This is one of the most uncommon types of snowflake you can encounter. A split crystal with broad branches that grows to a huge size with spade-like ends, and then things speed up to create spears at the ends. This defies standard classifications. View large!
This snowflake was going to be part of the final 10 images at the end of last season, but I just didn’t have the time for the extensive editing required. There were too many interactions with other shards of snowflakes and fibers from the mitten, so much so that there was some amount of “reconstructive surgery” to bring this image to you. This means cloning from other parts of the snowflake to cover up other crystal clutter sitting on top of it.
This kind of editing is time consuming, but not terribly difficult. Since a snowflake is all 60 degree angles, it’s easy to find an edge that matches, and some internal details that match up perfectly. I don’t do this kind of editing often though, it probably happens in 3-4 snowflakes a season. I like to be transparent about these things, so here is a mid-editing snapshot before the cloning began: http://skycrystals.ca/bts/DKP_2139-BTS.jpg
Two of the outer tips needed to be replaced – one was completely covered with clutter and the other had broken off slightly and wasn’t completely reflective to the camera. A little bit of creative license was applied to these, but the rest of the edits were able to be done very accurately since neighbouring features were nearly identical.
I mentioned it in yesterday’s post, but I usually use a small artist’s paintbrush to gently brush off a lot of this clutter, but in my first attempt at doing so, the pressure snapped the one outer branch piece. I knew that successive sweeps would cause more damage than good, so I shot it as-is. Snowflakes are very fragile, more so as they get larger. I’ve accidentally snapped snowflakes in half with the slightest touch; I don’t often swear, but this is one of the exceptions. :)
Quick notes about the history of this crystal: It started as a column that grew plates from each side. The top plate grew faster on the left side and the bottom plate grew faster on the right, giving three branches to each initial plate (and this is a very fragile connection between the halves of the snowflake). Growth was slow but a few bumps in humidity allowed branches to form, and then the building blocks almost disappeared. The “spades” form in low humidity, as if the snowflake drifted too high above the main cloud or trailed behind it. The spikey growth at the tips is from more rapid growth, probably as the snowflake fell to Earth and passed through a layer of more humid air to accelerate the growth. It then fell on my black mitten to be photographed.
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:
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/