Categories: Snow Crystal Photography, Snowflake Photography
Here are a few snow crystal photos from the Groundhog Day blizzard of 2011 - I posted these on the Story of Snow blog a while back -
Here it is, bleak mid winter. The skies are gloomy and grey and days pass without a hint of sunshine. A little snow covers the ground. It is cold.
It snows, now and then, and I’ve been going outside to take snow crystal photographs. But the snow is opaque, dusty, and effervescent. Hours spent collecting snow crystals result in only mediocre images, as all the crystals are broken, odd or irregular.
The other night, after a few hours of collecting and discarding snowflakes, I realized just how selective this whole process is. The snow crystals I decide to display are the most regular and symmetric of the snow crystals I choose to photograph, which are the most regular and symmetric of the ones I gather. It seems that the vast majority of the crystals actually flying around in the air or landing on earth are irregular or broken, odd and ugly. I ignore them and focus attention on a small percentage that flatter my construct of how snow crystals really should be. Nature speaks with a loud and clear voice, but I hear only one word out of a thousand, and misunderstand even those.
Hmmm… Too much time spent out in the cold. Here are a few shots from the last couple of weeks:
This December has proven to be pretty cold - I noticed folks ice fishing in the last few day s- but aside from a little snow at the start of the month, it’s been pretty dry. Here are a few more snow crystals from the second good snow of December . As this month winds into the holidays and then to an end, no snow is in the forecast. Hoping for a productive 2011!
Hard to believe that just last week it was a balmy 53 degrees and warm gentle breezes were pushing the last fall leaves around on the sidewalks. The temperatures have dropped, the lake effect snow has begun, and here we are on December 6, with the first snow crystal shots of 2010/11. They aren’t particularly interesting, but they hold the promise for more to come.
We had a really good snow one evening last week - and the result was almost 20 decent snowflake photographs - I’m still processing the raw files. Here’s a sample:
I’ve been remiss in posting snow crystal photos here, so here’s a quick roundup of some of the better shots so far from this winter.
I just prepped the raw file for this one today, so it is my current favorite:
The red filter came through more as a red spatter on that photo.
The aperture blades jammed on the trusty old Pentax M50 f4 macro lens that I use for these shots, and in the thick of shooting last week I switched over to an M50 f 2.0 - a lens considered to be relatively unremarkable. As you can see by the shot above, it holds its own regarding sharpness. (I have since found the adapter ring that is needed to use a Sigma 50mm EX macro on the setup, and will be using that in the future.)
I’ve made several changes to the technique for shooting these. First off, I’ve finally ditched my old Pentax *ist-D and started using the newer Pentax K7 for these shots. The drawback is that it does not suppport TTL autoflash. It’s not a big deal to shoot with manual flash with the histogram etc.
Here’s another recent shot:
I’ve been using a red and blue ‘filter’ (actually just the clear plastic covers from holidy LED bulbs) on the flash. In the photo above the two colors blended together to make a more or less purple tone. Here are a two examples of where the colors remained distinct:
Here’s an earlier shot where the colors melded nicely:
In this case, the snow crystal landed on its side. It was tiny, but I liked how it suggested a side view of a falling crystal - a little negative space on the top and there you go:
The snow has been uncooperative for most of this winter. It has snowed relatively little for Michigan - it all seems to be falling in the mid-Atlantic this winter. When it does fall it is often opaque and fluffy - I call it effervescent. The opaque parts look fluffy white when viewed in daylight, but come out dark when backlit:
And lastly - just a couple of garden variety snow crystals:
It it snows more I’ll try to take more photos, and if successful I’ll post them here.
The Story of Snow is featured in today’s USA Today’s Book Roundup - in an article entitled Weather the Winter with a Picture Book. The book is described as “an artistic science lesson about the rise and fall of snow crystals.” The article also features Carl’s Snowy Afternoon by Alexandra Day, Life in the Boreal Forestby Brenda Z. Guiberson, illustrated by Gennady Spirin and Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson by Sharon Robinson, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
You can read the on-line version here:
Last night I spoke at the Grand Rapids Camera Club and provided a demo of how to take snow crystal photo. The turnout was great with well over 100 people in the room, and it was a lot of fun. A splendid time was had by all.
