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Dendrite of Distinction | by Don Komarechka
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Dendrite of Distinction

Through all my years studying and photographing snowflakes, I have never seen one like this. It might be one of the only documented occurrences of a “Skeletal Form Dendrite” snowflake, at least to the intensity of these growth characteristics. If you’re curious about this volumetric crystal, read on!

 

“Skeletal Form” snowflakes on their own are oddities. If the central ridges down the “spine” of a branch grow exceedingly tall, the top level can switch from vertical growth to horizontal – much the same way plates can grow out of the ends of a column-type crystal. This doesn’t happen often, and when it does, it’s usually shaped like the top of an anvil – a little overhanging from the base, but not very far. When this top-level growth is allowed to continue, it can fuse together to form a new top plate – this is a “skeletal form” snowflake, which is almost always a smaller hexagon-shaped crystal.

 

While the same feature has been seen on branches before, I have never documented it as prolifically as it is seen here. The broad ends of every branch exhibit this type of growth from raised ridges, so much so that it is hard to determine where certain features begin and others end. The resulting complex texture is mesmerizing.

 

Of course, we’re not without a beautiful center – the dark snowflake-like shape in the center is solid ice, surrounded by a bubble that offers up faint thin film interference colours. Two adorning crystals snow signs of permanent attachment, easier seen on the larger right hexagon. Notice how the edges closer to the open air have begun to grow further out? There is also an inward ripple of growth thickening the plate emanating from the same direction – clues that this was fixed in place while the snowflake(s) were still forming.

 

This was nearly a record breaker, with 83 separate frames for focus stacking. I also tried something a bit different, exploring the “Enhance Details” image processing option in Lightroom. I’m not certain it made an appreciable difference in the end results, maybe 5% improvement in overall image quality but nearly twice the amount of processing time and effort to convert the selected RAW files to the appropriately enhanced DNG files. Not something I’ll use for the average snowflake, but for special cases (like this) I might work this into my editing process.

 

Shot with a Lumix S1R and the Canon MP-E 65mm F/2.8 1x-5x macro lens in mid-February, this snowflake was a surprise to discover. If there’s a reason why I continue to photograph snowflakes during every viable snowfall, this image is it. And there will be more curious crystals to come, I’m sure.

 

If you’d like to know how to capture images like this, including the entire post-processing workflow, it’s detailed exhaustively in my upcoming book: skycrystals.ca/product/pre-order-macro-photography-the-un... (as soon as I get this image posted, I’m heading to my studio to do one final review of the complete press checks before signing off on the approval to be printed – exciting times!)

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Taken on February 13, 2021