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Snowflake 878 | by Don Komarechka
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Snowflake 878

Another tiny-but-iconic snowflake from this year’s meager offerings. We’ve barely had any snow and the conditions have always been sub-optimal! Still, there are some diamonds in the rough.


I love the geometric-yet-floral center in this snowflake. The rounded areas just beyond the corners of the central hexagon are caused by the outer edge of the branches growing back in towards the center, rounding as they get closer to the middle. This happens so frequently in snowflakes, though it’s harder to see when using transmitted light – light coming from behind the snowflake and entering the camera lens, rather than light reflecting off the surface and then entering the lens – which is how I shoot all of my snowflakes.


This reflected-light photography has a few other advantages in revealing crystal features, especially when you see areas brighter than their surroundings, like the hexagon and bubbles in the center. This added brightness is due to the additional reflective surfaces in those regions, cause by bubbles or multiple layers of ice. On the right-most branch you can see some faint colours with added brightness as well – this is the remnants of another crystal that is stuck on the back of this snowflake. I often try to remove such debris if possible with a tiny artist paintbrush at the risk of potentially breaking the main snowflake in half. When I see those coloured lines however, I don’t even try – the two layers have fused together in some way and I’d destroy the main snowflake if I tried anything.


These are truly dynamic subjects – always growing in multiple directions in the clouds, and sublimating when they leave the clouds, beginning the process of fading back into thin air as they fall to the ground. Even inside a snowflake where there are bubbles, water molecules sublimate from one point and re-attach to another, rounding out certain bubble features over time. What looks like a simple geometric subject is almost like a living organism. Not quite so complex, but there’s more going on that initially meets the eye.


I have been experimenting with a new technique to photograph snowflakes as well, using a pellicle beamsplitter to get reflected-light images of snowflakes with the crystal plat to the focal plane of the camera, something that hasn’t been done before. These beamsplitters are microns thick and very fragile, and need to sit in the path of light between the lens and the snowflake on a 45-degree angle. My initial attempts were a failure, but knowledge was gained in the process! A new, smaller beamsplitter and proper mounting hardware is on the way to me now, arriving tomorrow… just in time for +5C (41F) weather to roll in. Bah! We’ve had such an odd winter. The forecast shows great conditions are about a week out… wish me luck!


This new technique will be described in my upcoming book as well, if you want all the details:

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Taken on June 2, 2018