Taking pictures of snowflakes

Having lived in Saigon, Los Angeles, Houston, and Austin, I am never prepared for the winters in the Midwest. But it does get better every year. I remember throwing a couple of tantrums a week about it when we first got here but this winter, I think I have only thrown two (so far). Besides getting the right clothing for the winter (layering up is not good enough!), another thing that has gotten me to (gasp!) enjoy parts of the the winter is sledding and taking pictures of snowflakes.

I’ve tried to take pictures with a regular camera but it was a bust. I didn’t have a lens that could zoom that closely. Instead, I found this kid’s handheld microscope that can take pictures. It’s called a Zoomy. Here is Zack using it to look at some kinetic sand. You connect the Zoomy to your computer’s USB port and download a program and by pushing the button on the top of the Zoomy, it takes a picture and saves it on your computer.


The hard part is to photograph the snowflake before it melts. After numerous attempts, we finally got some great shots of snowflakes (great as in the best we could with a child’s microscope).




We tried different materials to catch the snowflakes: velvet, plastic, and glass. The best for this microscope was glass. I used the glass part of a picture frame. I had to put the piece of glass in the freezer to get it the right temperature. If you use it at room temperature, the snowflake just melts when it makes contact. Sometimes I would just leave the glass outside, too. I also used a CD case and that worked well. Not all snowfall will result in great snowflake pictures. Sometimes they are too clumpy or the temperature is not right.

snowflake temp

This chart shows the temperature that you usually find the beautiful dendrite shapes with the six arms and branching.

I first learned about photographing snowflakes by reading a book called Snowflake Bentley. It’s a nonfiction children’s story about Wilson Bentley, a man that dedicated a large portion of his life to photographing snowflakes. He was the first person to have successfully captured a photo of a snowflake in 1885. He went on to capture over 5,000 snowflakes in his lifetime. I love the story because it’s about a person that was passionate about a subject and pursued that subject even though it had few monetary gains at that time.

bentley camera

It’s amazing what he was able to do with such a crude set-up but his photographs are still outstanding in today’s standards. He caught the snowflakes on black velvet then hurriedly photographed them before they melted. Here are some of his snowflakes:

snowflake bent examples

My favorite book with his photographs is Snow Crystals. It’s a beautiful coffee table book and is just perfect to cuddle up next to while you watch the snow fall from your window.


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