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Don Komarechka
Nature & Landscape Photographer, Teacher, gadget geek. :)
Nature & Landscape Photographer, Teacher, gadget geek. :)


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Announcing the eBook version of Sky Crystals, THE resource for photographing and studying snowflakes!

For the first time ever, Sky Crystals is introduced as a digital download and at a special sale price of $14.99. If you’ve ever wanted to reveal the magic of winter macro photography with your camera, this 304-page book reveals every technique I use for photographing snowflakes. No secrets held back!

As a FREE BONUS, you’ll also get a water droplet refraction primer to download, showing you how to turn water droplets into tiny lenses and reveal the hidden beauty of simple physics. If you have the equipment for snowflake photography, you’ve got almost everything you need for this additional photographic adventure!

The culmination of years of photography and study of snowflakes, this 304-page hardcover book will detail the science, photography and techniques, and even delve into why we find snowflakes beautiful. I keep the explanations easy to understand and graphic, but the science is fascinating and there are still many unanswered questions.

Considering this eBook is only one-third the cost of the hardcover version, this is an exceptional deal. Traveling some place remote with a good chance of snow? Load this PDF into iBooks / Google Play Books and keep it with you always. Originally written around a two-page spread design, you’ll be given links to download a single-page or spread-page layout, whichever works best for you.

Why Snowflakes?
Snowflakes: These tiny creations of winter have been a curiosity during most childhoods spent in Canada. As I grew up, I became less and less interested in these “trivial” curiosities, and only recently reconnected with them through the lens of my camera. As with most macro subjects, when photographing snowflakes there are many “what the heck is that?” moments as something mysterious is captured, and that childhood curiosity is reborn.

Using a steady hand, an old mitten, and freshly falling snow, you can produce an image worthy of sparking that childhood wonder in even the most jaded onlookers. Some people don’t believe my images are real, and that’s when I know I’ve created something worth talking about. Of course, some people simply think I’m crazy watching me take pictures of an old mitten in a snow storm.

Standing in frigid temperatures a meter away from comfort and warmth can be a daunting task. Using macro equipment that gives you incredibly little focus, it can be hard to even find a snowflake in the viewfinder. Freezing hands and shivering arms can make the situation worse. However, once you’ve got your first snowflake, you’ll smile at every snowfall from then on. But until you succeed, people will think you’re crazy for trying.

Forecasts predict an abundance of snow this year – I know I’ll be shooting every single snowfall. How about you?

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Six of Spades
This is a snowflake with a simple outer pattern, but one with hidden complexities ready to be revealed. These are the sorts of details that I worked for 10 months to produce into the snowflake ornaments currently being crowd-funded.

Want the most realistic snowflake possible as a Christmas ornament on your tree this year, or to give as gift? Check this out – less than a week to go!

I was saving this snowflake for the start of the Snowflake-a-Day project which begins on December 1st, but it’s a perfect fit for what’s going on now! This is a split crystal with some interesting growth dynamics to dive into!

A “split crystal” is one that begins its life as a column, but shifts into plate-like growth as the temperature cools. This creates hexagonal plates on the ends of the column. This kind of growth can result in gem-like central features if one plate grows out faster than the other (each competing for water vapour in either side of the column, one winning on all sides) or a split design like we see here… though the battle wasn’t cleanly won or lost.

The bottom plate won the fight for the top branch and the top-left branch. These two are growing underneath the other four branches, which can be seen if you look closely at the center and notice how the lines are divided. Usually, when one corner of a plate “wins” over the other, the fight is over in a heartbeat… but look a little closer here. While the top plate won the fight for the top-right and all the lower branches, there are signs that it wasn’t an easy victory.

The lower plate has a branch in the lower right, hiding behind the top branch. It’s not hard to see, due to its higher contrast lines on the ridges and ribs. Very careful inspection will identify signs of this on the lower left as well. If two corners of these plates maintained equal growth over a longer period of time – which is very unlikely – we see this as the result. An unlikely snowflake!

But why are the features of the bottom snowflake more contrasty than the top snowflake? It has to do with what side the surface details and topography are located on. Fun fact: the surface details on a snowflake are only ever on one side. The other side is largely smooth, maybe with some subtle rings caused by inward crystal growth. The bottom plate (top and top left branches) has its details facing the camera, while the top plate (all other branches) has its details on the backside of the crystal, which is why the lines are more muted; these details are only seen through the reflective back surface, making them softer.

Is it a symmetrically balanced beautiful creation of nature than fell from the sky? Absolutely. The depth of details is almost endless, however. These complex structures only become more beautiful the more you understand them, which is what this post was intended to do. :)

If you want to examine this “split crystal” phenomenon first-hand, there is one branch on the model used to create this year’s snowflake ornament that has inverted features. The reason is different, but the logic is the same: different planes often have opposing features. Put one of these on your Christmas tree and make it a conversation piece: - you won’t be disappointed.

