White Snow, Black Snow, Pink Snow, Blue Snow

January 3rd, 2010

Hands down, my favorite book for browsing is M. Minneart’s The Nature of Light & Color in the Open Air. This small, easy to carry (and cheap if you get the Dover edition) book has 233 short sections on things one can see 'in the open air'; for example, twinkling of stars, the color of lakes, and the rainbow. Section 93 is on black snow, in which he notes how the apparent whiteness of a falling snowflake seems to change from blackish to whitish when the flake’s background changes from the grey sky above to a darker background below (such as dark-green trees). It is a simple enough observation, but I didn’t bother looking for it until a few years ago. Indeed, the illusion of whiteness change is strong. Look for it next time you go out when it's snowing.

On a walk on Jan. 2, I took the picture below because I thought the sun poking through the cloud was interesting, and then later realized that I could easily compare the whiteness of the flakes. Minneart's next section describes a related contrast illusion that also can be tested in the picture - the feeling that the snow on the ground is brighter (or whiter) than the sky above. See if you can shake this illusion next time you go out in the snow.

The sky in the picture is not uniformly grey, as Minneart assumes in his discussion, but is a yellowish-red at and below the level of the sun. So, for the comparison of the sky brightness to the snow brightness, I chose a patch of sky of sky at the place within the green box marked 'A' in the upper left, where the sky is darker. (To see this and other boxes, you can click on the picture to enlarge it.)

Full story »

Happy New Year 2010

January 1st, 2010
Snow Crystal Photo

A nice lake effect snow blew in early this morning to greet the new year. I spent a little time photographing out in the garage. It's a new year so I tried a couple of new ideas for lighting the snow crystals - this one worked! Not much else to show for the morning's shoot, and by 10 a.m. the snow had stopped and has not yet returned. Hopefully there will be more chances later this weekend. As always, click on the image for a larger view.

-- Mark

Feedback from the Blogosphere

January 1st, 2010

Here are three reviews of The Story of Snow that have appeared in the blogosphere over the last month (plus a few days): 

Abby (the) Librarian describes the books as "beautiful and interesting" and discuses pairing it with Snowflake Bentley when teaching about snow and winter. You can find the full review here:

 http://abbylibrarian.blogspot.com/2009/12/book-review-story-of-snow.html

 The Miss Rumphius Effect - a blog aimed at teachers and educators - reviewed Snowflake Bentley and The Story of Snow both in a common post. The Story of Snow was described as "visually appealing and highly informative." You can see the whole review here:

http://missrumphiuseffect.blogspot.com/2009/12/nonfiction-monday-let-it-snow.html

 A Patchwork Of Books comments that the book "takes every day questions about snow and answers them with a simple, yet informative method." You can read the whole review here:

 http://apatchworkofbooks.blogspot.com/2009/11/non-fiction-monday-time-for-snow.html

 There may be more out there but those are ones I ran into. Thanks to everyone who reads the book and takes the time to offer feedback!

 - Mark

 

 

Feedback from the Blogosphere

January 1st, 2010

Here are three reviews of The Story of Snow that have appeared in the blogosphere over the last month (plus a few days):

 Abby (the) Librarian describes the books as "beautiful and interesting" and discuses pairing it with Snowflake Bentley when teaching about snow and winter. You can find the full review here:

http://abbylibrarian.blogspot.com/2009/12/book-review-story-of-snow.html

The Miss Rumphius Effect - a blog aimed at teachers and educators - reviews Snowflake Bentley and The Story of Snow both in a common post. The Story of Snow was described as "visually appealing and highly informative." You can see the whole review here:

 http://missrumphiuseffect.blogspot.com/2009/12/nonfiction-monday-let-it-snow.html

 A Patchwork Of Books comments that the book "takes every day questions about snow and answers them with a simple, yet informative method." You can read the whole review here:

http://apatchworkofbooks.blogspot.com/2009/11/non-fiction-monday-time-for-snow.html

There may be more out there but those are ones I ran into. Thanks to everyone who reads the book and takes the time to offer feedback!

