Our Guest Blogger this week is Karen Rexrode.
Six years ago I saw a photograph in a magazine that really caught my eye. The macro image showed flowers that were surrounded by bubbles and texture. Not quite sure how it was done, I finally figured out that the flowers were frozen in ice. I started to experiment and have really enjoyed the process, tweeking things as I figure out what works best. If you are interested in the technique, there are a few pointers I can share to make your experimenting a little more successful. It’s also high season to go out into the garden and find perfect samples, I have used everything from dogwood blooms to garden vegetables like radishes and beets.
First off you will need a container that will fit into your freezer, preferably one that is tall and narrow. Allow for extra room at the top for flower stems that will stick out. Wire should be wrapped around the top of the container so that you can anchor stems as they hang upside down in the water. A simple piece of wire crosses the top, wrapped around each stem, holding the flowers in the middle of the container and loops back around the outside wire. The hardest part to composing the flowers well is getting them in the middle and at slightly variable heights. As water is poured, you want to fill the container slowly. At this point the stems will swing over and touch the sides. I try and firm up the wires or use a kitchen utensil to counter balance the tilt (lay it on the wires as a weight). Sometimes a barbeque skewer is all that’s needed. You want the flowers to hang in the middle if possible. Just make sure your utensil stays above the water so it doesn’t freeze into your block of ice.
With utmost care, you carry the filled container to your freezer and wait. I find that 12 to 18 hours works best. This will depend on the size of the container and your freezer. If you wait too long, the block turns solid and becomes opaque. When it’s just perfect, you have unfrozen water in the middle, the rest is frozen enough for you to handle. I flip the block upside down so that the flowers are upright. If you notice small air bubbles rising, the block is not frozen enough, refreeze. Rarely is the bottom of the ice block even, so I put it on a projector table (any table will do), with a towel underneath to help hold it steady. Trust me on this, many a block have I dropped and it’s messy.
To photograph this I use either a 105 or a 200 mm macro. I add an off camera flash held behind a diffuser. Focus on the flowers inside of the block, particularly the edge of the petals. I set the camera to 10 second delay and take lots of photographs with the flash aimed at different angles. Be mindful of the glare from the ice (hence the diffuser). I generally find that the best angles for the flash are from above and through the sides. Also keep in mind that it’s best if you have a little natural light. Do not freeze your flowers in the morning and have them ready when the only light is your off camera flash. I tend to set up the container in the evening so they are ready the next afternoon. I have even taken them outside to photograph, but at the very least I use a window with indirect light.
Some flowers work better than others. Avoid daisies or flowers with petals that might reflex. Asters and sunflowers are two examples that have not worked well. My favorites have been tulips, calla lilies,
ranunculus and poppies.
A few years ago I started to experiment with the blocks of ice put out in snow, particularly while it’s still snowing. A winning combination, even with old blocks of ice that have become solid with only a hint of the flowers showing. Just lay them out on snow covered ground, sinking them flush with the snow.