Tag Archives: Macro photography

Snowflakes – a source of mystery and wonder

Snowflakes are intricate and beautiful.

• Snowflake crystal •
Snowflakes are intricate and beautiful. They are a source of interest to scientist – but photographers can make amazing pictures with them.
Image taken from SnowCrystals.com External link - opens new tab/page

Snowflakes are amazing!

Close up pictures of snowflakes show how intricate and beautiful they can be. And there are an infinite variety of them too. Here are a few ideas…

Some history about snowflakes

The perfect six-sided snowflake exists, but is not the only sort. Early snowflake pictures were taken by farmers’ son, Wilson “snowflake” Bentley  External link - opens new tab/page (February 9, 1865 – December 23, 1931) from Vermont. Aged 15 he was captivated by snowflakes. It started with looking down a microscope. But in 1885 he began experiments with a camera too. After struggling with the early camera technology he began to make some progress. During his life he made thousands of photos of snowflakes. His work still dominate our ideas today. In particular he was the first to claim snowflakes are unique and six sided. His pictures are also some of the best too.

Snowflake photographs by Wilson "snowflake" Bentley

• Snowflake Photographs by Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley •
Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley was famous for his snowflake photographs. Nearly a century after his death we are still using the images.

Research has shown how diverse snowflakes can be. They are not all perfect, regular shapes either. In fact according to “New Scientist  External link - opens new tab/page” (a weekly publication, UK) there are many types. The various forms are created under different conditions…

  • -2°C = Simple hexagons and star shapes
  • -5°C to -10°C columns
  • -15°C Six sided crystals (dendrites) form again
  • -22°C onward… complex plates and columns form again

Here is detailed morphology diagram for snowflakes Morphology Diagram for snowflakes - External link - opens new tab/page. It shows the relationship between the snowflakes’ type and temperature/humidity.

Snowflakes go through a range of temperature, humidity and other changes while falling. They have a unique and sometimes violent history. They clash together. They may ball-up with other flakes. It’s common for them to have multiple crystals joined in one flake. They may circulate in the clouds for long periods. They may also melt and refreeze before descending to the ground. It is not a surprise they are all so different. There is a great infographic on SnowCrystals.com External link - opens new tab/page showing snow crystal growth and the no-two-alike idea.

Capturing snowflakes on camera

You can’t easily photograph snowflakes on the ground. The overall white in a snow mass makes it difficult to distinguish individual flakes. The small size makes them a challenge too. The best approach to snowflakes is two-fold.

  • Use a macro lens or macro extension tubes.
  • Use a clean (new) long hair artists paint brush. Sable hair is best. Use a small black velvet cloth (about 500mm x 500mm) to see the snowflakes.

The aim with these is simple. Tease out individual snowflakes onto a black background. Then get in close with the lens. If you are working with a macro lens help yourself out and use a tripod.

The snowflakes themselves are easily destroyed. The trick is to use the artists brush to lift snowflakes onto the velvet. The brush and velvet have hairs that support the snowflake without damage. Be as gentle as you can to preserve its delicate nature of the crystal.

Sadly tiny ice crystals tend to go grey when on a black background surface. When shot on a dark background they are best converted to monochrome. This helps to increase the contrast and definition of the crystal.

To show the beauty of the refracted light use a well-lit background. If you can, place the snowflake onto a glass slide delicately lifting it off the velvet. You can buy Blank Slides – Microscope accessories External link - opens new tab/pageBuy microscope slides for your snowflake photos. from various places. Make sure you have left the slides to cool down to the snow temperature or the snow will melt on it.

Be sure to keep your cloth, brush and slides cold and dry. Make sure your breath is not directed at the snowflake. Even slightly raised temperature or humidity will affect the snowflake while you are trying to photograph it. More than once I have had them dissolve in front of my eyes.

If you are using an actual microscope, or if you are using a glass slide try to get some backlighting. To get the best refractive results try light at different angles on the snowflake. The best results are not necessarily when the light is directly from below. The angled light tends to create contrasts on the snowflakes. This brings out light and dark as well as some aesthetic colourations from refraction through the crystal.

