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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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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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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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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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Happy Independence Day!
To all of my friends, family and colleagues in the United States of America – have an excellent Independence Day! I chose to dig through my unedited snowflakes from last winter to find this gem, almost like a frozen firework. View large!

Originally photographed February 15th of this year, this was one of many snowflakes that I just couldn’t edit over the winter months for lack of time. It has a few unusual features in the center, but it’s largely what many people would consider a “classic” snowflake for a classic celebration.

The center of this crystal is interesting on three levels. If we look at the very center, you’ll notice that this crystal began as a column that grew plate-like crystals from each side – the evidence for this is the tiny hexagon shape seen through the ice. This little hexagon is a smaller plate on the opposite side of the crystal that stayed small while the other side grew, probably because it was facing the direction of incoming water vapour. That scenario is common; I’ve seen many dozens of snowflakes with similar features. What sets this snowflake apart is that it is also a “split plate”.

A split plate is when two plates complete for water vapour and some corners on one side “win”, while the remaining corners grow out from the other plate. As soon as one corner of a plate is larger than its parallel competition, the battle is over – the larger footprint gathers more water vapour and it grows exponentially. This in itself is also very common. What I don’t think I’ve ever seen before is a “jewel-like” plate on one side and a split plate on the other, because it would require three plates at the origin and a column would typically only have two ends.

Typically, of course. On rare occasions I have seen plate-like growths start to form in the center of a column, sometimes due to collisions with super-cooled water droplets that freeze on impact and create a new nucleation point. Here’s an example of this: - we also see small dark circles on the surface of today’s snowflake that indicate collisions with these same droplets (called “rime” when they accumulate in greater numbers).

A secondary plate may have formed to make this little snowflake extra confusing, but the magic for me is that it remains balanced. The beginnings may have been unusual and somewhat asymmetric, but the final snowflake feels like there is equal weight distributed on each branch. They fit together nicely, even though the branches are certainly not symmetrical. A thing of beauty no matter how you look at it!

Notice how I kept politics out of this write-up? I’d like to keep it that way in the comments, even though the word “snowflake” has taken on political meanings recently. Let’s just celebrate a great historical event and enjoy a fun macro photograph. Cheers to you, USA. Happy 241st Birthday!

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Snowflake-a-Day #70 – Season Finale
Winter has come to an end and so has this year’s snowflake project. I present a wonderful oddity as the final snowflake in this series as a totem to winter. View large!

What? Not 100 snowflakes this year?
After Christmas, the series switched to every other day to make time for other projects and experimentation and more time with family. It was still an exhaustive series to work on with many fun discoveries along the way.

This snowflake is a very unusual mix of many less-common snowflake types. If you look closely you’ll find bullet-type snowflakes are “capped”, otherwise growing plates off one end. Half of the bullet is growing out into a stranger structure with clear right-angles visible, known for creating arrowhead crystals. There are gem-like structures near the bottom, bubbles trapped in the ice, and hollow columns scattered about. This snowflake looks to have started from multiple points, fusing together in the sky and continuing to grow.

These kinds of formations only happen a few degrees below freezing, and this snowflake was one of two that looked even remotely similar among the MANY thousands I looked at from the same snowfall. Truly a rarity, and something is this was also incredibly difficult to edit!

Still limited to just my Surface Pro 3 as I wait for parts to arrive for my main computer, I can’t say I did a perfect job editing this one – the hardware limitations just slow me down and the image you’re seeing represents roughly eight hours of work. The last images in this series were all done with a tablet computer – the project needed to be completed! :)

So, what happens now? I usually go dark for a little while at the end of this series to catch up on other projects, take a bit of down time, and contemplate my next creative ideas. There will be a ton of fun photos posted between now and next winter, where the snowflake series starts again on December 1st. There may be a few posted during the heat of summer as well, just for fun!

If you’d like to say thanks, it would be great if you could look through this series and find a snowflake to share. Spread the word! If you haven’t already purchased a copy of Sky Crystals, you can get it here: - 304pg hardcover book dedicated to the understanding of these gems and how to photograph them capturing every detail. It’s also directly applicable to other areas of macro photography!

