Last March, if you spotted a human figure crawling around on the glittering offshore ice fields of Lake Superior's North Shore, it may have been Richard Hamilton Smith. The longtime Minnesota photographer walked, crouched, and even shimmied to capture frozen forms from every angle for Minnesota Conservation Volunteer.

"For a landscape and nature photographer who really likes to work light and shade, this was a crystal palace," Smith says. Direct light, ambient light, reflection, refraction: The sunlight played off the shards and sheets of ice, which had been pushed up by force of wind and waves as the big lake froze over almost entirely, an increasingly rare event. Superior's clear water rendered some panes as transparent as glass; others held air bubbles in multitudes of shapes and patterns.

From Brighton Beach in Duluth all the way up to Artist's Point in Grand Marais, Smith explored this gleaming winter landscape with his artist's eye, a backpack of camera gear, and boundless curiosity for the icy forms.

"It was," he says, "like a playground."