For your interest here is an amazing camera-microscope…

Celestron Dual Purpose Amoeba Digital Microscope – Blue External link - opens new tab/page
This an affordable and well reviewed digital microscope. It will do detailed images direct from your computer. It’s a photography tool which provides an opportunity to develop your macro skills. Hours of fun too!

Masterful shots

One of the acknowledged masters of the art of shooting snowflakes is Kenneth G. Libbrecht External link - opens new tab/page. He’s a professor of physics who researches crystal growth. He also runs the SnowCrystals.com External link - opens new tab/page website. There are wonderful resources on the site including a “how to guide” External link - opens new tab/page and many hints about photography and equipment. There are some wonderful galleries of images External link - opens new tab/page. There is also a section on how to grow your own snowflakes. Although, the latter was a bit more complex than I think I would go… but who knows. People in this field seem to get obsessive about it. Snowflakes are extraordinarily beautiful.

Two other sources of snowflake inspiration…

Official Snowflake Bentley Web Site. This site houses the Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley photographic collection.
For a huge range of inspiring snowflakes images check out this search page on Google: Snowflakes photography  External link - opens new tab/page

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Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Tips and Tricks

• Oil and water •

• Oil and water •
These bubbles of oil in water were shot with a
Canon 50 mm f/1.8 and a +10 close-up filter
Click image to view large
Oil and water • by ArchaeoFrog on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

Easy, budget macro.

Macro or close-up photography is accessible without investing in a pricey macro lens. The first three articles in this series covered techniques for inexpensive macro-level results: close-up lenses, reverse rings, and extension tubes. In this article, I offer suggestions for achieving great-looking results using any of these three techniques.

Choose Your Depth of Field

Depth of field is a term that refers to the area of the image that is acceptably sharp and in focus. Depth of field is a function of many things. Our interest is in three factors. These are aperture, the distance between the camera and the subject, and the orientation of the subject relative to the camera.

Aperture has a direct influence on the depth of field. A wide aperture (smaller f number, such as f/1.8) creates a shallow depth of field. Areas of the image outside of the zone of sharpness fall out of focus quickly. Wide apertures can be used to create bokeh – unsharp sections of the image.

A narrow aperture (larger f number, such as f/22) creates a deep depth of field. The majority of the image is in focus. Narrow apertures are often used by landscape photographers to capture front-to-back sharpness throughout an image.

The distance between the camera and the subject also influences the depth of field. Generally, the closer that you are to your subject, the narrower the depth of the field becomes. This is particularly important when using macro and close-up photography techniques where you need to be physically close to the photographic subject.

• Bokeh penny •

• Bokeh penny •
Penny shot with a Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens and a full set of three, generic extension tubes (7, 14, and 28 mm). The plane of sharpness lies parallel to the flat of the lens. If the plane is not parallel the focus is quickly lost.
Click image to view large
Bokeh penny • By ArchaeoFrog on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

It is also important to consider the orientation of the subject relative to the camera. The depth of field can be thought of as a plane that is parallel to the camera lens. If you can orient yourself so that the subject is parallel to the flat of camera lens, more of your subject will be in focus than if it is at an angle to the camera. In the penny shot above, I tilted the camera lens slightly away from the parallel position. The loss of focus from right to left is obvious.

• Flowers and Depth of Focus •

• Flowers and Depth of Focus •
Click image to view large
• Flowers and Depth of Focus • External link - opens new tab/page

The flower photographs show how depth of field influences an image. Both were taken with the same lens (Canon 50 mm f/1.8), the same aperture (f/1.8), and the same technique (reverse ring). Both images have a shallow depth of field (wide aperture) and are close to the subject. The appearance of the depth of field is very different. The yellow flower (left) is sideways to the camera. Only the closest edges of the petals are within the depth of field and are in focus. The purple flowers center is shot parallel to the camera. The entire center of the flower is within the depth of field and appears in focus.

