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  • Thad Donovan

Lake Michigan Shelf Ice

Updated: Dec 15, 2022


Way back in 2014 when drones were first becoming a thing, Smith Donovan was on the cutting edge of adapting the technology and using it to tell stories and showcase the Indiana Dunes region.


Smith Donovan created a video depicting the amazing, otherworldly shelf ice on the southern shores of Lake Michigan. In a matter of days, the video attained tens of thousands of views and was featured on Chicago primetime news.


Because of the impact of the video in bringing attention to the area, Smith Donovan was awarded a R.O.S.E. award for "Putting the Indiana Dunes on the Map".


The original video has been archived because it looks dated by today's standards. The video here represents a few years of effort, waiting for optimal lighting and weather conditions. It needs to be extremely cold for the shelf ice to take shape on the lake and there needs to be enough snow cover to give it a more appealing look. Golden hour is the best time to film shelf ice as the shadows give the forms shape and the purple and orange glow of the sun give them painterly color.


While drones can be flown wearing while gloves, operator Thad Donovan prefers to go gloveless in order to get more precise shots and fly extremely close to the ice. By the end of a shoot, he can barely feel his fingers, but the shots are worth it.


When reviewing video clips after a shoot, it is not uncommon to see footsteps on top of or even on the lake side of the hills of snow and ice. It is EXTREMELY dangerous to get near the shelf ice. Fatalities happen periodically, so take this warning seriously. In the picture below, you can see people walking over a water channel that flows under the ice. You can even see the ice breaking up in places near the people. They are very fortunate to have not fallen in. Had they done so, it is possible they would not have been saved.


Do not go on the shelf ice as shown here.

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