Snowflakes from a recent snowfall:
Wilson Bentley (1865-1931) is the pioneer of snowflake photography. More recently Kenneth Libbrecht and Nathan Myhrvold have taken snowflake photography to new technical heights. Bentley, Libbrecht, and Myhrvold all take a similar approach of isolating a single snowflake on a slide and using a camera with a microscope optics. Liebbrecht also grows snowflakes for photography in addition to photographing naturally occurring snowflakes.
Over a number of years, I’ve done snowflake photography using a high magnification lens, but I’ve used leaves and other plant materials as a setting instead of slides. I’ll set out a leaf to catch some snowflakes, and then set it on a table under an overhang and search for an interesting subject. I like the look of these settings better, but my technique has a lot of drawbacks. I work outside while the snow is falling and a breeze can blow away the snowflake, the leaf, or both. A controlled environment with a microscope stage is much better, but I like taking my chances.
Besides isolated crystals, it’s also interesting to see the the complex structures that occur: interpenetrating crystals at different angles or in a single plane, as in these two images. Visit Libbrecht’s site, snowcrystals.com, for illustrations of the many forms snowflakes can take and the conditions for forming them.