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Don Komarechka
1,332,156 followers -
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!

http://skycrystals.ca/product/sky-crystals-unraveling-the-mysteries-of-snowflakes-ebook/

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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Snowflake-a-Day No. 15
While the branches of this snowflake don’t add much to its beauty, the center more than makes up for it. It’s shockingly similar to the Imperial logo / symbol from Star Wars. :) View large!

These types of patterns in snowflakes are surprisingly common with the right conditions. A bubble/cavity starts to form in the ice in the middle of each side, slowly widening until it reaches the corners. The lighter area you see is this bubble in the ice. Why is it lighter? Using reflected light photography, there are more reflective layers of ice. This brighter area would be the same as the branches if I was using transmitted light photography (having the light source behind the snowflake and passing through it to the camera).

I’ll probably experiment with backlit snowflakes at some point this year, but you lose the sense of depth created by the trapped bubbles and you’d entirely miss out on the vibrant colours created by thin film interference. That’s something I’d hate to ever miss!

This crystal was also one that fell during a recent snowfall, and photographed within minutes of snowflakes 12, 13 and 14. I always shoot as many as I can when the opportunities exist as we don’t get good snowflakes every day, sometimes shooting as many as 30-40 if the conditions are perfect. While it only takes me a few minutes to shoot these crystals, it takes an average of four hours to edit them, combining an average of 40 separate images together – each one having a tiny slice of focus.

Because of the speed of shooting and the lengthy editing, you can imagine that I’ve got a significant backlog. The beginning of every snowflake series I dig into the best of previous years, which is currently at almost 700 unedited snowflakes. If I didn’t pick up my camera and shoot anything new, I’d still be good to keep this series going for nearly a decade more. That won’t stop me from shooting every new snowfall however, and hopefully this winter I’ll have time for some fun experiments to push limits even further.

If you’d like to know more about the science of snowflakes with an exhaustive and comprehensive tutorial on how to photograph and edit these little gems, check out my book Sky Crystals:
Hardcover: https://www.skycrystals.ca/book/
eBook: https://www.skycrystals.ca/ebook/

Other things you might be interested in:

2018 Ice Crystals Coin from the Royal Canadian Mint featuring my snowflakes: http://www.mint.ca/store/coins/coin-prod3040427

“The Snowflake” print, taking 2500 hours to create: http://skycrystals.ca/product/poster-proof/

Photo Geek Weekly, my new podcast: http://www.photogeekweekly.com/
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Snowflake-a-Day No. 14
The same weather system that created the two previous snowflakes also created this one, and while vastly different, certainly does not disappoint. View large!

I love when snowflakes go through a growth shift, just like we see here. Broad, stable branches gave way to much more dendritic (tree-like) patterns from each corner of the main branches, developing into a very asymmetrical but somehow still balanced crystal. If you look closely at every branch, there’s a story to tell. Some branches grew faster and “cut off” the growth of others, effectively caging them in. Others had enough momentum to grow underneath their neighbour, because this snowflake started as a capped column.

See the tiny circle in the center? That’s holding the two halves of this crystal together. The top, bottom, and right branches all belong to the bottom plate and the left two belong to the top plate. There’s a bit of a collision in the lower left area where a bottom side-branch grows underneath one of the bottom-left side-branches, possible only because the two are on slightly different planes, separated only by the thickness of the column tying them together.

As far as details go, you can easily see that the side of the crystal with the surface details are inverted on each plate. This is suspiciously common on split crystals to have surface details facing toward the center column. This happens almost every time as if there is some rule that dictates this is how it has to grow, but I can’t figure out the logic here. Just one of those mysteries that keeps me up at night!

Split crystals can be beautiful, and drastic growth shifts only make them more intricate and ornate. This is one of the best I’ve seen so far!