If you want more of your subject in focus use a narrower aperture. Increase the distance between yourself and the subject, and set the camera (and thus the depth of field) parallel to the subject. If you want less of your subject in focus, you can use a shallow aperture, get in closer to your subject, and orient the camera and depth of field perpendicular to the subject. Try it many different ways and see what works best for what you envision!

The Tripod: With and Without

It is possible to achieve acceptably sharp macro results hand-holding the camera. The majority of images in these articles were shot hand-held. If you have a stationary subject using a tripod will greatly improve the sharpness of your image. A tripod allows you to use longer shutter speeds. This helps you get crisper images in lower light. It also allows a narrower aperture to gain a deeper depth of field. The steadiness of the tripod will significantly reduce hand movement.

If available, also use the Live-View function on your camera to fine-tune your focus. Live-View lets you use your display screen rather than the viewfinder. Many cameras allow you to zoom in on a portion of the image to check the focus.

Without a tripod a good stance improves stability while hand-holding. Create your own tripod with your body by bracing yourself or your camera. In the diptych image below, I am using my elbows for support. The elbows in combination with my feet create a similar a three-point stability like a tripod. In the extension tube article, I demonstrated a similar human-tripod by bracing my elbows on my knees while shooting.

• Simultaneous diptych •

• Simultaneous diptych •
These two images were taken at the same time and show my hand-holding position as well as the image captured. The flower was shot with a reverse-mounted Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens.Click image to view large
• Simultaneous diptych • by ArchaeoFrog on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

This three-point position allows me to lean in and out very slightly with the camera. I can manually find the exact focus that I want in the photograph. Focusing with body movement allows me to place the depth of focus exactly where I want it relative to the subject.

More after this…

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When you are hand-holding practice breathing slowly and pushing the camera shutter button gently, without imparting additional motion to the camera. (More tips on stance)

Play, Combine, and Find What Works for You

You can use extension tubes in combination with either a reverse ring or close-up lens for even more detailed images. However, the working distance between the lens and the subject is narrow and the depth of field is incredibly shallow. With the pennies below, I found it impossible to keep both Mr. Lincoln and the columns of his memorial in focus together, as the columns are slightly raised relative to the surface of the penny.

• Penny diptych •

• Penny diptych •
These pennies were both taken with a Canon 50 mm f/.18 lens and a set of three, generic extension tubes (7, 14, and 28mm). In the left-hand image a +10 close-up lens was added, and in the right-hand image the lens was instead reverse mounted.
Click image to view large
• Penny diptych • By ArchaeoFrog on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

Close-up lenses can also be screwed in to each other for greater magnification. I used both a +4 and +10 close-up lens for the snowflake image below. There is some distortion visible in the image particularly around the edges. I also found it more difficult to focus when looking through both lenses.

• Macro snowflake •

• Macro snowflake •
Snowflakes shot with a Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens and a +4 and +10 close-up lens.
Click image to view large
• Macro snowflake • By ArchaeoFrog on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

The final curtain

The varieties of subjects for macro and close-up photography are endless. I have tried to highlight a variety of them during this series. Flowers, insects, and falling water are perennial favourites, as are coins, Lego figures, and other small objects. Your imagination and creativity are your only limitations. Enjoy!

• Macro snowflake •

• Lego water crown •
This Lego mini-figure and falling water crown were shot using a
Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens and a +4 close-up lens.
Click image to view large
• Lego water crown • External link - opens new tab/page

Articles on Close-Up and Macro Photography
by Katie McEnaney

Part 1 of this series focused on using close-up lens, Part 2 covered reverse rings, and Part 3 explained extension tubes.

Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – close-up rings
Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Reverse Rings
Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Extension Tubes
Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Tips and Tricks (this article)

By Katie McEnaney (contributing author)

Katie is an elementary school teacher in Wisconsin, USA. She is an avid photographer with wide interests. She is always interested in learning more and growing in her photography. Katie is in the third year of her 365 project as ArchaeoFrog (profile)  External link - opens new tab/page. Her 365 project can be found at 365Pproject.org  External link - opens new tab/page and she has a growing body of work on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page.
By Katie McEnaney :: Profile on Google+

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