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Don Komarechka
Works at Georgian College
Attended Georgian College
Lived in barrie, ontario
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Woodland Fantasy
I have had the fortune for adventure this past year, and of travels through the Yukon wilderness I was presented with a number of exceptional auroras cascading across the skies.
 
I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus as concluding my Snowflake-a-Day project resulting in an immeasurable backlog of work, but the catch-up game is nearly won and I’ve been digging through images I haven’t processed for months. I can’t believe that shots like this are still sitting and waiting for me.
 
These exposures can be difficult. Balancing light collection with depth (aperture), shutter speed with star blur and pushing sensitivity to the limits, I was able to make this image. Shot at F/4, I was at the widest aperture of my 24-105L lens, gathering as much light as possible. At 28mm, I could not extend my shutter speed beyond 15 second, or the stars would be noticeably blurring as the Earth spins. To accomplish this, I needed to shoot at ridiculously high ISO of 10,000. Still looks pretty good for pushing the limits!
 
The aurora was relatively faint in the night sky, allowing for a good number of stars to shine through it. The brightest auroras aren’t always the most beautiful, as they tend to drown out the stars behind them.
 
I hope someday to travel to Northern Canada again, having made the trek twice already. Each time I feel it’s the experience of a lifetime, both as a photographer and as a human being.

How about this, #landscapephotography +Landscape Photography +Eric Drumm +Margaret Tompkins? :)
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Brilliant
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Come to the CanAm Photo Expo March 20 – 22!
http://canamphotoexpo.com/
 
I’ll be speaking on night photography and macro photography in Buffalo, NY this coming weekend! Alongside me will be tons of awesome photographers and imaging professionals. I’m honoured to be included, and I’m in the process of putting the finishing touches on my talks over the weekend. I promise it’ll be a captivating experience!
 
Any later than today (March 15th) and late registration fees kick in, but even then the cost is very reasonable for the amount of education and entertainment you’ll get. If you’re anywhere near the Buffalo NY region or are looking for a place to escape to next weekend, this is it. :)
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Present!!
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REMINDER - last day to get a second copy of Sky Crystals to give to a library!

Go to https://skycrystals.ca/ and simply add two copies of the book to your cart. Use the coupon code "library" on checkout for the cost of one book to be subtracted from your order. Just promise me that the second copy will be donated to a public library, and I'll ship you two books!

The second copy might have some very minor superficial scuffs or flaws, almost unnoticeable. These books deserve to be read - there is tons of interesting science that is easy to understand, and even some fun tips for preserving snowflakes. Photographers will appreciate the comprehensive tutorial of how the images are created, and I'd love to see more people exploring the world of snowflakes. Help make that happen! :)
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Already ordered! Thanks a lot!
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Snowflake-a-Day #100
For the final image in this year’s series, I decided to take a risk and spend today editing something very unusual and incredibly unique. I think this snowflake is the epitome of the entire project – wonder, beauty and curiosity all rolled into one. View large!
 
This type of snowflake is very rare. The growth process began as a column but quickly transitioned to plate-type growth, creating two plates of nearly equal size. Both plates then began to grow simple branches, but the top plate grew slightly faster, resulting in a slight acceleration of growth and a larger “footprint” for the next phase.
 
This snowflake is one of the unusual crystals that transitions from column to plate, and then back to column growth. The longer time in the plate-type stage is unprecedented, and I have no other examples of a snowflake taking this shape. It’s hard to see all of the details of each transition, but having studied snowflakes for a number of years, I can spot plenty of unique features within this design.
 
The second stage of column growth originates at the edges of the plate, and if fully connected would be considered “scrolls”. You can see some signs of this at the tips of the spires, wrapping around as many as three sides of a hexagon while growing vertically. These spires are reminiscent of needle-type crystals, another exotic form of snowflake.
 
The extremely unusual structures contained within this snowflake are what I search for each winter. I tried to find something so beautiful and yet so often ignored, and share that with the world. This year I have had the luck of sharing a number of snowflakes that people couldn’t even imagine being a snowflake, and I think this is one of the best examples. It’s also one of the most difficult focus-stacking processes I have ever completed.
 
