Snowflakes close-up

Discussion in 'Macro' started by audrey schweikert, Oct 14, 2017.

  1. Anyone here have any experience with photographing snowflakes? I've seen such cool images of close-up snowflakes and would like to try it. It's probably above my skill level but if I start now, I may have time to learn something before the snow flies. I have read some online, but would like to get opinions and advice of those who have actually tried it. Thanks so much!
  2. Hi Audrey,
    There's actually a lot of decent advice around the internet regarding snowflake photography. Do a search here on photonet and you may get to some very useful material. It can be pretty simple, but can get more complicated depending on what you want the final image to look like. I've found that some of the most important factors are the things we can't control.....temperature, wind, and the quality of the flakes. Snowflakes are not created equal. But I think most folks will agree that the ability to get close up is the one thing that we can buy. That can be done a number of ways as with a macro lens, extension tubes, or reversing a lens. There are many people in the nature forum who are quite accomplished at this and all go about it in a bit different manner.

    Everything has to be cold, very cold, and you're going to get cold also. Make sure you're prepared for that. One method is to let the flakes collect on a dark background such as a piece of black material. Another is to let flakes collect on a piece of glass. I prefer to shoot flakes that have collected on plant material. Often snowflakes are broken, as in this image.
    Monday nature 12-16.jpg

    Here is one taken on glass. This required a lot of cleaning up in post processing to get a smooth look. Here, the flake is starting to melt. This requires a tripod.

    Monday nature 2-24.jpg

    In the next image many flakes are piled up on asclepias seed hairs and some clear iridized film was used for the color, again with a tripod.

    Monday nature 3-2.jpg

    So, you can see there are a number of approaches you can take. For now, hone your macro skills. Snowflakes are small, so find some things that are very small and practice. If you don't have a tripod, think about how you will steady your camera. This may be the time to invest in a decent tripod and head. I like to use a cable shutter release, but everyone has their own preferred method. It's something for you to think about if you don't have want the camera to remain still. Think about where you will want to set up as it will be outdoors. I often use the porch because it has a roof, but often I'm in the woods. Whatever you do, don't breathe on the snowflakes.

    When the flakes begin to fly you may want to concentrate on one method so you can get the hang of things. Don't be afraid of it. Challenge your skill level and learn something new. I hope any of this helps. Chances are many other folks will chime in here. Have fun and good luck with it!
    Moving On likes this.
  3. Thank you so much for your help, Laura. It really is useful information for me since I'm new to the whole thing. I'm deciding on a macro lens. I have a Nikon D5100 right now but soon (hopefully) will have a D7200. I'll go to the Nature people and ask them for their advice also. Again, thank you so much for your help and good explanation. I appreciate you taking the time! Your pictures are wonderful!
  4. I remember an old technique where you could capture snowflakes on wet Krylon spray on glass or plastic, then photograph the resulting pattern. No idea if anybody does this anymore, but you can probably find it as a school science project online.
  5. I've tried it a few times with varying levels of success. It's been a couple of years now because we didn't get much snow. If you want to catch the snowflakes on something. like glass or fabric, you need to let it get cold first so it doesn't melt the flakes. i have a screened porch where I can step out to catch a few flakes and then come in out of the snow (but still in the cold) to take the pictures. I have several in my gallery here.

    This is definitely an area where the fact that with digital the only cost of your misses is your time is an advantage. There were lots of misses to get these.



    These were all taken with a Canon XSi. the colored backgrounds are the shiny side of some old CDs an the black background is a Polartec fleece hat.
    Moving On likes this.
  6. Conrad,
    Krylon sounds interesting! I'll look it up and check it out. Thanks for the idea!
  7. Andrew,
    Thank you for your advice. I checked out your snowflake gallery and your pictures are awesome. I'm hoping to do half as good someday! Thanks, again!
  8. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    Hmm... what gives? Why does the last B&W snowflake have 12 sides? I found this online:

    Snowflakes have six sides. All snowflakes contain six sides or points owing to the way in which they form. The molecules in ice crystals join to one another in a hexagonal structure, an arrangement which allows water molecules - each with one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms - to form together in the most efficient way."

    "Hmm... it's a sign of
    the apocalypse...