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One week left to get your snowflake ornaments!

The short 10-day campaign is already off to a fantastic start, nearing 30% funded! If this momentum keeps up, we’ll reach the production goal which will allow for the production of more snowflakes in future years. Woo!

All orders placed in this campaign will be shipping in time for Christmas, for the white, clear and sterling silver snowflakes pictured below.

A HUGE thanks to everyone who has supported the project so far. The response has been fantastic and beyond what I would have expected at this point. I promise you’ll be happy with your contributions!

There are still some earlybird white snowflakes available for $20
Clear Acrylic snowflakes are $37
And there are a few earlybird sterling silver snowflakes at $185

The imperfect balance of a natural snowflake is one of the most beautiful symbols of winter. I’m thrilled I can bring that to you in a medium beyond photos!

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It's finally here - snowflake ornaments based on one of my images, accurate down to the tiniest detail!

(Let's try this again to get the link working!)

Click the link for all the details, but in short:
- Based on a snowflake I photographed both the front and back of
- As accurate as can be reproduced
- Will be on your Christmas tree in time for the big day
- Represents 10 months of planning, research and prototyping
- No matter what, you'll get your ornament. I've fronted all the costs to get this far, it it's a sure thing. :)

I know MANY people have been asking for this, and for many years. Here you go, enjoy!

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A sneak peek... at something that will be announced next week. I've been asked for this sort of thing for years, and this has been a very long time in the making. Stay tuned. :)

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Announcing Photo Geek Weekly, a photography podcast about the latest photography technology, science, and geeky interests with educated opinions and Don Komarechka as your host!

This has been a LONG TIME coming. I’ve wanted to do a weekly photography podcast forever, and covering the latest news from my “photo geek” perspective is a worthy goal. By listening to the podcast, you’ll hear about stories from unique perspectives and I aim to uncover bits of news that you’d otherwise miss – but are definitely worth the discussion.

In this first episode of Photo Geek Weekly, I look at the recent Adobe updates and what they are lacking, the future of memory card formats and Lexar’s announcement of the return of QXD cards, and the weird little Kickstarter camera that you might reconsider, the Yashica Y35.

Episode one can be found here, and iTunes / Google Play / Stitcher feeds will be active within 24 hours:
Google Play: (coming soon!)

Photo Geek Weekly will occasionally be a monologue, and sometimes a back-and-forth discussion with a capable co-host to add a second opinion to the news. (If you’d like to be considered for a co-host spot, drop me a line). Please forgive any technical issues, verbal ticks, format issues, etc. in the first few episodes as things become more comfortable and refined… but I think we’re off to a great start!

If you visit you will also notice all 7 current episodes of Inside the Lens have found a new home here as well. Those subscription links are active now, and I’ve got two new interviews already scheduled.

Very exciting times!

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First Snowfall
We’ve just received our first snowfall of the season, and I’d like to do something special, something I’ve never done before. This snowflake image is being released into the “Public Domain”. This snowflake goes out to the world, for any purpose anyone wishes. It’ll be a fun experiment to see where it ends up!

“Public Domain” means I give up all rights to the image. You are not required to credit me (though I’d like it if you would!), you can use the image for any commercial or non-commercial purpose what-so-ever. You can make and sell prints, put it on a coffee mug, or anything you can imagine. This is the only time I have ever placed an image in the public domain. Have fun with it!

This particular snowflake has plenty of detail and symmetry, making it an iconic symbol of winter. Very few snowflakes would rival this one in visual balance: radiating textures and complexity sealed within a much more simple outer shape. Many of these internal details are bubbles trapped in the ice, which happens when the top and bottom “edge” of a snowflake grow faster than the inner portion of the crystal. Whatever sticks out the farthest grows the fastest, which applies on many size scales for a snowflake – it’s also the reason why branches grow from each corner of a smaller hexagon shape.

You can see this hexagon shape in the center. This little “gem” is what remains of a pair of tiny hexagons that were connected by a center column, looking initially like a barbell. At warmer temperatures, snowflakes will grow into columns instead of plates, but if the temperature then drops, plates grow from either side of the column to get this shape… then the race is on! If one small hexagon grows faster than the other, its footprint would stick out farther than its rival. Once this happens, the larger hexagon will grow rapidly and leave the competition at the same size without access to more building blocks (water vapour) to grow. As the winning side grows outward, branches form and we get the classic snowflake shape with the right stable conditions.

A snowflake can “split” into new rival plates as well, which happens when a cavity in the ice grows large enough to encompass the entire end of a growing branch. This is all the same physics at play, and what allows for bubbles to form in the ice. Once the tip of a branch is split, they may continue to grow outward together for a time, but one side will always win over the other. This creates tiny “shelves” that can be seen where the largest side-branches in the snowflake appear. If you look closely, you can even see the top shelf casting a shadow on the underlying ice.