This snowflake is extremely three-dimensional, and is photographed on an angle that showcases this depth beautifully… but this poses a number of problems. There are drastic shifts in focus detail, particularly around the spires. These kinds of interactions cause every automatic focus-stacking tool to fail, and even a manual approach will cause halos to form around the edges. Very careful manual corrections and tedious editing can make these pieces fit together. A snowflake is also transparent, and I need to decide what elements should show through a layer of ice where multiple layers are present. It’s an exercise in scientific artistry. I try my best to preserve the best depiction of the crystal, but I need to make countless judgement calls along the way.
 
And so ends the 2014-2015 Snowflake-a-Day Project. It has been exhausting, frustrating and time-consuming for the past three and a half months. It’s been worth all the effort. I barely made it to the end, and I never found the “perfect snowflake” along the way. I’m not sure there is such a thing as a perfect snowflake, but such a thought won’t stop my search in the years to come.
 
If you enjoyed this series, I’d love for you to do me a favour. Share your favourite image of the series. Just share the image or post wherever you find it on social media with a few words about what you enjoy about the photograph, and the series in general. Thanks everyone for the support, encouragement and motivation along the way!
 
and if you want to support my crazy snowflake project further, consider picking up a copy of Sky Crystalshttp://www.skycrystals.ca/ - you’ll love the book, but you’ll also be supporting my creative efforts and helping me justify the time spent on this project. This winter alone, over 500 hours have been spent on shooting, editing and writing about snowflakes. That’s roughly full-time work for the entire winter! :)

(You can’t image the catch-up I now need to do on other projects. No rest for me yet!)
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Will do, +jerry robin!

+Alexey Kljatov I still have hundreds of snowflakes from this winter and past years that I have not edtied, because it takes so much time. I could do another series without shooting more snowflakes! It's warmer weather that produces snowflakes like this, forming and falling within 5-6 degrees of freezing. In fact, we have some nights that are dropping to -8C and -9C this week, even though it is the second half of March. My snowflake project is done for the season, but that doesn't mean I'd pass up an opportunity to photograph more! :)
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Snowflake-a-Day #98
There are a lot of snowflakes that have fallen this winter that I consider beautiful enough to photograph, and some that approach what I consider perfect. None have taken the title of “the perfect snowflake”, but many I’ve features so far in this series have come close – including this one. View large!
 
I’m beginning to run out words to describe these crystals! Many of them share similar features and designs, but each has their own unique twist all based on the same physics. There are two features I’d like to draw your attention to: the center, and some of the split side-branches.
 
The gem-like “button” center of this crystal is the result of a capped column design that was the genesis for this snowflake. A column crystal grows two plates from either end, and each plate fights to gather more water vapour. To the victor goes the spoils – if one corner of the hexagon grows out further, it in turn has more access to water vapour and leaves the losing corner behind. It’s not uncommon for one plate to win the fight on all 6 corners, but the top-most corner of the top plate put up a bit more of a fight. And it changed the structure of the entire crystal.
 
Because the top plate was competing for water vapour on its top corner for a longer period of time than the other five corners, it stunted the growth of the top branch for a while. This allowed for the top-left and top-right branches to fill in more strongly around the center, choking out side-branch growth of the top branch for a while. It’s also worth noting that all other branches exhibit an interest “capped ridge” design as the branches extend outward, dissipating to a regular (but high-relief) ridge further out. This formation is still a bit of a mystery to me, but might be classified as a “Skeletal Form” type snowflake.
 
If you look at the side-branches of the lower-left branch, one should jump out at you. It features two layers of ice that have split apart. This is a common feature when cavities in the edge of the ice grow so large that they actually split the crystal into two new plates, and one typically gains the upper hand in water vapour attraction. Growing outward, this thinner plate usually contains fewer surface features due to its very thin design. If you look around this crystal, you will see the same physics at play almost everywhere. The twist here is that “capped ridges” are adding an extra dimension to the branches, making some of them three layers deep!
 
Would you have ever imagined such complexity if I didn’t describe it? Snowflakes are incredibly fragile, fleeting and fascinating subjects, with more to appreciate than our own eyes could ever hope to notice at a passing glance. If you enjoy this kind of image and the curiosities it contains, you’d love to get your hands on a copy of Sky Crystals: http://www.skycrystals.ca/ - 304 pages of snowflake physics and photographic techniques! Say goodbye to winter with the best artwork of the season. :)
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Oh Don, that sounds wonderful 
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Snowflake-a-Day #96
From the realm of colourful and simple plates, this beauty of a snowflake contains a mysterious feature that I cannot explain. Before reading the rest of the post, can you identify it? View large to see it in better detail!
 