If you want to learn macro photography from me directly, there are a number of great workshops between now and August that you can attend, check them out:

And a sincere thank you to everyone who supported and encouraged this project! Let’s let this image represent the end of a great winter and the beginning of something new. :)

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Snowflake-a-Day #69
This has been, by far, the most difficult snowflake to include in this year’s series. Partly because of the complex structure, and partly because of the less effective equipment at hand. I hope you’ll all agree that it was worth the effort. View large!

Stellar Dendrite crystals like this have a classic “feel” to them. They are the kind of snowflake you might imagine or see on television. The beauty of natural snow however, is the balanced imperfections across every branch. There are “rules” that snowflakes follow, that define how they grow. The simple physics of freezing water is a wonderful thing to explore when this kind of creation is the result!

The “balance” we see here is all based on a simple and pervasive rule: Whatever sticks out the farthest will grow the fastest. The exposure to new building blocks (water vapour) allows certain parts of a snowflake to grow faster. This simple rule defines the footprint of this crystal. Branches cannot grow farther when the meet another branch, there’s no water vapour there and in most cases you see small gaps between almost-fused branches. They might touch if the conditions are right, but there are very few building blocks in these areas.

It’s a race. Whatever branch or side-branch can grow faster will have the advantage. This extends to plates competing for water as well, as we see in the very center. There is a roughly hexagonal “button” plate in the center, which lost the battle for building blocks against the main branches. Imagine a small column connecting two small plate crystals as this snowflake was an infant. If the wind was blowing against the backside, the rear snowflake would grow and stick out farther. This would effectively choke off most of the growth of the twin plate, giving the features we see in the center.

Snowflakes are complex, yes. There is endless detail in surface contours and cavities within the ice. At the heart of it, they are all based on a few simple rules. The “branching instability” is what I described above. There is also the “knife-edge instability” that makes snowflake grow faster when they are thinner. The angle at which they fall affect how they grow, and electromagnetism plays a role to some degree as well in very specific situations. Air pressure, temperature, humidity, they all work together to create a snowflake. Change any one of these variables and you change the results. Because of the organized chaos of nature, you’re seeing this snowflake.

The universe is beautiful, isn’t it?

To further explore the beauty and physics of snow, and to follow a comprehensive tutorial to photograph your own snowflakes, take a look at Sky Crystals: - a 304 page hardcover book dedicated to the ideas discussed above. Not only does it make winter more tolerable, it makes you perceive natural beauty with new knowledge and understanding.

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Snowflake-a-Day #68
Another snowflake edit on a small tablet, this one featuring two vibrant and colourful crystals overlapping. I greatly miss my desktop computer due to be back online mid-week! View large!

This post will be quicker than most, as it’s been a long day, but something still needs to be said about this snowflake. The colours here are fabulous and I was thrilled to find this pair. Usually I try to separate such snowflakes and shoot them individually, but these two were firmly attached. Enough force could break them apart, but they’d likely be damaged in the process so I left the overlap. I’d never shot overlapping colourful snowflakes before, so it was a fun experiment!

Since this was edited on a computer with only 8GB of RAM, maybe I should talk about how to deal with the limitations of resource-intensive editing on mobile systems like this Surface Pro 3. You’ll need to limit RAM usage by cropping down your images after alignment, getting rid of excess image data outside of the useful composition before you blend layers. This will make the memory footprint of the stacking operation a little smaller. You can also choose to convert the image from 16-bit to 8-bit, and in the Photoshop “Edit” menu choose “Purge > All” before blending layers. This will remove history states and free up extra memory for the operation.

I normally don’t have to worry about such things, but I’m down to limited equipment after a voltage regulator blew on my desktop computer’s motherboard. I’m glad that I can work on some of these simpler snowflakes while I wait to get back up and running, but they take a lot longer without the proper resources. Still, the show must go on!

If you like this kind of imagery and want to know all the techniques used to create it, check out Sky Crystals: - a 304pg hardcover book I wrote on the topic that is nearly out of print. If I drop below 100 copies left I might raise the price a little… get one now! :) It’s partly images, but beautifully balanced with snowflake science and an exhaustive tutorial on snowflake photography that is directly applicable to many other subjects such as pollen and flowers as the weather warms up!
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