If you’d like to know more about the science of snowflakes with an exhaustive and comprehensive tutorial on how to photograph and edit these little gems, check out my book Sky Crystals:
Hardcover: https://www.skycrystals.ca/book/
eBook: https://www.skycrystals.ca/ebook/

Other things you might be interested in:

2018 Ice Crystals Coin from the Royal Canadian Mint featuring my snowflakes: http://www.mint.ca/store/coins/coin-prod3040427

“The Snowflake” print, taking 2500 hours to create: http://skycrystals.ca/product/poster-proof/

Photo Geek Weekly, my new podcast: http://www.photogeekweekly.com/
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Snowflake-a-Day No. 13
This snowflake takes colour to a whole new level – and vaguely resembles the Millennium Falcon. Seems fitting that this snowflake fell to Earth during the week that Star Wars Episode 8 debuts! View large!

There’s a lot of magic in this snowflake, some that can be explained and some that can’t. The flower-like center is an easy place to start. See the brighter lines closest to the center? Small cavities began to open up in the sides of the snowflake where less water vapour was able to build onto the thin sides of the crystal. These cavities grew larger until the completely encompassed the snowflake and split into two competing plates. These plates continued to grow in in parallel with each-other, and then something weird happened.

Solid structure gave way to an uneven reconstitution of the two plates. This often happens when humidity levels or temperatures rise slightly, but the chaotic / organic pattern that results defies my understanding. It’s also not the first time I’ve seen it. Here’s a few examples from previous years: https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkom/24652821780/in/dateposted-public/ , https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkom/15820188480/in/dateposted-public/ ). I distinctly remember consulting Ken Libbrecht – physicist at CalTech and one of the world’s best snowflake scientists, to define the latter of the two. When we decided that the dots in the center were bubbles in the ice, he couldn’t explain it – and a similar bit of physics is at play here.

This splash pattern could be the result of conditions bouncing back and forth on the conditions that create cavities and bubbles in the ice, possibly riding the very fine line in terms of fractions of degrees in temperature or subtle variations in humidity… but I don’t know how I could experimentally prove that. The rainbow pattern in the center, however… I have a workable theory on.

See the circle in the very center? That is extremely likely caused by inward crystal growth – a thicker outer edge growing back in towards the center at the same time as the snowflake continues growing outward and forming branches. While colours in the ice are usually caused by a thickness shift in the internal cavity, they can also be triggered by the ice getting thicker or thinner on the outside as well. Where the colours gradually shift, we’re seeing the aerodynamic properties of the snowflake. As air blew across the surface, it deposited more water vapour into the crystal structure, which shifted the colours. Why these colours also correlate to the largest deformation in the underlying bubble could be that the same aerodynamic properties of the crystal existed when the cavities were forming, and continued as the snowflake grew larger. How a snowflake tumbles and twirls in the air has a huge impact on its final design.

Arguably one of the most vivid enigmas I’ve ever seen falling from the sky. I don’t think Han Solo would approve of the paint job.

If you’d like to know more about the science of snowflakes with an exhaustive and comprehensive tutorial on how to photograph and edit these little gems, check out my book Sky Crystals:
Hardcover: https://www.skycrystals.ca/book/
eBook: https://www.skycrystals.ca/ebook/

Other things you might be interested in:

2018 Ice Crystals Coin from the Royal Canadian Mint featuring my snowflakes: http://www.mint.ca/store/coins/coin-prod3040427

“The Snowflake” print, taking 2500 hours to create: http://skycrystals.ca/product/poster-proof/

Photo Geek Weekly, my new podcast: http://www.photogeekweekly.com/


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Photo Geek Weekly Episode 6 is out! In the copilot seat is +Mike James ("Sharky" James) for a chat about everything from the software woes of the L16 camera to how mantis shrimp see colour and polarized light. You'll want to give it a listen!

http://photogeekweekly.com/podcast/photo-geek-weekly-episode-6-re-inventing-the-wheel-broken-systems/
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Snowflake-a-Day No. 12
I’m having a hard time believing this one is real. Not even five minutes after heading out to photograph my first new snowflakes of the season, I discover this nearly perfect beauty. This is the reason why I head out to photograph new snowflakes even though I have many hundreds from previous years that I haven’t had the time to edit. View large!

