Icy Bubbles

February 19, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Frozen Bubble TriptychFrozen Bubble Triptych

Not everyone agrees with me but I think there are plenty of things to appreciate about winter. I like the crisp, clear air, stark, snowy landscapes dramatically different from other seasons, and ice on waterways. One of the amazing things I learned about not long ago is how soap bubbles can freeze into amazing patterns of ice crystals. It does have to be very cold for this to work, which doesn't happen very often here in Southern Indiana. But this winter we've had a stretch of lows in the teens and single digits, so it was time to try my hand. The photos above are the best results I've had so far but of course there's room for improvement. My first attempts weren't nearly so good; there's always a learning curve.

A few folks have asked how to do this so I thought I'd share my experience. I found several resources online as a starting point (one is https://www.wikihow.com/Make-Bubble-Solution), and experimented a bit. You can use prepared bubble solution, which may not be so easy to find in winter, but it's pretty easy to make your own. Here's one simple recipe I mixed together in a jar and worked pretty well:

1 part (1 tbsp) glycerin (found at the drugstore in the beauty aisle — used as a skin moisturizer)
4 parts (4 tbsp) dish soap (I used Ivory since it's clear and not overly concentrated like Dawn Ultra)
16 parts (16 tbsp = 8 oz.) water

Some recipes substitute corn syrup or sugar for the glycerin.

To blow the bubbles it's best to not use your breath as the warmth can slow the bubbles' freezing. I glued a straw to a hole drilled in the cap of an empty water bottle, dipped the straw into the bubble solution and very gently squeezed the bottle to blow the bubbles and try to place them on a surface to photograph. The bubbles are extremely fragile; a breath of breeze or touching them to a surface can break them. But eventually some will stay. How fast they freeze depends on the temperature. The first time I tried it was below 10ºF and they did freeze fast. The next time it was in the teens and they still froze quite fast. 

I wasn't able to blow very large bubbles, which may depend on the thickness of the solution, size of the straw, etc. They were about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. I used a macro lens (105mm) on a Nikon D850 on a tripod, getting close enough to nearly fill the frame. I used a small aperture, f/14 to maximize the depth of field (range of the subject in focus). The bright sun provided plenty of light and some nice highlights, keeping the shutter speeds high (1/400 sec.) to avoid any motion blur.

Finally, it was fun just to watch the process of freezing, seeing those amazing crystals forming on the surface of the bubbles. I haven't made an actual video yet, but I was able to take a series of still frames and put together a little video of one of the bubbles. Though it's from stills, this is close to real time — the freezing happens pretty fast at 14º! (The video repeats three times but you can always replay it.)


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