. Fallen leaves frozen in puddles of textured ice are a favourite – get up early on frosty mornings and you’ll be blessed with good light. But what if the weather’s too mild for frost or you live in a warm climate? You can cultivate your own winter subjects in plastic containers by adding some water and popping them in the freezer – just remember to fill your frame when you shoot.

To get the textured ice effect in the photo above, we placed the leaf and a little water in a plastic container and left it just long enough to freeze partially, but not to freeze solid. Sandpaper was used to flatten out a few random sections, to make it look more natural. The set-up was placed in front of a window for the backlit effect.

A thin layer of melting ice gives an effect like this. The red and green leaves were backlit with a table lamp.

Go abstract

Striking winter macros play on the contrast of texture and colours, which is why ice is such a godsend.

Pick strongly coloured leaves (multicoloured are usually the most interesting) that will stand out against the cold hues of the frozen ice. Unless your frame is mostly coloured leaves and very little ice, be sure to dial in around a stop (1 EV) of extra exposure, so that the ice is bright and white, not dark and muddy. Take your frames of the frozen leaf in its entirety, then get in really close and go for intricate abstract macro shots with impact. Youll get something much more original this way.

If youre blessed with icy conditions, youll have the luxury of shooting a range of different frozen textures as they occur naturally. If not, manufacturing them is fairly easy. If youve frozen your leaves solid, try adding texture with sandpaper, or, if you want a really clear look, pour cold water on the ice to get rid of any crystals.

You can also try stamping on or hitting the ice to create different textures. Depending on the amount of ice youre working with it can be a good idea to keep the ice in the container, as it can easily snap when removed.

A leaf thats only partially covered in ice adds interest. A small aperture of f/16 keeps everything sharp.

Brighten up the whites of your ice by tweaking the levels…

As it’s so bright, ice is really brilliant at fooling your cameras light meter into underexposing.

You may well find, even though youve compensated, that your whites arent as white as youd have liked. Luckily, you can get adjust them to a gleaming level in the digital darkroom.

It only takes a few seconds, using Levels in Photoshop. Heres how to do it: open Levels then drag the highlights slider towards the centre to increase contrast and boost highlights. If you hold down the [Alt] key youll be able to see the pixels that are clipped.

The pixels you should be clipping are just the specular highlights (these contain no pixel data and are the brightest, shiniest parts of the image). Avoid clipping large patches and dont go overboard aim to recreate a very light, faint pattern of the ice when you hold down the [Alt] key.

All images by Rachael D’Cruze