Slow, stable growth gives is broad-branched snowflakes, and this one shows some signs of spinning in a fairly stable way. This is the only way I can explain the side-branches always being larger on their right side when looking up at them from the center. If this crystal was rotating in a clockwise manner, then more water vapour would be available to build up the branches like this, but it wouldn’t have an appreciable impact on the order branches where the building blocks were more abundant. Just a theory!

The center ties it all together, and it’s very hard to explain. The large hexagon is sitting above the lower plate (you can see underlying features of the snowflake below it), and the darker dot in the center is usually a symbol of a start as a “capped column” type of snowflake. It’s very rare for this to result in a very large hexagon in the center, but more like the smaller one in the middle, gem-like in appearance… So where did these two hexagons come from? I don’t know.

I suppose the mystery would be easier to solve if I had the opportunity to flip it over and photograph the opposite side, but as soon as the photos were taken it caught a whisper of wind and disappeared.

I’m going to say that this snowflakes makes it into my all-time top 10 list. I contemplated saving it for later in the series, but if this is how the season starts I’m sure I’ll have plenty more gems to share as winter takes hold. :)

If you’d like to know more about the science of snowflakes with an exhaustive and comprehensive tutorial on how to photograph and edit these little gems, check out my book Sky Crystals:
Hardcover: https://www.skycrystals.ca/book/
eBook: https://www.skycrystals.ca/ebook/

Other things you might be interested in:

2018 Ice Crystals Coin from the Royal Canadian Mint featuring my snowflakes: http://www.mint.ca/store/coins/coin-prod3040427

“The Snowflake” print, taking 2500 hours to create: http://skycrystals.ca/product/poster-proof/

Photo Geek Weekly, my new podcast: http://www.photogeekweekly.com/
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Snowflake-a-Day No. 11
An unusual little snowflake, but one worth featuring in this series for a number of reasons. View large!

This little gem finds its balance but it’s far from symmetrical. If we start at the center, we see a strange darker “blob”; this blob separates into two new plates of ice when a cavity growing in the middle of each side (where the bubbles form) grows large enough to encompass the corners and split the snowflake in half. After these two new plates stabilize, we see the pleasantly vibrant happenings of Thin Film Interference. (Read more if you’re curious: http://skycrystals.ca/pages/optical-interference-pages.jpg )

The battle to split the crystal in two wasn’t “clean”, which is why the central blob is misshapen. This has a lasting impact on the rest of the snowflake’s growth, creating outer branches that somewhat mimic the internal shape. The ornate corners around the coloured area have the longer branches, and the fine-point corners (bottom left and bottom right) are the smallest branches. The correlation of details here is important – what begins as something small in the center has a lasting impact on the rest of the life of a snowflake. I suppose the same could be said for people!

The branches themselves are somewhat uninspired, I’ll admit that. They do have one telltale feature that is worth mentioning: nubs. Yes, nubs. Notice how the very tip of many of the corners stick out a little more than the rest of the crystal? It’s subtle, but very important: snowflakes do not grow this way, but they do sublimate this way.

A snowflake begins evaporating as soon as it leaves the clouds on its way to the ground. The thinner areas disappear first, which is why the corners last longer when things are starting to disappear. The corners were growing thicker, and so these little nubs are a reminder of that as it begins to fade away. If you ever see these little features on a snowflake, know that it is only a memory of its former self. This one has only begun to fade, but you’ll always see this in a snowflake past its prime.

