January 26, 2014: Frozen Lakeshore After Freezing Nights

There wasn’t much winter till the midst of January 2014 in middle Europe. But then two pressure systems began struggling for dominance over Germany, which lasts still end of January. Even over weeks there is now a division between low pressure in the west and high pressure in the east. Temperatures began to drop below zero after Sunday, January 19, with the air mass boundary moving a bit to the west.

A dangerous situation happened during the night between 19-20 January in Berlin and Brandenburg: freezing rain felt on frozen ground. In the morning hours not only many traffic accidents occurred but fire starters had not enough ambulances to transport all the injured people who slipped and had broken legs or arms. Fire engines were employed to transport people to hospital.

This situation improved on Tuesday when snow began to fall. From day to day temperatures dropped in the East whereas temperature conditions in the west were still moderate.

On Friday night it became really cold and on Sunday, January 26, temperatures in Potsdam (near Berlin) fell below -20C. This led to interesting ice sculptures at the frozen lakeshores in the same area:

Sunday was sunny for most of the time with some dust in the air, which was a good condition for making photos. The good weather condition lasted till Monday when snow began to fall. On rivers and lakes more and more ice floes can be seen now. It’s possible that even big lakes in North-East Germany will be completely covered by ice soon. Often people then start to skate very soon on these lakes. However any kind of river is dangerous, and in Berlin lakes like the Wannsee lake or the lakes around Potsdam are parts of the giant river system of the river Havel, which means there are always strong currents in these lakes. This makes the ice often unpredictable and can lead to very dangerous accidents as you can’t see how thick the ice sheet really is. Strong winds also play a role for the development of the ice sheet.

It’s particularly interesting to see what happens at a shore of a lake or the sea when temperatures drop and water begins to become ice. Here the floes are making some funny noises.

Winter Twilight Photography

At the end of the year 2013 it was most of the time cloudy or it was raining in the Berlin area, but in-between there were impressing sunsets when the sky cleared up for some hours. Cold days and a clear sky in winter offer interesting possibilities for photography, mostly because the air is very dry then and the horizon appears very clear without dust. Shortly after sunset, which was at 4.00pm on Dec.30, the first stars were to be seen. In the southwest there was still a rest of daylight but most of the sky was already very dark. This might be not a spectacular weather situation but I found it a good opportunity to do some long exposure photography. Some pictures of the series below where taken with 10 seconds time of exposure. Of course, the stars don’t appear as dots but as small streaks then and airplanes leave a big streak but with a wide angle the effects seemed tolerable. To me it’s a better option rather than to use ISO’s over 800 since even with a good DSLR noise becomes a problem. Minimum light also suggests normally an open visor but my experience is to try F16 or even F22 is interesting for desired effects and for more detail. It’s worth to do some experiments.
The only must is a tripod and preferable a remote release. If temperatures drop below zero you must both think about the equipment and of course the photographer. Battery power gets reduced as we know from car batteries (the best idea would be to have a spare battery and keep it warm inside your jacket) and if a camera is brought from a warm environment into the cold check first if there is fog on the lens. If it gets really cold it’s important to keep your hands and body warm. It’s worth to wait how the light situation changes and what opportunities come up, but standing around for an hour or much longer when the temperature drops below zero is not fun. I use for example a North Face jacket which served me well for some years, since it kept me always warm and is very light and thin at the same time. It’s also important that the jacket doesn’t make movements difficult and has some bigger pockets. Finally a flashlight is very important since it’s getting dark very fast in the winter.

This is not a guideline but mostly a collection of experience when I repeatedly did pictures after sunset in different situations in winter. The majority of the pictures were taken at lake Wannsee in Berlin. During the summer ships pick up tourists in this harbour for sightseeing tours on the several lakes around Berlin. The bridge is the famous “Glienicker Brücke” between Potsdam and Berlin where KGB and CIA exchanged captured agents during the Cold War.

The pics in Berlin where taken in a moonless night on December 30, 2013. At 5.00 pm there were still the summer star-signs as Lyra visible in the west. The following days proved that clear days are still rare in this winter. A series of depressions coming from the west and which created a lot of storm damage in England and Western Europe led to cloudy skies most of the time in North-East Germany.