Photographers like to experiment with different types of equipment – old-fashioned cameras like pinhole cameras, for example, or 3D printed lenses. French photographer Mathieu Stern, however, may have done something no other photographer has done before – created a camera with a lens made of ice. Not just any ice, either, but ice from an iceberg in Iceland.
Stern had to modify his Sony camera to hold the ice lens, and that involved creating a 3D printed lens body. He worked on the project for six months to get the right shape and focus distance before he headed off for Iceland.
“Iceland glaciers takes 10 000 years to purify the particles inside the ice, and i want to use this amazing power to create a clear lens,” he said.
He ended up at Diamond Beach, a fortuitously named location for Stern’s search for clarity. The beach is about 200 miles east of Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, and it was there that Stern found his perfect iceberg. Using an ice ball maker, he began working to extract a half sphere of ice from the iceberg. The process was a bit more difficult than it had been when he practiced at home. In his kitchen, Stern was able to create an ice lens in about five minutes – at the beach, it took him more like 45 minutes. His first four pieces cracked, but finally the fifth one held together, and Stern popped it into his 3D printed lens holder.
“Finally the last lens worked, and i was amazed by the images I saw on my screen,” Stern said. “Of course they are not sharp or clean like a modern lens, but they are amazing when you know it’s just a piece of ice that focused light. Maybe it was a lot of work for a bunch of blurry photos, but I was amazed by the beauty of the images.”
The images really are beautiful – foggy, surreal, and almost ghostly. Luckily, he happened to be at a hauntingly beautiful location already, so he just pointed and snapped, and ended up with soft-focus pictures of the icebergs and people moving among them.
Stern is not the only one to use 3D printing to hack a camera in a creative way. Makers have used the technology to create everything from reinvented film cameras to camera rigs for the disabled. Now that everyone has cameras available on smartphones, actual physical cameras are being seen by many as obsolete – but serious photographers beg to differ. It’s fascinating to watch a new technology used to reinvent an old one; 3D printing is allowing photographers and hobbyists create cameras that would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to create using any other means.
Stern’s work with photography goes far beyond his most recent ice lens project. You can see more of his beautiful images, and read about his other projects, on his website.
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