Blue Ice Islands in a River of Gold

In Polarizing Filters by Tom Bol

Winter is one of my favorite times to photograph. The busy pace of summer is gone, the mountains are blanketed in white, and Colorado blue skies transform into deeper, more intense shades of blue. Subzero temperatures create unique conditions like feathery ice crystals and frozen waterfalls that offer new photographic possibilities.

But what I like the most about winter is the quality of the light. The sun is lower on the horizon this time of year, and shadows stretch across the frozen landscape. In Alaska, where I used to live, the sun would hover low on the horizon for hours, bathing the mountains in pink light. In Colorado we get strong winds and saucer-shaped lenticular clouds that create dramatic sunsets. Just the other day we had an incredible sunset.


One filter I really enjoy using during the winter months is my Gold-N-Blue Polarizer. Rotating this filter can transform warm colors to gold and cool colors to deep blue. Imagine transforming the color of a yellow aspen grove to shimmering gold, or adding some chill (blue) to a glacier in Iceland.

I live near a wild and scenic river, the Cache La Poudre River, so the other day I decided to drive up the canyon searching for open water and ice. The winter is a magical time to photograph along the river. The low angle winter light slowly trickles into the canyon, illuminating the steep rocky walls but not the river below. Open patches of water are surrounded by ice and frozen rocks in the river. If the location and conditions are right, the warm light on the canyon walls is reflected in the open water along the river. This is a perfect situation to use the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer.

I started up the canyon on a bluebird Colorado day, and it didn’t take long to find beautiful reflections in the icy river. Here is an example of exactly what this filter does. The first image (no filter) shows an interesting ice formation and warm reflection in the calm water above it. The next image shows the same image using the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer. The water is transformed into a beautiful gold color which dramatically adds contrast and tension in the image. I really like how the warm color contrasts with the cold ice. The image without the filter is uninteresting, but the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer version pops off the page and engages the viewer.

Since this filter is adding color to the image, I bracket photographs. I’ll shoot one image without the filter, a second image enhancing blue, and a third image enhancing gold. Back in the office I can decide which image I like the best. Sometimes I am completely surprised by the effect of the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer, so experimenting in the field is a good idea.

There is a saying that says “luck favors the prepared”. I like to think of this as ‘luck favors those who try harder.’ Creating interesting and dramatic images is directly tied to how often you go out to photograph. The more you photograph, the better your odds of creating a good image. You never know what you will find. I’ve photographed the Poudre river many times in the winter, but on this trip, I found an incredible reflection and ice formation I had never seen before.

One section of river had a pattern of small ice islands surrounded by warm reflected light from the canyon wall. The strong graphic qualities were remarkable. I already liked the scene as is; using the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer would take it to the next level. I used a 70-200mm F2.8 lens to narrow the composition to the strongest elements. The low light allowed me to shoot longer than one second which created silky effects in the moving water. The ice turned blue using the filter, and the water transformed into golden hues. Blue ice islands floated in a river of gold.

The pandemic has kept many of us near home last year, and winter is a time many photographers put the camera away. But staying creative is good for the soul and your photography. Consider winter light an opportunity to create images you don’t have in summer. Research areas nearby that allow you to photograph while being socially distanced and safe. And don’t forget to bring your Gold-N-Blue Polarizer. Ordinary scenes can be transformed into extraordinary photographs.