If you’d like to know more about the science of snowflakes with an exhaustive and comprehensive tutorial on how to photograph and edit these little gems, check out my book Sky Crystals:
Hardcover: https://www.skycrystals.ca/book/
eBook: https://www.skycrystals.ca/ebook/

Other things you might be interested in:

2018 Ice Crystals Coin from the Royal Canadian Mint featuring my snowflakes: http://www.mint.ca/store/coins/coin-prod3040427

“The Snowflake” print, taking 2500 hours to create: http://skycrystals.ca/product/poster-proof/

Photo Geek Weekly, my new podcast: http://www.photogeekweekly.com/


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Snowflake-a-Day No. 10
A colourful snowflake with a rainbow twist, something that is usually only seen when the crystal is beginning to deteriorate, and there are some subtle signs that it’s starting to melt… and solid green becomes almost every colour you can imagine. View large!

Soap bubbles have rainbow patterns in them from the same physics: thin film interference. Snowflakes usually have static colours that do not vary over time because the thickness of the ice is static (whereas gravity is pulling on a liquid bubble and constantly changing the thicknesses). When a snowflake begins to melt, however, you see the shift to fluid dynamics in the interference colours. The upper left corner has begun to melt, spilling water into the cavity inside the ice.

You’ll see that there is no interference colour seen in the very “tip” of what should be the coloured area. I can only assume that this is filled with water, and that some of the water is beginning to drain into the rest of the bubble from there. This in turn changes the thickness of the ice and affects what colour comes back from optical interference (keen to know the whole story, then these pages of Sky Crystals should help: http://skycrystals.ca/pages/optical-interference-pages.jpg )

Rarely do we see this melting process happening, because it often happens so fast that the snowflake is nothing more than a droplet of water a few seconds later. If the snowflake was affected by some ambient temperature like radiant heat from my paintbrush or even my breath, a very temporary addition of heat can “damage” a snowflake like this. Truly nature’s most fragile gem!

While technically “damaged”, this extra display of colour is what makes this image even more magical for me. Additionally, there is a small rainbow effect created where a piece of ice is resting on top of the crystal, partially fused so that I couldn’t easily remove it. This could be the “alternative” type of interference, not created by the thickness of the ice but by the thickness of the gap between two layers of ice… I won’t get too technical here, but if you have an understanding of how these colours come to be, this might make sense to you. :)

Also: notice the very strong three-fold symmetry in the center? By the time you get to the outer footprint of this tiny hexagonal snowflake, you can barely see the difference between the even and odd sides – beyond the inherent chaos that comes when a snowflake grows larger.

If you’d like to know more about the science of snowflakes with an exhaustive and comprehensive tutorial on how to photograph and edit these little gems, check out my book Sky Crystals:
Hardcover: https://www.skycrystals.ca/book/
eBook: https://www.skycrystals.ca/ebook/

Other things you might be interested in:

2018 Ice Crystals Coin from the Royal Canadian Mint featuring my snowflakes: http://www.mint.ca/store/coins/coin-prod3040427

“The Snowflake” print, taking 2500 hours to create: http://skycrystals.ca/product/poster-proof/

Photo Geek Weekly, my new podcast: http://www.photogeekweekly.com/
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Snowflake-a-Day No. 9
This broad-branched symmetrical snowflake is simple but beautiful. It’s a great example of what can happen in stable conditions, and there are a few fun facts here as well. View large!

See the dual lines running down each branch? These are bubbles in the ice that exist as hollow tubes. The exact reason why they form on either side of a corner and extend outward is still somewhat of a mystery to me, at least when trying to describe how they form perfectly straight lines as the snowflake grows outward. These are very common features and you’ll find them on most larger snowflakes, but they still have me a little puzzled. I think a conversation with a physicist is in order. :)

This snowflake is also a crystal twin, with a gem-like center… but that jeweled center is on the opposite side of the snowflake. Seeing this feature from the backside, we can make a very novel discovery: there is an evaporation crater surrounding it. See that circle in the center? It’s a concave feature surrounding the central jewel. This happens when the jewel collects all of the available building blocks nearby and not allowing any to be attracted to the underlying snowflake surface. Since snowflakes are always in flux – evaporating and adding to their structure, this puts the equation to the negative for the base plate, eroding it. When there are only a few stray water molecules to go around, it’s easy for this to happen – and its part of almost every crystal twin snowflake.

