Films We Love :: "Winter's Magic" by Don Komarechka

Freezing bubbles are a challenging subject to shoot, even more so with video. For the majority of these shots, the camera has a pre-set focus point and a razor-thin depth of field. Not only does the bubble need to be placed in exactly the right spot, but if the diameter of the bubble is too small or too large, the front will not pass through the focal plane and everything will be out of focus.

This can be corrected quickly for stills photography, but requires a complete reset for video most of the time. All of these bubbles are backlit by a bright flashlight, usually located out of the frame so that the growing crystals shine brightly and can be easily seen. The angles here are tough – there is a narrow window where you get the maximum impact of the backlighting.

I usually place a “test” bubble that I can adjust the lighting around, even as it’s frozen solid, to get a feel for how things will play out when I have an actively-freezing bubble in the shot. Most of the single-bubble shots are played out in real time, with a few cuts for dramatic effect. Some of the multiple-bubble sequences are sped up – they freeze more slowly due to their inner walls but hitting the cold outer air, and being filled with my hot breath. Close-up shots are all real time.

I think there were more than 400 attempts to get the footage that you see here, and it was originally licensed exclusively to BBC for their Forces of Nature documentary series. I shot this footage over two years ago but I wasn’t able to share this with you until now. You may find one of the clips in Winter’s Magic (50 second mark) was used as the title card sequence in the BBC series – for which I am incredibly honoured. At the time, I was shooting with a Canon 1DX which is only capable of 1080P recording – none of this footage is cropped in any way.

For those curious, my bubble mixture is 6 parts water, 2 parts dish soap and 1 part white corn syrup. The corn syrup is an important ingredient as it allows the bubble to thicken on the bottom and acts as a cushion to prevent the bubble from popping on impact with the snow. The best technique is to blow the bubbles through a drinking straw; this allows for some control over the side of the bubble, and they can be easily placed once formed. Give a few seconds for the corn syrup to pool at the bottom before placing it and you should have a decent success rate.

Any bright LED flashlight will work, but I prefer those with a single diode. The NiteCore TM36 is what was used here ( ) but the SRT7GT is nice smaller option and it even has a UV light built in: A single-diode LED light works best, especially if you’re refocusing or manipulating the light. I use a cheap Fresnel lens (a letter-size sheet magnifier, easily found on Amazon for $5 or so) to bend and refocus the light.

If you have multiple LEDs in the flashlight, you’ll quickly see the limitations when you try to bring the light back to a smaller point. If you bend the Fresnel lens off on an angle, you can get some wonderful chromatic aberrations that add a bit of colour to your light while still refocusing it onto the bubble. This is where the hints of blue and orange come from.

I describe all of this to you to reveal that any perceived magic or wizardry here is just science. Beautiful physics in a controlled way can show us just how amazing simple things can be. It’s my hope that if you read this post, you’ll have a deeper appreciation for what you see. Also, I hope in inspires some of you to try it yourself – all the puzzle pieces are there for you!

Huge thanks to Howard Lopez for allowing me to use his music, titled "Snow Flurries". If you’d like to know more about the science of snowflakes with an exhaustive and comprehensive tutorial on how to photograph and edit these little gems, check out my book Sky Crystals: Hardcover: eBook: Other things you might be interested in: 2018 Macro Photography Workshop Schedule: 2018 Ice Crystals Coin from the Royal Canadian Mint featuring my snowflakes: “The Snowflake” print, taking 2500 hours to create: Photo Geek Weekly, my new podcast: