Ice Bubble Magic with Dave Williams

Text and photos by Dave Wiliams

Once a year, for just a couple of days, there are certain lakes dotted around the globe which do this:


Just as winter sets in and the mountain lakes freeze over, the nitrogen in the ground beneath (which is gradually released) bubbles up to the surface. However, it is stuck between the water and the ice, and as that ice freezes deeper they become stuck, sometimes forming beautiful patterns as this process goes on. The reason the days to see it are limited is because of the snow, which falls atop the ice and blocks our view of it. 

I was fortunate enough to have made some proper planning that fell together nicely. Whilst on a mission in the Canadian Rockies, I paid a visit to Abraham Lake to witness this phenomenon for myself. Despite a little bit of a hairy encounter with one of the local carnivores, it all went very well! More on that later though.

The ice on the surface of the lake was about 8 inches thick, which meant it could easily take the weight of this cumbersome Englishman. With my crampons on my snow-boots I ventured out onto the ice in search of the bubbles and cracks. I say search because, despite having noticed bubbles in the edges of the lake, nothing was noteworthy immediately at the edges worth photographing.


When I got out onto the ice, perhaps between fifty and one hundred feet from the shoreline, I started coming across enormous patches of the bubbles. They varied in size, shape and density in each area I came across. With the light conditions and the way the ice reflected, it was actually quite difficult to find the bubbles – they only really became clear when I was stood over them.

With my camera mounted on my Platypod Max, I sat down on the ice and found some good leading foregrounds and pretty, interesting backgrounds in this fairly difficult location and fired off shot after shot. You know when you see something new and you get carried away with the camera? Yeah, that happened. And the reason I say difficult location is that the background was actually quite far away, so instead of having a towering and imposing mountain, that mountain was quite far away and appeared even further away on a wide lens.

The Platypod did a wonderful job, as it so often does. I was able to get down low and minimize the uninteresting middle-ground instead focussing the photos around the bubbles in the foreground and the scenery in the background. Platypod Max comes with legs mounted right on it, and the spiked end of these legs was just perfect for keeping the Platypod steady. Without them, every press of the shutter on the slippery ice moved the camera and almost put it in a spin!



So, to the carnivore I referenced earlier. Well, I visited the lake twice, on two mornings at sunrise. The first morning had a cloudy sky, which never really received any hit of light, so on the next day I was pleased to be presented with different conditions. I arrived before dawn and the still twilight sky was beautiful. I had the idea that I was going to shine a light into the ice to see what it would look like, and if the bubbles would illuminate against the dawn sky. In relative darkness I walked out onto the ice, searching for a good set of bubbles to work with. After maybe ten minutes I heard a howl, and it wasn’t far away. I looked over in the direction it had come from and saw movement. The howling went on, and this left me confused because it was clearly the howl of a wolf rather than the chattering of a coyote, and it was getting louder. If something was going to eat me, it wouldn’t want to warn me, right? Anyway, that thought was interrupted when I saw it. On the ice with me about 250 feet away stood an enormous wolf, howling and weaving towards me, sniffing as he went. I know wolves are pack animals, so I was confused to see just one, and thought maybe he was just lost. It turned out he wasn’t lost, and from the mountainside on my left, running towards the lake were the others. I was sure I’d been spotted, and if not spotted then definitely sniffed out, so I made a sharp about-turn and headed the fifty or so feet back to the shore back to the safety of my car. 

It all eventually settled down. They crossed the lake and disappeared into the trees. Just as soon as I was feeling brave again, I hopped out and back onto the ice to shoot sunrise. It was only when I was nearly done for the morning that I noticed they hadn’t actually disappeared at all, and were sitting by the tree line watching me the entire time!

I had a great time at Abraham Lake, and having my portable, effective, and capable Platypod Max with me made it such a stress-free experience! It gave me freedom and flexibility to shoot those cracks and bubbles with ease!