How I Got the Shot: Lake Champlain Skaters

by Mark Bowie | Photography

Nordic Skaters Gliding on Lake Champlain

Exposure Data:
Exposure: 1/160 second, f/10, ISO 100
Nikon D80, Nikkor 18-70mm lens set at 18mm.

After hearing reports from earlier skaters of a five-mile-long stretch of clear black ice on Lake Champlain, I put in with a group of skaters near Charlotte, Vermont, and skated across to the Palisades on Split Rock Mountain, along the New York shore, then proceeded north and south from there. We wore nordic skates, which have long thin blades mounted with cross-country-ski-style bindings that allow the heal to rise and fall. Skaters can glide seemingly effortlessly over ice. It was a beautiful blue-sky day, and a skater’s paradise.

I’m fascinated by the dynamics of ice formation, which vary drastically with local climatic changes. Specific conditions needed to materialize to create the ice we encountered: a lack of snow or the melting of what snow existed, followed by a period of sustained sub-freezing temperatures. In addition to the polished ice that reflected the blue sky, we saw a variety of interesting formations: vast blocks upheaved along pressure ridges that snaked across the lake, abstract swirl patterns and repeating geometric shapes. We also found dead fish, encapsulated in the ice several inches down. Seagulls would swoop down and peck at the ice to get at them.

The ideal conditions also brought terrific photo opportunities. Trailing this skater with his ice-testing pole slung behind him, I worked to create a meaningful image. With the bright conditions I could shoot at a fast 1/160 second to freeze motion and at a moderate aperture for good depth of field. When the skater lifted a leg into his next stride, his outstretched arms reflected on the blue ice, I captured his languid movement of sheer freedom, and the very essence of this captivating style of skating.

Mark Bowie is a frequent contributor to Adirondack Life magazine and a much sought-after public speaker, offering presentations to camera clubs, environmental groups and others.  He is a staff instructor for the Adirondack Photography Institute (API).  API’s 2017 schedule includes the annual workshop with Adirondack Life magazine.  For details on all their workshops, see  For more on Mark’s workvisit

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