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Snowflake 902 | by Don Komarechka
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Snowflake 902

A fancy dessert plate? This tiny snowflake has some very cool features. Even though it lacks the complex branch formations of dendrite snowflakes, there is always a lot to explore. Can you spot the three waves of simultaneous growth?


The first is the easiest – the outer footprint of the snowflake. Whatever sticks out the farthest, grows the fastest. The second wave of growth is actually heading in the opposite direction, identified by a circle around the central hexagon. If an outside edge of the snowflake grows thicker at some point, this thicker edge can grow both outward and inward, with the inward growth adding the extra thickness back to the rest of the crystal. This type of growth becomes rounded as it gets closer to the center.


If the circle is on the front of the crystal, the other surface details are on the opposite side. For a reason I do not have the knowledge to explain, surface details on a snowflake only occur on one side of the crystal. The “details” side may flip around when side-branches form, but a snowflake will never have full surface details on both sides of the same area through natural growth. Inward circles on an otherwise smooth surface is all you’ll get.


The third wave of growth is hard to spot even though you’ve bee staring directly at it. All those surface details, lines and indentations near the outer part of the snowflake? Those are “filling in” as a second set of outward-facing growth. Sometimes this fills in completely, other times a “ceiling” forms over indentations to create bubbles in the ice. I’m still trying to figure out the exact mechanisms that drive this, but I believe this “ceiling” growth over previously-formed depressions in the surface topography of a snowflake account for a lot of the bubbles we see in these gems. Because the top ceiling of ice will be super thin, it can also more properly explain the vibrant colours seen in some snowflakes through thin film interference.


Shot on my Lumix S1R with the Canon MP-E 65mm lens at maximum magnification plus extension tubes (roughly 6x), this snowflake still wouldn’t fill the frame. Almost all plate-type snowflakes (prior to growing branches) measure 2mm or less. At that scale, it can be difficult to extract all the details I’m after. The image is shot at F/2.8 to minimize diffraction, though the effective aperture becomes closer to F/22. I’ve had some luck with Topaz Gigapixel AI with my recent snowflake images since the subject is essentially “geometry” to help things along a bit further as well. 35 images focus stacked from a handheld series of more than 200 frames. No small task!


If you’d like to learn more about the process of photographing snowflakes, the most comprehensive tutorial on the matter is found in my book on macro photography. A shout-out to my friends at The Camera Store that bought a bunch of copies prior to my relocation and currently have it on sale for less than I ever sold it for. It’s a steal:

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Taken on February 15, 2021