Snowflake pictures look absolutely bewitching – But if you want to create your own amazing snowflake macro photography, where do you start? How to score a small snowflake with all its beautiful details?
I’ve been photographing snowflakes for years. And in this article, I will reveal everything you need to know to take photos like mine, including:
- The perfect setup for snowflake equipment
- How to get a full snowflake sharp and focused
- Best time for snow photography (this is crucial!)
- Tips and tricks for great results
By the time you’re done, you’ll know how to shoot snowflakes like a pro – and you’ll know the perfect equipment list to get started.
snowflake photography equipment
Before you can photograph snowflakes, you will need to assemble a specialized setup.
camera and lens
Snowflakes average around 2mm-5mm, so fill the tire – which I highly recommend! – It will require strong magnification.
Any camera can work, as long as it has interchangeable lens capabilities. But you will need to set up the lens to go beyond the 1:1 magnification ratio, so you must have at least one of the following:
Any of the above can work, but note that most macro lenses don’t do up to 2:1 magnification; Before buying, you will need to check the specifications (otherwise you will not be able to fill the tire).
Personally, I’m a fan of the tube extension option, which often gets you close to a 2:1 zoom ratio. The extension tubes are hollow and sit between the camera and the lens, as follows:
It doesn’t require any specialized knowledge, plus it doesn’t involve glass, so you don’t have to worry about sharpness issues.
Proximity filters are another good buy; They act like reading glasses for your camera, and you can stack multiple times together to increase the effect. Unlike extension tubes, telephoto filters can cause optical problems—I find that they distort the edges of the frame—but they are cheap, and when photographing snowflakes, you’ll probably clip the edges anyway.
Also, the telephoto filters interfere with the auto-focus capabilities of most cameras, but you’ll be doing your snow photography with manual focus, so this won’t be a problem.
Lighting a snowflake may seem like a challenge, but it’s actually quite simple: use a ring flash. The ring flashes are mounted to the front of the lens, so they won’t cast a shadow on the subject, and are ideal for creating snowflake-shaped artistic lighting.
Most ring flashes (I use a Canon MR-14EX) allow you to control two banks of light and make one brighter than the other. I like to dim a bank, then use half the flash to light up each snowflake. Note that the camera angle makes a big difference, and getting the right angle can change the outcome dramatically.
Below, I’ve placed two snowflake images side by side. See the difference? The camera angle was only a few degrees away, but one snowflake looks milky, the other transparent.
It takes a lot of experimentation to find these perfect angles, and sometimes I use a small paintbrush to push the snowflakes in the right direction. (I try to avoid that as much as possible, anyway, because the crystals often break when manipulated.)
Technically, you can depict snowflakes on many different backgrounds.
But every single one of my snowflake photos – including all the shots in this article! Made on the same old black glove. It’s a staple in my setup, for a whole host of reasons.
For example, the mitt creates a dark background of snow, which produces some amazing contrast. In addition, the glove provides insulation – the ice gets stuck in the fibers and makes contact only at a few points, so minimal heat is transmitted and the snowflake remains solid.
Finally, the glove helps isolate a snowflake on a black sea. (Yes, each shot contains a number of woolen fibres, but editing them is much easier than adjusting a flat, joint surface like felt!)
Conclusion: Get a glove! They don’t need to be black, but I’d recommend sticking with darker colors (so you can maintain the contrast I discussed above).
How to photograph snowflakes: the step-by-step process
In this section, I will explain the ins and outs of photographing snowflakes.
Step 1: Find the right chips
First, wait until the snow begins to fall.
Then take your black glove and put it outside. (Don’t wear gloves, you don’t want to facilitate heat transfer!)
Watch the gauntlet, and once a few snowflakes land, take a closer look. You want snowfall of the “beautiful” variety, Not Snowballs or crystals covered with frozen water droplets.
Different snowfalls will produce different types of snowflakes. You may need to lay your mitten on for a few snowfalls before you find the best crystals for photography: large, clean snowflakes with lots of branches, as shown below.
It is very important to photograph snowflakes during Snowfall. So once you find the right snowflakes, get on fire. If you wait until 1 hour, the crystals will begin to melt or sublimate (that is, evaporate without first melting), and the sharp crystal edges will soon disappear.
If you just missed a snowfall and are not sure if you have time to shoot, try to put the gauntlet on the freshly fallen snow, and then pick it up again; The fibers will pick up the falling snowflakes and you’ll have a chance to shoot a few before they deteriorate too hard.
Step 2: Take a series of photos to stack the focus
Once you find the right snowfall and the right snow, you’ll need to aim with a goal Focus on stacking your shots.
What do I mean by this? Focus stacking is a technique where you can take multiple frames of the same subject at many different focus points, and then combine them in post-processing to get a final in-focus image.
So when photographing a snowflake, simply move the camera back and forth while taking a series of photos. (Burst mode is useful; the key is to take enough photos so that every part of the snowflake is in focus in at least one shot.)
As you can see, at such high magnifications, only a small piece of a snowflake will be in focus at any time. A snowflake shot looks like this:
But then, with enough shooting and a little focus magic, you’ll eventually get a shot like this:
The top image is one of 33 shots used in the final composition. The process of integrating frames is lengthy, in part because every photo is done without a tripod – they’re all handheld. In fact, I take a lot more tires than I’ll actually use, and the 33 tires I stack were chosen out of a total of 112!
Why not use a tripod? Well, setting the tripod to just the right angle and adjusting the focus rail to get everything perfectly takes a lot of time. I need to work quickly to make sure the snowflake won’t melt, explode or suffocate with more snowfall. And Photoshop does a very good job of reorganizing the files, as long as the camera angle doesn’t skew too much from one shot to the next.
So instead of painstakingly setting up a tripod, I find the snowflake, adjust the camera angle to get the desired reflection by taking test shots, and then shoot.
Pro tip: be sure to shoot at an angle; This way, you can highlight surface reflections, prismatic colors, and even vibrant central colors like this:
Step 3: File Processing
I wouldn’t spend much time discussing snowflake editing. It’s the most routine and unoriginal part of snowflake photography, and it’s pretty simple once you get to it.
Start by stacking your images (you can use Photoshop, or you can try a dedicated stacking program, such as Helicon Focus).
Then, take your stacked photo and edit it like any other shot. Crop to emphasize the snowflake, remove distractions (such as fleece from a mitten), then adjust exposure and contrast to make the snowflake pop.
Enjoy, try, and you will get a great end result!
How to photograph snowflakes: the last words
Now that you’re done with this article, you’re ready to take some amazing snowflake shots!
So get the necessary equipment. Look for a dark glove. And then, next time it snows, get ready to shoot!
Now to you:
What setup do you plan to use in your snow photography? Have you had any successes? Share your thoughts (and your photos!) in the comments below.