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Vibrant Star | by Don Komarechka
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Vibrant Star

This image should serve as a reminder that snowflakes are not two-dimension colourless crystals of water. They have depth and dimension, and because of these features we can sometimes see colour. These colours are created by a number of mechanisms; some colours are easy to figure out, while others require a bit more digging.


This is also a reminder that only for the next few weeks that my book, Macro Photography: The Universe at Our Feet, continue to be available for purchase (hardcover). The 384pg book details every aspect of macro photography you could imagine from technical basics and equipment choices through numerous techniques, subjects, and post-processing. It’s the definitive resource in macro photography, including snowflakes: - $75 Canadian (prices are in $CAD)


The colour in this snowflake comes in three forms. Look along the main ridge of most branches and you might see a subtle rainbow effect. This can be caused by a higher ridge of ice that commonly forms here, which can generate a prism effect that splits the white light from the flash into component colours. Fairly simple and straightforward, but things get a bit more complicated from there!


The next form of colour isn’t obvious, but it’s easy to explain. The Canon MP-E 65mm F/2.8 1x-5x lens has been a workhorse for snowflake photography, but it was originally released in 1999 and is showing its age. In a high-contrast subject that is largely monochromatic, chromatic aberrations are often seen when a subject falls out of focus or even around extreme contrast differences. You’ll notice more magenta/pink and cyan/green colouring at various points along the snowflake where details overlap and high contrast is present. This is an artifact of the lens itself – and while mitigated in post-processing it can be difficult to remove entirely without the image feeling lifeless.


Finally, we get to the good stuff. Notice the thicker branch point down on the left side? Also present slightly near the top right as a blue blob. These colours are the result of thin film interference, created when a very thin layer of air is trapped between two layers of ice. Most commonly seen in the center of snowflakes, the existence in these locations is a bit puzzling. My theory: Two parallel branches grew out from the same point; this is not uncommon, as a snowflake has thickness and branches can grow on different planes. If something happens to cause them to touch, however, they’ll begin to fuse together and can trap air inside. These bubbles create “channels” through some unknown means (internal sublimation?). The result can be intricate and colourful patterns where you least suspect them.


Shot on my Lumix S1R and a focus stack of 56 frames. The average number of frames for a snowflake with my techniques is roughly 40, so this crystal took some extra effort to present to you. While it might appear somewhat similar to many snowflakes due to the “classic” design, I hope you’ll find it worth my efforts. :)


And again, grab a copy of my book if you enjoy my work! Even if you have no interest in shooting images like this yourself, the hundreds of large images make the book function equally well as an art book. I appreciate your support as my family and I move overseas next month!

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Taken on January 29, 2021