Picture Ohio! – Ice at Marblehead

Cedar Point at Sunrise from Marblehead Lighthouse
Cedar Point at Sunrise from Marblehead Lighthouse

The winter of 2013/2014 will be etched in Ohioans’ memories as one of the longest and coldest on record. In early March, 98 percent of the surface of Lake Erie was covered in ice. When I visited western Lake Erie yesterday much of the lake was ice-free, except for a ribbon of ice remaining along the shoreline. Near the Marblehead lighthouse, however, the band of ice stretched for several hundred feet and the ice blocks were piled into mounds up to 20 feet above the surface of the lake. I’ve made this late winter trip to Marblehead almost every year for the past 35 years, and I don’t recall ever seeing such a spectacular display of ice near the edge of Lake Erie.

Photographing Lake Erie ice requires a combination of careful planning and serendipity. You want to time your visit so that the ice has been piled into mounds but has not yet melted. Usually this stage occurs in early March, though it can take place anytime from late January to the middle of March, depending on the severity of the winter. Sometimes, as in the warm winter of 2011/2012 Lake Erie doesn’t freeze at all.

Unlike icicles and frozen waterfalls, which are best photographed on a cloudy day, Lake Erie ice photographs best early or late on a sunny or partly cloudy day. The best light occurs from about 30 minutes before dawn to an hour or so after sunrise, so make sure you arrive at least a half-hour before dawn so you can get the lay of the land and check out the best viewpoints for photography. Ideally, the temperature at dawn will be 25-35 degrees, which will allow you to work for up to a couple of hours without discomfort as long as you are warmly dressed. Be sure to wear Yak Trax or similar devices on your boots, because walking on the ice is like walking on a skating rink. Don’t even think of walking out on the ice unless it is thick enough to support your weight.

Assuming you are using an APS-size dSLR like my Nikon D7100, a wide-angle zoom (I use a 16-85mm f/3.5 Nikkor) and a telephoto zoom (I use a 70-300mm f/4 Nikkor) will cover all your needs. Be sure to bring a sturdy tripod, which is not only essential for sharp images at low ISO values but is also useful as a probe and a means of support while you are walking and scrambling around on the ice.

Steve Douglas at Marblehead
Steve Douglas at Marblehead

Another reason to arrive before sunrise is that there will be very few, if any, people around at that early hour, except perhaps for a fellow photographer or two like Steve Douglas, from Savannah, near Ashland, Ohio, who is shown in the photo above. I prefer not to have people in most of my ice photos, but I like to  include one or two photos with people to provide a sense of scale.

Ian Adams at Marblehead
Ian Adams at Marblehead

Steve must have had the same thought in mind, for he took the image above, which is a great photo of an Ohio photographer at sunrise, doing what he enjoys the most – photographing and writing about the beautiful Buckeye State. Thanks, Steve!

Marblehead Lighthouse
Marblehead Lighthouse

My favorite lighting for most Lake Erie ice photos is sidelight, which highlights the shape and texture of the ice blocks. Frontal lighting, in which the sun is behind you, is boring and it’s hard to avoid your shadow appearing in the photograph. I also enjoy backlighting, shooting directly into the sun and translucent ice, but it’s important to use a lens hood and shade the surface of the lens with your hand to minimize flare spots in the image.  The photo below is backlit.

Backlit Ice, Marblehead
Backlit Ice, Marblehead

Each year provides a different set of photographic opportunities. The photo below was taken on March 8, 2010. There was less ice than this winter, but I was able to scramble out to the edge of the ice shelf, which was several feet above the surface of Lake Erie. As the sun rose above the horizon, it illuminated the translucent ice for a few minutes in pink and purple hues and turned the surface of Lake Erie orange and yellow. The lake was calm and peaceful, and the only sounds were the occasional crack when the mounds of ice moved slightly as the temperature began to rise and the distant calling of geese, swans, and ducks far out on the lake.

Lake Erie at Marblehead
Lake Erie at Marblehead

The piles of ice near Marblehead lighthouse will remain for several more days, perhaps until next weekend, but warmer weather in the 40s and 50s is forecast for next week, so visit soon if you would like to view this unique display of Lake Erie ice for yourself.

And please remember – don’t walk out on the ice unless you are sure that it is thick enough to support your weight!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Beautiful images Ian! I sure love the last image in your series. Stunning.

    It was wonderful to meet you at Marblehead this past weekend and catch breakfast with you.

Leave a Reply

Close Menu