Small hexagonal snowflakes sometimes form with just the right thickness of bubbles to create thin film inference colours within the ice. The thickness of the bubble (and therefore the thickness of the ice surrounding it) determines the colour that is generated by the optical interference. These colours then showcase the growth pattern of the bubble, mostly in a predictable manner… but there is an exception here, in the bottom left.
 
The bottom left coloured area depicts two small circles that clearly show at least two levels of thickness, but these circles to not conform the natural growth patterns on bubbles in the ice. There is no way (to my knowledge) that this could have formed without outside interference. Very dark tones can be identified within certain interference patterns and it doesn’t look like the snowflake is hollow, but it appears that something made a bubble expand or the surface of the ice shrink to create this shape.
 
The only thing that comes to mind is some kind of environmental contamination, hitting the snowflake exactly on those two spots and causing this effect, whether it be pollution or some other substance in the atmosphere. However, even this doesn’t fit. If it was a droplet of some contaminant, the outer reddish ring would not be solid, but rather vary in thickness towards the inner black area. A solid red ring means there is a distinct and constant drop in thickness through this region, proceeding to another similar drop in the center. It’s a mystery to me!
 
…And all of this discussion over a feature in a snowflake measuring 0.04mm (40 microns). That’s the size of the largest of these peculiar circles. The smallest things can be fascinating!
 
And if you find this interesting, you’ll love all of the mysterious snowflakes discussed in Sky Crystals: http://www.skycrystals.ca/ - along with all of the photographic techniques used to create images like this. It’s not too late to discover the beauty that winter has… and it might be more appealing to do so as it’s on the way out! :)
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Nano-scale anything is hard to understand! :-)
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Completely thrilled and honoured to be a big part of the current advertising campaign by Georgian College, including this TV spot that many people have seen on the air over the past week. I've always been a proud Georgian College graduate, and my education from the Advertising Program gave me the skills to be an entrepreneur - which is at the core of any successful photography business!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ognDhIvwwak
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Sweet!  Congrats!
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Another Frozen Bubble!
I shot quite a few of these earlier in the winter, and I’m constantly amazed by the variation you can see in a simple bubble. Snowflakes are beautiful natural formations, but I like playing a part in the creation of these things too! :) View large!
 
The focus was slightly off on this bubble, but I think it’s too good not to showcase here. The depth of field is so incredibly shallow and the constantly-changing subject means that focus stacking is impossible, even for me. With only a tiny slice of focus to choose from and mere seconds to find the proper alignment, the shooting process can be quite frantic.
 
For this bubble and for many of the others I’ve shot, I use a bubble mixture of:
6 parts water
2 parts dish soap
1 part white corn syrup or glycerine
 
The corn syrup / glycerine makes the solution a little thicker and more robust, allowing some of the bubbles to stay intact when they impact the ground. These bubbles all fell onto snow, which had a tendency to make them pop immediately. A smoother surface may have worked better, but I liked the out-of-focus background details that snow provided.
 
This soap bubble also shows some interesting crystal formations. It’s almost as if snowflakes are growing from different points on the bubble’s surface, each beginning from a different nucleation point. Just as snowflakes need something to being the crystal formation, so too does frost growing on this bubble. You can even see signs that each separate crystal is forming on a slightly different angle to the camera! Slight impurities in the bubble mixture likely caused this result, but it’s something to keep in mind next year…. Maybe add something extra to the recipe to create more nucleation points!
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You're welcome +Jane Petrtyl, best of luck! It was a fun photograph to make. :)
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Snowflake-a-Day #101
Wait, what? Aren’t I supposed to stop at 100? Yes, but there was a technicality early on in this series. It turns out that Snowflake #6 (link: https://plus.google.com/111166628430361488384/posts/hCjiz9LF6YS ) and #7 (link: https://plus.google.com/111166628430361488384/posts/KC1mzca9DgU ) are actually the same crystal. Snowflake #6 is a sublimated version of #7, and depicts just how quickly a snowflake will evaporate into thin air. The two images were taken 22 minutes apart, and I only realised the impossibly similar features after each snowflake had been edited.
 
