Freezing Bubbles

With temperatures dropping well below 0°C bubbles freeze in mere seconds – and as they freeze, spectacular striations of swirling ice crystals create literal works art.

In the cold dark depths of winter, the chances of discovering commercially pre-made bubble solution at a local retailer are pretty slim. Fortunately, you can create your own homemade bubble solution with only three simple ingredients:  500 mL of water, 60 mL of dish soap and 30 mL of glycerin. To make the process of blowing lasting bubbles a bit easier, it’s helpful to keep your bubble solution refrigerated – if the temperature difference between the solution and the ambient air is too great the bubbles will very likely pop.

Where you decide to blow your bubbles should be sheltered from the wind as much as possible – wind will make blowing lasting bubbles incredibly difficult. It’s helpful if the surface you’re blowing bubbles on is smooth and flat; paper won’t last more than a few bubbles before becoming soggy and unfinished wood is a bit too rough. Keeping your camera low and close to your chosen surface is important, as perspective greatly impacts the visibility of the growing ice crystals. If your camera is at too high of an angle, the semi-transparent ice will disappear against a background lacking contrast.

Lighting a freezing can be challenging to say the least. Consider that the bubbles begin completely transparent and about as reflective as a mirror, but within mere seconds they become translucent and not nearly as reflective. I’d encourage you to try as many different lighting options as you’re willing to endure. I found that sunlight gave me the look I was looking for – specifically the last afternoon light when the sun is low on the horizon.

Hopefully it goes without saying that sub-zero degree weather is necessary for bubbles to freeze. Temperature between -10°C and -30°C worked best. Temperatures colder than minus thirty resulted in the bubbles freezing so quickly that most consumer cameras would be unable to capture the freezing process – unless you happen to be a consumer of Phantom cameras. Temperatures warmer than -10°C proved more challenging as the bubbles took much longer to freeze and would often pop before being able to freeze completely.

If you’re not accustom to capturing photos or video in such cold weather, be sure to watch my video “Photography in Extreme Cold” for some help basic information.

When capturing video of bubbles freezing, predicting where the edges of the bubble will develop makes attaining proper focus less than easy. Regardless what camera you’re using, autofocus isn’t overly useful – the frame begins empty and initially the bubbles is completely transparent. You’ll quickly discover that after a bubble freezes and pops, it leaves behind a frozen-bubble-footprint and subsequent bubbles blown within this footprint with likely have the same edges. Creating a scarification bubble and manually focusing on its edge will greatly increase the likelihood of following bubbles blown within its footprint being in focus.

The least important aspect of creating imagery of freezing bubbles in the camera. There’s no need for a multi-thousand dollar digital SLR – I easily captured great images using a smartphone. If you happen to have access to macro lens it will help, but it’s by no means a necessity – any lens set to its minimum focusing distance and maximum focal length should provide great images. If the camera you’re using does have manual control capabilities, it helps to use a considerably small aperture – creating a large depth of field and insuring as much of the bubbles as possible is in focus.




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