Everything You Need For a Halloween Dry Ice Photography Shoot
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Halloween is perhaps my least favorite time of year. I am a total wimp about all things creepy and crawly. Even scary movie previews get me worked up. Years ago, I infamously demanded to leave a haunted house 5 seconds after making it through the entrance. Usually, I stock up on romantic comedies and hide out at home in total denial of all the spooky happenings until the Thanksgiving decorations come out.
This year, I decided to embrace Halloween but just the decorative bits. I will still be avoiding all haunted houses and scary movies. Anyway, I scooped up some dry ice and a few props and tried to embrace some Halloween enthusiasm.
Sourcing dry ice
Most of my dry ice knowledge came from 3rd grade science and back then you could get dry ice from a local ice cream shop. I’m not ancient. This wasn’t a century ago but you might think that from the reaction I got at my local Baskin Robbins when I dropped in to ask if they had any dry ice. Anyway, it took a bit of research to find a place in Chicago that sold dry ice but I was able to find an ice store (who knew such a thing exists!) where I got 10 pounds of dry ice for $10! If you aren’t in Chicago, google around for ice stores or a dry ice supplier.
No Skin Contact
I found my dry ice source via Yelp and I assumed that everyone knew you shouldn’t touch dry ice with bare hands. I was wrong. In a sea of 5 star reviews was a 1 star review from some guy that didn’t realize you can’t touch dry ice and ended up with all sorts of burns. So, don’t let the dry ice come into direct contact with skin.
During the 2 days that I worked with my 10 pounds of dry ice, I had little bits fly up and land on my arm. That was fine. I didn’t experience any burns but did occasionally end up with a few sort of tingly spots that quickly cleared up. You don’t need a lot of protection. I chunked off bits off of the main block and placed my smaller pieces in newspaper. Touching the newspaper was totally fine.
Store in a place with lots of ventilation, not your freezer
Eli also learned about dry ice in grammar and thankfully paid more attention than I did. Apparently you aren’t supposed store dry ice in your freezer, which is definitely what I intended to do. The dry ice can cause havoc with your freezer thermostat and it also releases a lot of carbon dioxide, which can also damage your freezer. I ultimately stored my block in a cooler outside on my balcony. It was wrapped up in butcher paper to slow down the melting. You can also use newspaper to layer around the dry ice to slow down melting.
Break up the dry ice into manageable pieces.
With the main block of dry ice in the cooler outside, I broke up about a quarter of the dry ice into smaller, usable chunks. To break up the dry ice, I used a knife and kitchen mallet. I whacked the point of the knife into the dry ice and since it was quite brittle, it broke up into chunks very quickly.
Use gloves or tongs or chopsticks
Once I had my chunks broken up and ready to go, I moved them into newspaper pages that I then put into a bowl. If this isn’t clear, I have a video in my Instagram story that will live under a “dry ice” highlight that you can watch. I was initially going to stick them into a glass Tupperware but Eli reminded me that dry ice can also shatter glass. It was at about this stage that I started to wonder why I decided to undertake this project.
Anyway, moving the chunks turned out to be a little complicated at first. I didn’t want to touch them with my nice, winter gloves so I first used metal tongs. For some reason, the dry ice would often make a piercing sound whenever I picked it up with the metal tongs. It sounded like goblin shrieks, which seemed appropriate for a Halloween themed photo session. I think this wouldn’t be problem if you had silicone tongs but I don’t, so I haven’t actually tested that theory. Eventually, I discovered that wooden chopsticks were the best and easiest tool for me in moving around the small chunks of dry ice.
Photographing the dry ice steam
Buying the dry ice, bringing it home, chunking it down and figuring out how to move it around ended up taking me almost an entire day, though I think it wouldn’t have been as much of a to do if I had been better prepared ahead of time. So the first day, I had enough time for a quick practice photo but not much else. On day two, I was ready to go! Perhaps 40% of the dry ice melted away from the first day to the second but that left with me with more than enough to work with.
I found that the dry ice was best to photograph right as I submerged it and that it needed to be submerged in liquid to steam up. When I tried using just a few droplets of water on the dry ice to get steam, it didn’t do much. Since it moves pretty quickly, I would recommend photographing it at a higher shutter speed. You’ll need a decent amount of light or an external flash to supplement.
Dry Ice Cheat Sheet of Do’s and Dont’s
Use a insulated container to store your dry ice
Break up your dry ice into small, usable pieces
Get silicone tongs or chopsticks to move around your small chunks
Use Newspaper layers to slow down your dry ice melting
Store dry ice in a freezer or any areas that don’t have good ventilation
Leave dry ice unattended around children and animals
Have any prolonged skin contact
Discard dry ice by letting it going down your sink drain, this can damage your plumbing. Leave the dry ice to melt if you have any left over.
It can be a bit of a pain to get going to keep in mind all the things to avoid but once you have everything ready to go, it’s quite fun to use and pretty perfect for a Halloween inspired photo shoot.