In an effort to create a series with 100 uniquely different images, this extra snowflake makes up for it.
 
This snowflake is one from March 4, 2014, which was the most “colourful” snowfall I have ever seen. Nothing this winter truly compared; even though there were plenty of vibrant crystals, they didn’t appear in the same numbers as last year. I plan on making a small poster that will include all of the colourful snowflakes from that weather system, and this was the final snowflake that I needed to edit.
 
I also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for the kind words and congratulations on completing this series! Now the catch-up game begins! It’ll probably be a week or so before I’m fully up to speed on too many projects that were delayed because of the snowflake season.
 
Oh, and Sky Crystals is still an awesome book, even though temperatures are now commonly above freezing. Consider it a souvenir of winter! http://www.skycrystals.ca/
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Awesome +Sarah Lavallee! Your books should arrive on Tuesday it seems, and I'm glad to know they'll be going to good homes. :) Thanks again!

Hah, thanks +Etienne Calame, I'd love to keep the series going to any arbitrary number, but 100 is actually more than I could handle... I nearly didn't make it! 101 was just the encore, but I couldn't push it much further. All other projects have been a success so far, with more opportunities coming up quickly! Never a dull moment over here.

Sorry that you'll be deprived of snowflakes for a few months +Datacide, but I'm sure there will be a few surprise posts along the way to keep the interest up. Thanks for following the series so closely!

Thanks +Shelly Gunderson! The turquoise colour isn't as common, so it stands out for me as well. Of course they're all unique, but these colourful crystals are in a class all by themselves. :)
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Snowflake-a-Day #99
This is about as close to a “perfect snowflake” as I think I will get this year. I love when crystals exhibit a distinct growth pattern shift, and this one does it so elegantly and with great balance. View large!
 
The center of this snowflake raises up at two distinct levels, with the branches beginning on a third. During the growth transition, the branches drop down to a fourth layer, and there are some indications that there are as many as 7 or 8 distinct layers in this snowflake. Can you spot all of the transitions in height? Snowflakes are certainly not two-dimensional objects!
 
These 3D sky-borne sculptures are constantly amazing me with their details. The base branches (let’s call them “trunks”) have many surface details that have formed on the opposite side of the ice to the camera, while some of the smaller side-branches reveal these features on the camera-facing side of the crystal. This makes for an interesting combination of low-contrast detail near the center and higher-contrast detail as the crystal grows outward. It’s a beautiful mixture!
 
Photographing this snowflake was not easy. Over 50 frames were used to complete this image, but many of the necessary frames were taken at significantly later times (two minutes is significant) than the first images. This means that some branches have begun to sublimate during this time, and the focus stacking techniques I use become quite challenging. Neighbouring frames do not line up properly, adding extra time to the already-lengthy editing workflow. Still, I didn’t want to leave this snowflake out of the series. The effort needed to be given!
 
It’s also around 4AM as I write and post this, the latest I’ve posted any day’s snowflake. This project has been extremely exhausting, but there is no way I’m giving up now, so close to the end. One more to go to hit the magic number!
 
If you appreciate the effort I put into this image and admire the beauty that results, I’d love for you to read Sky Crystals: Unraveling the Mysteries of Snowflakes – http://www.skycrystals.ca/ - the 304 page book is an excellent source of photographic beauty, a complete camera and post-processing workflow, and more interesting physics than you ever thought possible in a snowflake. With winter on the way out, what better way to celebrate? :)
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Hah +Michelle Boast, with so many to choose from it's a wonder that you were able to settle on one! Actually, my imagination is firing in some interesting ways with #100. Within the next few months I will be purchasing and experimenting with a 3D printer. That snowflake is beckoning me to be a full three-dimensional sculpture, but #99 is also a great candidate for it as well. :)
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Snowflake-a-Day #97
There are quite a few “monster snowflakes” I photographed earlier this year during some of the best snowfalls, and not all of them will be able to be included in this series… but here’s another one that made the cut! View large!
 
I loved the way the exterior branches took on a completely different growth pattern, fanning out in much more erratic designs. The center is dense but relatively straight-forward which would be a sign of a very stable growth environment, which changed during the end of this snowflake’s growing period. It might be that the snowflake began to fall from the cloud and passed through new layers weather with different humidity or temperature, which offered a change of pace.
 
