This Winter has been truly remarkable to say the least, we have just experienced our second severe cold spell within a week and this one has packed a punch by causing major disruption to transport as well as on the lives of millions of people across both Britain and Ireland. In N. Ireland we had the worst snowfall in 25 years including a rare Met Office Emergency Warning, in fact this was the second such warning in less than a year which is a record in itself. This last week has brought everything from heavy snow showers, ice, freezing fog, to thundersnow and frozen lakes/rivers. The temperature in N. Ireland dropped to a record - 18 degrees C and at the time of writing the Met Office are predicting a value of - 20 degrees C tonight. All this extreme Winter madness has produced absolutely stunning visual wonders and endless photo opportunities. I have never seen so much snow in my home town before or so many huge icicles hanging by the dozen from every roof top and road sign, so in short it has been a Winter wonderland and the best build up to Christmas I have ever experienced.
December 19th was an interesting day, I woke up late after a long night's photo shoot and had missed out on all the stunning early morning snow scenes, and being late afternoon I knew I was running out of daylight for using the camera. I had no idea what I was looking for or where I wanted to go so in a last minute decision I decided to drive along the Coleraine Road and check out the scenes near the Grillagh River. I parked on a hard and deep bank of snow on the side of the road with one of the front wheels on the ice-covered tarmac so I at least had some sort of chance of getting out again as the car was front wheel drive. I jumped over the fence and walked down the steep bank of snow and took in the view of the near frozen river where a stupendous icicle hung under the bridge.
After 30 min's of taking images I decided to climb over another wire fence near the river and ended up in a lovely large field covered in deep snow. I don't think I have ever felt so cold during daytime as I did during this photo shoot. During the early morning hours the temp was - 16 degrees C, it stayed sub zero all day and the low Winter Sun was sinking towards the horizon lighting up everything in the field and casting beautiful long blue shadows across the pure white snow fields. It was absolutely dead still, freezing beyond belief and my feet and thighs hurt due to the penetrating cruel low temp. I was only standing in the field for a few min's and I was already suffering from the cold despite being appropriately dressed and wearing multiple layers while the air temp felt like it was plunging lower by the min. I dreaded the thought of taking my camera out from it's carry bag and wanted nothing more than to get back to the warm car then home.
I was just thinking about getting out of there when I looked down and saw a remarkable display of ice/frost formations covering the foliage in the field and the more I looked the more impressed I became, soon the excitement of seeing this unusual phenomena kicked in and I had forgotten all about the cold, then camera was out from the bag like a Colt 45 from it's hip holster.
All the long grass, bushes, and branches in this field were covered by a stunning formation of ice crystals the likes of which I had never seen before so I quickly went into combat mode and began to document what I was seeing before the Sun set. I should stress from the start that none of these images were taken in macro mode, these were using the standard 18-55mm kit lens which comes with the Canon 450D (Rebel XSi), I simply moved the camera relatively close to subject, but not too close, this is important because one can only appreciate how large these crystals were by keeping this in mind. It was such a stunning scene with the crystals catching the full light from the Sun against the backdrop of white snow and blue shadows with severe low temps and deathly stillness as a friend. I had to admit it, I was loving this atmosphere.
I saw various shapes and patterns ranging from long pointed needles to large plates, and what looked like scales. You can see the classic crystalline structure.
This reminded me of the folded wings of a Butterfly or Moth
The size, number, and complexity of these formations varied from specimen to specimen. Further into the field I saw the most remarkable example I had seen all afternoon. Two fairly prominent branches stood out from everything else due to the sheer abundance of packed ice crystals covering the branches. I was quite amazed by what I was seeing and had kicked myself for not bringing my video camera as it would have been a treat to get detailed avi of these. At the time I was fairly convinced this was a phenomena known as Rime Ice, of which there are two kinds, Soft Rime and Hard Rime, I suspected it was the former however it also looked similar to another phenomena called Hoar frost. Both soft rime and hoar frost look similar at a glance however they do differ in their formation and in their crystal structure. I was reliably informed that this was most likely hoar frost with a combination of ice. Nature is never easy to define, this field had extreme frost, freezing fog, and snow for many days so it could have been a combination of factors which produced this fine display.
This was amazing
Finger in the frame close to the crystals for a sense of scale. I need to reiterate that none of these are macro images. Look how red my finger is due to the cold, it also shows motion blur because I was shivering like mad.
I had to get low in the snow in order to acquire these images with the formation against a blue sky background looking E. The edge of my camera was actually resting in the snow for these portrait shots and I couldn't see through the view finder so I had to take many images while constantly changing the camera angle in order to get a decent result, it look alot of trial and error.
I was really blown away by this scene, look how thin that branch is compared with the huge mass of ice crystals encasing the branch, it looks like an invasion. These looked really large in the flesh visually and I would estimate at its widest cross section this had a 3 " or 4 " girth, just a pity I didn't have a ruler with me for scale.
I had to squat down so low to get this angle that my backside made contact with the freezing snow and I let a loud yell out of me in shock, it was bloody freezing!!!. This sudden shock to the system took my mind away from photo opps and back to reality and it was then that I began to feel very cold indeed, the light had dropped and my hands looked swollen and red from using the camera and soon they began to shake and the sensation changed from cold to pain. I was trembling so much that I could barely get the lens cap back on and I even struggled to get the camera back in it's carry bag. My legs began to hurt on the inside from the cold so I got out of there asap while moaning in physical discomfort. I lost the sensation in my fingers and couldn't feel the key fob in my pockets and by the time I got into the car I felt like I had been tortured. I checked the camera and noticed that I had taken over 200 images, a last glance to the horizon as the car and I defrosted showed a lovely golden sun pillar over the snowy landscape which was the perfect way to end the day. I was glad I had made that last min decision to go because in subsequent days I returned to the same location for more images yet I never saw the same phenomena again. Thanks for reading.