When given lemons, make lemonade.
When given subzero temperatures, freeze soap bubbles.
This is one of those things that I have wanted to do for some years. Living in a place where the temperatures drop to levels well below those in your freezer that solidify water and can preserve slabs of reindeer meat, each year I enjoy a few days of dangerously cold weather. One can throw a pot of hot water up in the air and it turns into a spectacular cloud of steam and snow; no liquid lands on the ground! It is also possible to blow soap bubbles that freeze into gossamer ice globes. They are delicate and beautiful, and I have long wanted to photograph them.
Each year when the outdoor temperatures drop sufficiently, I have tried to do this. Invariably, there is too much wind—any wind is too much—and the bubbles wander away. The ones I can catch, usually burst before I can take their picture.
This year however, I had a new strategy. We recently installed windows on our outdoor screen porch. The temperature remains cold, but the wind is completely blocked. I can now make soap bubbles and they won’t get away!
My first attempts were disappointing, but an internet search provided some guidance. Don Komarechka (https://www.donkom.ca) provided this tutorial: https://petapixel.com/2020/03/23/how-to-make-and-photograph-frozen-soap-bubbles/. I was pleased to learn of his variation on my bubble formula. I had been using glycerin as a stabilizer, a substance once commonly found in drug stores, but recently becoming rare. It can be replaced by corn syrup, a common sweetener found in the baking aisle at the grocery store!
I also devised some new bubble-handling techniques. Blowing bubbles and hoping they will land at the center of your bubble studio set is not a good plan. Komarechka used a straw to blow a bubble at the desired location. I found that I could blow a bubble in the usual way, and then “catch it” on a small wire ring and move it into view. The wire ring was replaced by a small cordial glass, and then by the mouth of a perfume bottle; each was an improvement in being able to catch the bubble and to place it in front of the lens. One trick I learned was to dip the bottle lip into the soap to wet it. The bubble was less likely to break when it landed on the glass mouth.
I also learned that at the temperature I was working at (~0F, -18C), the bubble would freeze rapidly, sometimes before I could get my camera centered and focused. To extend the setup time before the first crystals appeared, I warmed up the soap solution. A few seconds in the microwave before returning to the outdoor studio let me keep going. It also gave me an excuse to go in and warm up myself!
Enjoy this gallery of photos; click on the first thumbnail to see the full image, then scroll through the set. Following is a one-minute video that captured the life of one frozen bubble.
If you are interested in my occasional contributions to Thor’s Life-Notes, I invite you to follow along.