While snowflakes like this are actually easier to photograph because of their size, their complex structure just shifts the challenges to the post-processing workflow. Working quickly and handholding the camera, there is always some degree of horizontal and vertical shifts from frame to frame. These shifts are easy to fix in Photoshop (Auto-Align Layers), but they will also introduce a slight perspective shift as well, which becomes a process when focus stacking.
 
This image is 57 layers combined through a tedious focus stacking process. The basic automatic tools tackle 90 percent of the work very quickly, but applying manual “fixes” due to perspective shifts or overlapping branches can take far longer. This final 10% can take hours, in this case it took over 6 hours from beginning to end in the post-processing workflow. Careful attention to sharpness, colour brightness, contrast etc. are all part of the process as well, but the biggest time vampire is the focus stacking corrections.
 
I suppose the perspective shifts might be mitigated by using a tripod and focusing rail setup, but the time it would take to implement such a configuration at the exact angle I need would likely result in failure. Snowflakes are not static subjects; they will melt, sublimate, blow away with a whisper of wind, and more falling snow can quickly smother the subject. Working quickly in the field is necessary to get the proper results, so I make the best compromise I can. Shoot fast and edit slowly.
 
If you’ve been out shooting snowflakes this winter (or just find images like this fascinating), check out a book I wrote on the subject, Sky Crystals: Unraveling the Mysteries of Snowflakes – http://www.skycrystals.ca/ - which contains the most comprehensive focus stacking tutorial you’ll ever encounter, as well as all of the physics for how these beauties are created in the sky. It’s a great book for every geeky photographer out there!
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Thanks for the compliment +Creative Expressions Photography! Snowflakes like this might not be crowd favourites but they will work very well in some upcoming compilation projects I have in mind.

Thanks too +Datacide! But I think you'd say that about almost all of them, right? :)

+Shelly Gunderson probably around 4-5mm, but I haven't done an "official" measurement of it. It's fairly complex for its size! Glad you like it... and 57 layers take a long time to process!
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Snowflake-a-Day #95
I wanted to showcase these snowflakes to illustrate a sense of depth on their design, with the thickness of the crystal directly visible when viewed large and zoomed in! So please take a close look at this one. :)
 
This sense of depth is perhaps best seen in the lower-left branch of the top-most snowflake. You can clearly see significant thickness here, which raises a few interesting questions. It seems that the top third of snowflake is reflecting light differently than the bottom two thirds, of course best seen when highly magnified. This can be seen on other branches in the snowflake, but only in a minority and I’m not certain I can even start to explain it. It’s always fun to spot something new and hard to explain!
 
Something easier to explain, however, is the formation of bubbles inside the ice. You can see some cavities forming on the right-most branch of the lower crystal. The edge of the lower side-branch shows this cavity forming into the ice, roughly centered inside the branch. The physics that allows for branches to form on snowflakes is the same physics that creates bubbles in the ice. How does that work?
 
Simply put, water vapour is attracted to the areas of a snowflake that stick out the farthest, If you image a simple hexagonal crystal the corners will stick out the farthest and generally collect more water vapour. If that trend continues, the “branching instability” kicks in and growth accelerates exponentially in these regions, forever reaching out towards the water vapour. If we look at just the edge of the crystal, the edges of the crystal facet can possibly grow faster than the inner-most area of the facet, creating a small cavity in the ice. As environmental conditions change, the cavity may seal off and become a bubble, or continue to expand and split the edge of the snowflake into two new plates. This “branching instability” is the primary phenomenon behind snowflake growth.
 
For an extra sense of depth, check out the triangular crystal in the lower left, attached to the larger snowflake at a 90-degree angle! There are at least 6 distinct snowflakes in this image, can you spot them all?
 
If you enjoy images like this (and appreciate the huge amount of effort it takes to create them), you’d love a copy of Sky Crystals: http://www.skycrystals.ca/ 304 pages of snowflake science, photographic techniques and beautiful images!
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The pleasure is ours +Don Komarechka! :)
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1,209 people
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Turn knobs, press buttons, and take pictures.
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  • Georgian College
    Part-time Faculty, 2010 - present
  • Don Komarechka Photography
    Owner / Photographer, 2008 - present
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barrie, ontario - sudbury, ontario
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Nature & Landscape Photographer, Teacher, gadget geek. :)
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    Advertising, 2007 - 2009
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