The presentation is a bit of a stroll down memory lane and the evolution of the process I use to take snow crystal photos. Of course, it starts at the beginning, with the very first snow crystal shots I managed to make. Here they are - from the winter of 1998/99. It was my second or third try at it, only very small crystals were falling, and on a wing and prayer I snapped a few shots with a high magnification setup, manual flash, and ancient Spotmatic film camera. I was really happy with the results, but it was the end of the season and there were no more opportunities that winter.
It took me a few more years till I was able to duplicate these results, but these photos gave me the inspiration to keep on trying…
I’ve been posting more in the Story of Snow blog these last few weeks, so if you are interested in what’s happening with the book or in some fastinating articles about frost by Jon Nelson, hop over there - the url is:
A nice lake effect snow blew in early this morning to greet the new year. I spent a little time photographing out in the garage. It’s a new year so I tried a couple of new ideas for lighting the snow crystals - this one worked! Not much else to show for the morning’s shoot, and by 10 a.m. the snow had stopped and has not yet returned. Hopefully there will be more chances later this weekend.
The winter of 2009/10 is still quite young, and no one knows what it holds. But at this early date there is one thing I can say for sure – when it comes to snow crystal photos, it won’t be the worst winter ever.
I don’t feel like digging into my records to figure out which season exactly was the worst. I first started photographing snow crystals in 1997, and the first few years I worked on it were a real challenge – especially shooting very unforgiving color slide film. But there was one year when, even with digital cameras and a refined and predictable technique, I only managed two good shots. It’s just a question of what nature tosses your way, and if you are there to receive it.
That is part of the deal with nature photography, at least as I practice it. You take what the earth gives you. Sometimes it is generous; often not. And when not, you just get up and go back out, faithful that things will change. Whether it’s hunting for snow crystals, visiting a pine barrens, hoping to find wildflowers or dragonflies – sometimes nature is bountiful, sometimes not. And often you come home with nothing to show for the effort.
Some days I wish that it all could be easy. Maybe I could fly to places where the subjects I want to photogrpah are right there waiting. I’m sure dragonflies are on the wing somewhere. Snow crystals fall in perfection someplace else. Sometimes I feel that I lack dedication, and if I was really serious I would not just shoot photos in my little corner of the world, but rather would go where the subjects are, and really produce. It could be easy… and rewarding.
But if I have learned anything from observing nature, it is that the easy is the most unnatural. And if I have learned anything from art, it is that the product is a distraction and it is the process that is the most compelling. So while bleak winter days can be unrewarding; while a whole winter can pass and yield just two snow crystal photos; while there are days I return empty handed, again; and nights dark with doubt – ultimately it is part of the dance, part of the process, part of creation. No matter what, it’s a blessing and not to be denied just because there is nothing to show for it.
Yeah – I know – try explaining that to folks who ask “But what did you do today?” So I am happy to record in my journal – “2009/10 is not the worst winter ever wrt snow crystals.”
And so here we go – two more shots from Sunday night, embedded in this post. The session was not quite as productive as I had hoped, but there is at least another shot in the works and what the heck – did I mention that this is not the worst year ever when it comes to snow crystals?
A feeble mid winter sun greeted us early this morning, December 27, and then the clouds rolled in and brought an exceedingly light snow. Come evening, barely half an inch of fresh snow lay on the sidewalks and the car windshields. I had checked the snow throughout the day only to find it to be tiny, crunched-up bits of dusty ice. But stepping outside this evening to grab a log for the fireplace, I was surprised to see that the dust had changed over to some very nice snow crystals.
I fired up the camera and for brief intervals in the evening the dust gave way to crystals, which in turn gave way to dust again. Here’s the first shot of the evening:
Here’s another shot from tonight – the little specks all around it are the ‘dust’ I as referring to early – tiny bits of eroded snow crystals. They make the main subject look quite large – but it was well under 1/16th of an inch in size. More shots will be coming in the next few days.
For an interesting article on Heart-shaped ice crystals, check out The Story of Snow blog.