How I Fell in Love with Snowflake Photography

I’ve spent the better part of my life photographing nature’s smallest details. My early years of shooting flowers eventually evolved into my obsession with macro insect and spider photography. But I’m what some may call a “fair-weather” photographer. A “warm season” photographer. A “give me 95°F and 80% humidity and I’ll still be out chasing bugs” kind of photographer. Snowflake photography has intrigued me for years, but I wasn’t brave enough to weather the snow until a few years ago.

How I Approach Snowflake Photography

Planning and Preparation

Before stepping outside, I got to work crafting a snowflake studio. I made my studio using a small plastic food storage container and a small glass plate from an old photo frame. I placed colored construction paper in the container to create a pastel background. It’s not very glamorous, but it’s what I had available and it works amazingly well.

Equipment

I use the Vello Macrofier Reverse Mount Adapter to reverse mount my Canon EF-S 24mm ƒ/2.8 lens to my Canon 90D. The Vello adaptor retains electrical connectivity between my camera and lens. This allows me to look through the viewfinder with a completely open aperture, which provides a bright and clear view of my subject. Check out my article on reverse lens macro photography to learn more about my setup!

I use my camera’s built-in flash for lighting. I pair the flash with the Graslon Spark flash diffuser to diffuse the harsh light. I’ve also placed two sheets of polystyrene in the Graslon Spark for additional diffusion.

I tend to shoot with the following settings: ISO 200, ƒ/11, 1/250. Shooting at ƒ/11 provides just enough depth to get clear snowflake shots.

Canon SLR Camera with flash diffuser which I use for snowflake photography
Reverse lens camera setup for snowflake photography

Helpful hints I’ve learned along the way:

  • Set your glass plate outside 10-15 minutes before you intend to shoot. This allows the glass to cool enough so the snowflakes don’t immediately melt when they land on the plate
  • Play with different colors and textures of paper in your snowflake studio backdrop. I have developed a style of bright and pastel backgrounds in my photography. This works well for snowflake photography as well as bugs. Get creative and don’t be afraid to try something new!
  • Depending on outside temperatures, I recommend investing in a warm pair of gloves that allow enough mobility to operate your camera. I’ve used hand warmers in my gloves and they are awkward and don’t keep my fingers super warm. I’m still looking for the perfect solution.
  • Like my insect and spider photography, I shoot snowflakes handheld (I hate using a tripod). I hold my camera in my right hand and my “snowflake studio” in my left hand. I balance the weight of my camera on my left wrist while shooting. This provides the stability I need for sharp shots. Yes, it seems awkward, but it works!
  • With the constant cleaning, my glass plate eventually fell off the plastic container to which it was taped (luckily, it didn’t break). I continued shooting by placing the container with colored construction paper on my porch and holding the glass plate at varying heights over the container. I liked this better than holding the entire container with the glass plate attached. It was easier to maneuver the setup and easier to clean. Again, try different techniques until you find something that works and feels comfortable.

Cleaning Your Glass Plate

Depending on the rate of snowfall, your glass plate will need cleaned often. I started cleaning my glass by unceremoniously wiping it on my pants. This technique worked quite well to clean the plate, but it warmed the glass enough to immediately melt all the snowflakes that landed on it for about a minute. You’ll need to let the glass cool down again, and by that time, you may need to clean it again resulting in a never-ending cycle of cleaning melted snow off your plate.

I found using a clean paper towel worked better since it didn’t warm the glass as much, but the issue with this technique is that, because it doesn’t warm the glass, it smears snow across the glass plate, resulting in frozen smears all over the glass. Vigorous rubbing, but gentle, rubbing seemed to do the trick to remove all snow while keeping the glass cool enough to continue shooting quickly.

Snowflake Photography Editing: Getting Your Final Shot

Many of your shots will end up with “snowflake debris” around your primary subject. You can easily remove these pieces of debris through the lasso and content-aware fill tools in Photoshop. You can easily remove dust spots, imperfections, and debris with the clone tool.

Close up of Snowflake
Close up of Snowflake
Close up of Snowflake
Close up of Snowflake
Close up of Snowflake

Snowflake Shapes and Sizes

You’ll notice the vastly differing shapes and sizes of snowflakes. I’m not a meteorologist so I can’t speak to the science of snowflake formation. However, I’ve noticed some distinct differences in snowflake shapes and sizes depending on the outside temperature. In warmer temperatures (25-30°F), the snowflakes are more geometrical with refined edges. In cooler temperatures (<10°F), however, the snowflakes were larger and more sprawling in design.

It’s fun to experiment in different temperatures to see how snowflake shapes and sizes differ.If you’d like some additional and far more detailed information about snowflake formation, I recommend checking out this Scientific American article.

While I’m still playing and perfecting my technique, I’m SO excited to have found macro subjects to keep my passion for photography alive all year. I’ve fallen in love with snowflake photography so much that I may just move to a snowy-all-year kind of place… I jest. I still long for bug hunting season each spring!

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