A tiny shining snowflake, with a few common features that perfectly illustrate both the predictable nature of these crystals and the mysteries they contain. Many more of these images to come!

If you’d like to know more about the science of snowflakes with an exhaustive and comprehensive tutorial on how to photograph and edit these little gems, check out my book Sky Crystals:
Hardcover: https://www.skycrystals.ca/book/
eBook: https://www.skycrystals.ca/ebook/

Other things you might be interested in:

2018 Ice Crystals Coin from the Royal Canadian Mint featuring my snowflakes: http://www.mint.ca/store/coins/coin-prod3040427

“The Snowflake” print, taking 2500 hours to create: http://skycrystals.ca/product/poster-proof/

Photo Geek Weekly, my new podcast: http://www.photogeekweekly.com/
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Snowflake-a-Day No. 8
Snowflakes come in many varieties that make have you saying “is that really a snowflake?” – this is one of them. One of the smallest snowflakes I have photographed to date, this tiny ornate columned gem is a real snowflake. View large!

Measuring 0.3mm wide and 0.44mm tall, we’re definitely into the realm of crystals you wouldn’t even be able to visually perceive. At this small scale, there are still some very interesting details to discover…. But how do you even go about finding such a snowflake?

The standard visual approach of location a snowflake with your eyes doesn’t work. Usually I’d identify an interesting snowflake and use a small paintbrush to clean it off, position it, and then lay the brush on the mitten pointing to the snowflake. For crystals like this, you just need to hunt around randomly in the viewfinder until you come across something interesting.

At slightly warmer temperatures (-3C to -6C or so) snowflakes tend to grow into columns rather than plates. These columns are often the starting point for larger crystals when temperatures drop, growing plates from either end, but if the temperatures stay warmer, these tiny little gems will fall from the sky. There are a few notable elements to a column crystal:

Many of them are hollow. While it might be difficult to discern, the lower end is open slightly in an almost trigonal window that is closing an internal cavity. This is likely happening on the other end as well, resulting in an hour-glass design. These cavities are caused by the same physics that gives us the ornate carved outer edges.

Whatever sticks out the farthest, grows the fastest. Simple logic, and that means that corners and edges grow faster than the inner areas of any prism facet. While there are bound to be some anomalies to keep things interesting, we’re seeing the effects of this “rule” all over the place.

“Volumetric” snowflakes like this one are harder to edit, as you often have multiple layers of detail from the front and the back of the snowflake in direct competition for the same pixels due to the transparent nature of the subject. I’ll often favour the front side but ghost in some slight details from within for the best effect. Fewer images are usually required to put these images together (this one was 26 separate frames for focus stacking), but the total editing time often exceeds four hours.

We’ll get 2-3 snowfalls a season that provide us with interesting column-type crystals here, and the conditions will only last a half hour or less on average. By the time the next cloud rolls over, the variables are different and so are the resulting snowflakes. Get while the getting’s good!


If you’d like to know more about the science of snowflakes with an exhaustive and comprehensive tutorial on how to photograph and edit these little gems, check out my book Sky Crystals:

Hardcover: https://www.skycrystals.ca/book/
eBook: https://www.skycrystals.ca/ebook/

Other things you might be interested in:

2018 Ice Crystals Coin from the Royal Canadian Mint featuring my snowflakes: http://www.mint.ca/store/coins/coin-prod3040427

“The Snowflake” print, taking 2500 hours to create: http://skycrystals.ca/product/poster-proof/

Photo Geek Weekly, my new podcast: http://www.photogeekweekly.com/
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