Amazingly complex structures form from simple water molecules attaching themselves together with the right conditions. Even two snowflakes growing in the same part of the same cloud will inherently be different, as even the tiniest change in humidity and temperature can make a big difference; these small changes echo out through the entire crystal as growth continues, amplifying the earlier history of the snowflake. If conditions are unstable, you often get very unbalanced / asymmetrical crystals – and this is by far the most common type of snowflake. To find well balanced and symmetrical snowflakes like this is not easy, but well worth the effort. And even by the time it lands in my home-made black mitten to be photographed, it has already started to evaporate back into thin air.

Such is the magic of winter.

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Ultraviolet Maverick
So, this happened. It’s probably the geekiest and nerdiest self-portrait I could have come up with. Shot in Ultraviolet reflectance with a wide-angle lens, I’ve been told I resemble a 1980’s David Hasselhoff on a mission for justice.

This image was inspired by a suggestions from The Two Hosers Photo Show for an episode released today: - the photo challenge was a wide-angle portrait and the topic was ultraviolet photography, so this was the natural progression of the idea. Later that day I was interviewed for the “Geek Questioner” podcast, and when asked “what’s the geekiest thing I’ve done?”… I had to mention this image. It became the title of the podcast: - if you want a glimpse at my inner geek, this is also a great podcast to listen to!

Essentially, this shot evolved from the protective eyewear that blocks ultraviolet light. I know the eyewear would appear opaque in the image, like some deeply tinted sunglasses. This needed to be coupled with a leather jacket (naturally), and something vaguely weapon-like. This ended up being a Canon Auto Bellows and a 20mm macro lens from 1978, fitted to my modern DSLR. A few test shots to get the pose and the focus right, and we had the shot!

This was taken with a custom-modified 28mm F/2.8 lens with excellent ultraviolet transmission properties. The mod was done by eBay seller “igoriginal” who also has a great 35mm lens for macro work. This 28mm lens offers infinity focus which is a nice touch, and required for images like this. Normal lenses, especially the expensive high-end ones, are usually the worst choices for UV reflectance work because of the advanced coatings, higher number of elements, and the “glue” that holds some of these elements together all block the transmission of ultraviolet light. Purpose-build UV lenses are often made with quartz elements and cost over $8000, but these 28mm and 35mm lenses work in a pinch and cost a very small fraction of that (roughly $100).

While these lenses come with filters, I use my favourite combo for UV reflectance. They’re not cheap, but it’s the best available: The XNite 330C coupled with the XNite BP1 to remove all traces of the visible and infrared spectrum from entering the lens. Even a 1% contamination of infrared light can equal the same intensity of the ultraviolet light, so getting good filters is very important for this kind of photography.

Ultraviolet portraits can be a lot of fun, but also medically valuable. Dermatologists use this kind of imaging to reveal problems with your skin, and anyone with freckles or blemishes will see them drastically enhanced with this kind of imagery. On a smaller scale it can reveal hidden patterns in flowers that are designed to attract insects, and many other scientific uses I have yet to explore.

Wide-angle portraits, especially at a close distance, often suffer from some level of distortion. My arm was noticeably larger than the proper proportion, so a little adjustment with the Liquify tool in Photoshop was needed to adjust the thickness to match the rest of me. This tool is often used to make models look skinnier than they actually are, but it’s a great distortion correction tool as well!

I don’t do many self-portraits, and they all tend to be geeky… but I think this one will be hard to beat. :)

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2018 Snowflake Coin is Here!
I’ve been waiting to announce this for a long while: My tireless efforts to capture the beauty and magic of snowflakes are featured on a 2018 coin from the Royal Canadian Mint. This is the second time I have had such an honour, and I’m blown away with what they have been able to do. The last one sold out quickly, and the mintage this year is the same – grab a copy while you can!

This coin features the outline of three larger snowflake footprints covered with a glittering prismatic enamel, as well as an assortment of additional snowflakes surrounding them. The engravers at the Royal Canadian Mint did an excellent job as always here, and the smaller snowflakes are measured and placed in actual size. That little feature isn’t mentioned in the description (as I doubt they would be able to independently verify it), but I’m no stranger to measuring snowflakes. :)

A 1oz pure silver coin featuring photorealistic snowflakes – perfect for anyone who enjoys our winter months! The mint also offers some very elegant “floating frames” that seemingly suspend the coin in mid-air. I have one for my coin last year and I’ll be buying one for this year’s coin as well:

I cannot describe the feeling of having my work featured in such a permanent and beautiful way. Please check this out!

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If you've enjoyed my ultraviolet work lately, you'll love reading about it in this Petapixel article I wrote, published today. A great way to share this nearly-magical technique with others so they can see a gallery and descriptions all at once!
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