  9. There are 2 flakes, one on top of the other.
  10. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    I had that thought briefly flit through my mind (what mind?), but they are both SO very close in size/shape to each other that I thought it must be unrealistic to think so.
  11. Having flakes of uniform size isn't unusual at all. Your mind is working just fine. I see changes in flake size during snowstorms. I'm sure someone versed in snowology could explain how moisture in the atmosphere, temperatures in the air column, plus a host of other variables effect snowflake size. Andrew has nicely defined flakes. I haven't had much luck getting those. Keeping everything cold is the key, and then it can spell the end. After about 30 minutes outside in 20 degree F temps my rail gear gets too cold to move. By then I need a cup of hot chocolate, so it works out pretty well. My shots were also all taken with a Canon XSi....good camera.
    Andrew Gosden likes this.
  12. I did not know that about the snowflakes having six sides. I guess the two must have stuck together either as they were falling or when they landed on the hat. Most likely these were all hand held with an off camera flash, I can never seem to get my tripod in the right spot for where I try to do this.

    I'm lucky to get at least one storm a year that meets my criteria for this. It has to be cold enough (in the 20s), actively snowing when I'm home and I have time to do it. Storms that roll in on a weekend that don't require lots of shoveling are ideal.
  13. Apparently there are 12 sided snowflakes. Here is something from
    12-Sided Snowflakes
    A bit of snowflake watching may turn up some 12-sided snowflakes, as these occur along with the normal 6-sided variety. They're not real common, but you can spot them if you look. Some snowfalls bring quite a few twelve-siders, although no one really knows what weather conditions are best for making them.

    So maybe you got lucky, Andrew, and got ahold of a special 12-sider!
    Andrew Gosden likes this.
  14. This is a quote from the site that Audrey provided. It all boils down to the physics of ice crystal formation. It's the beauty of science.
  15. I have been doing photos of snow flakes off and on for over 15 years and it's definitely a lot of work to get spectacular photos with good lighting and focus. I started in film days when instant gratification wasn't possible and waiting to develop the B/W film myself was part of the joy (and disappointment). As an atmospheric scientist as well as advanced amateur photographer, I greatly enjoyed the challenge of making intricate photos of snow flakes with a combination of moderate zoom lens and "reverse mounted" wide angle lens. The most difficulty I encountered related to getting the most pristine snow flakes, lighting it nicely, and getting sharp focus throughout the image, let alone the cold conditions.

    A few of my own techniques to convey:
    I use a 10x10 inch (approx) plexiglass base covered in black velvet to capture falling snow flakes. Picking out the best candidates was easier this way.
    I use a 150mm (35mm equiv) macro lens, male-to-male adapting ring, and 28mm 'wide angle' reverse mounted lens for roughly 4X multiplication. I've used combinations of many different lenses to get a large variety of multiplications - experiment with your own.
    LED lighting (such as a hiking head lamp) obliquely gives nice results on a "stage" with tripod-mounted camera.
    Transfer a candidate snow flake from the black velvet to the lit stage using a very small artist paint brush.
    Focussing with a reverse-mounted lens is seriously challenging because the depth of field with this lens combination is so incredibly "shallow" that you can often focus from one plane of the crystal to the other. Any slight incantation of the crystal gives non-uniform focus and even static electricity can wreak havoc.

    In my own experience, I won't even attempt to create snowflake photos unless the temperature is below 27F, because the smallest bit of melting shows up as more rounded edges on the snow crystals. I have thousands of photos from film and digital era and a few are posted in my gallery here.
    ContactSheet_snow.jpg ContactSheet_snow.jpg
    Moving On likes this.
  16. Thanks so much for your excellent information! I know this will be a daunting task, but you have to start somewhere! And all your info is very helpful. I'll be taking all your tips to heart once the snow starts falling! Your images are wonderful. I'm sure once I begin this adventure I'll have lots more questions. Again, thank you for sharing your knowledge!
  17. Look up W.A. (Snowflake) Bentley. A book of his work is still in publication by Dover and available through Amazon - LINK . The book contains about 800 images of his snowflake photographs done with large format cameras. There is a brief description in the book of his techniques for photographing snowflakes.
  18. Awesome, thanks!! Checked out the link....I'm putting it on my Christmas list! :)

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