My journey to the world of snowflakes started about 15 years ago and began with my love for microscopes. Upon showing images from the microscope to friends they had little interest in all the wonderful biology, but were fascinated by the images of snowflakes. There had been little done in this field since Bentley fist took snowflake images from his barn in the hills of Vermont approximately 100 years ago.
I live and work in one of the snowiest cities in the United States. Rochester N.Y. is situated between Buffalo and Syracuse and it is often a coin toss which city gets the most snow. Unfortunately, our snow is not the kind of snow that graces the covers of Christmas cards, but is a crystalline mess called lake effect snow. This type of snow is created when very cold air travels across the warm waters of the great lakes and picks up moisture. The moisture is then dumped as snow over the land. This type of snow is very quickly growing, so large nice crystals just do not have time to form. We are lucky if we get three snowfalls a season that contain large fern like crystals. On average, Rochester gets about 92 inches of snow a year.
In the world of the study of snow an individual single crystal is called a snow crystal, when groups of crystals are called snowflakes.
The technique for photographing a single snow crystal is a bit difficult. I keep a snow shed in my backyard that keeps the microscopes and different light sources out of the weather but still cold. I only photograph when the temperature is below 25F. Above 25 F, the heat radiated by your body can melt the crystal. I keep a sheet of black cardboard inside my front door to check the falling snow for good crystal development. I can tell the snow type by looking at the terminal velocity and the reflections of lights on the crystals. If snow falling on the black cardboard tells me conditions are good, I put on all my winter jackets and boots and take the digital camera to the snow shed. The individual crystals fall on a sheet of black paper and good crystals are picked up with a pin and transfered to a microscope slide. This might seem like an impossible task, but with practice, I can go through a dozen crystals in a few minutes. I have to work fast. The snow crystal will often evaporate and change size and structure while it is under the microscope.
A relatively rare fern-like stellar dendrite snow crystal photographed in Rochester NY.
A true snowflake is a group of snow crystals. Groups like this are very common here in upstate New York.
One example of snow needles. One possible type of lake effect snow.
Many times there are “freak snow crystals” – here is one. Not exactly symmetrical.
Close-up of the center of a nice stellar dendrite snow crystal.
This post was written by photographer Ted Kinsman for Photo Synthesis.