 - Mark

 

 

Not the Worst Winter Ever

December 29th, 2009
Snowflake Photo

The winter of 2009/10 is still quite young, and no one knows what it holds. But at this early date there is one thing I can say for sure - when it comes to snow crystal photos, it won't be the worst winter ever. 

I don't feel like digging into my records to figure out which season exactly was the worst. I first started photographing snow crystals in 1997, and the first few years I worked on it were a real challenge - especially shooting very unforgiving color slide film. But there was one year when, even with digital cameras and a refined and predictable technique, I only managed two good shots. It's just a question of what nature tosses your way, and if you are there to receive it. 

That is part of the deal with nature photography. You take what the earth gives you. Sometimes it is generous; often not. And when not, you just get up and go back out, faithful that things will be different. Whether it's hunting for snow crystals, visiting a pine barrens, hoping to find wildflowers or dragonflies - sometimes nature is bountiful, sometimes not. And often you come home with nothing to show for the effort. 

Some days I wish that it all could be easy. Maybe I could fly to places where the subjects I want to photograph are right there waiting. I'm sure dragonflies are on the wing somewhere. Snow crystals fall in perfection someplace else. Sometimes I feel that I lack dedication, and if I was really serious I would not just shoot photos in my little corner of the world, but rather would go where the subjects are and really produce. It could be easy... and rewarding. 

But if I have learned anything from observing nature, it is that the easy is the most unnatural. And if I have learned anything from art, it is that the product is a distraction and it is the process that is the most compelling. So while bleak winter days can be unrewarding;  while a whole winter can pass and yield just two snow crystal photos;  while there are days I return empty handed, again; and nights dark with doubt - ultimately it is part of the dance, part of the process, part of creation. No matter what, it's a blessing and not to be denied just because there is  nothing to show for it. 

Yeah - I know - try explaining that to folks who say "But what did you do today?" So I am  happy to record in my journal - "2009/10 is not the worst winter ever wrt snow crystals." 

And so here we go - two more shots from Sunday night, embedded in this post. As always - click on the image for a larger file.

The session was not quite as productive as I had hoped, but there is at least another shot in the works and what the heck - did I mention that this is not the worst year ever when it comes to snow crystals?

Snowflake Photo
- Mark

 

New Review On Bookends, a Booklist Blog

December 29th, 2009

Yesterday, a new review of The Story of Snow appeared on  Bookends, a Booklist blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

 “They take a rather technical subject and make it “crystal” clear for really young readers and still retain a tangible sense of wonder. This is a beautiful book and a fascinating book.”

 You can read the whole thing here:

http://bookends.booklistonline.com/2009/12/28/the-story-of-snow-by-mark-cassino-with-jon-nelson/

Ice of Hearts

December 28th, 2009

Back when I lived in Boulder CO, I worked with Charles Knight on developing a new way to grow ice crystals for experimental study. I knew that the problem with most methods was twofold: there were too many crystals too close together to be able to learn how each one behaved on its own, and the surface that held the crystal would influence the crystal’s growth. Charlie hit on a great way to eliminate the first problem: put some water in a small pipette (like a narrow, tapering straw) and freeze the water from the wide end. At the tip, which stuck out into a small observation chamber, ice would grow out as a single crystal. Unfortunately, the smallest pipette tip was about a millimeter in diameter, which is too large. I then tried using Dupont hollowfill fibers, which are about 20 times thinner – about as thick as fine human hair. But this was still too thick. So I started using glass capillaries, which I could heat with a small torch to draw down to sizes 100-1000 times thinner than the pipette – about as thin as small cloud droplets before they freeze into ice. We had our method. From the start we would see things that hadn’t been reported before. Some of these things we (or I) published, but most of the things still remain unpublished. One of them is the heart-shaped crystals. The photo below shows the tip of the capillary, which is about 10 times thinner than human hair, along with a thin heart-shaped crystal.

 

 

After the heart grew a little more, it developed into a hexagonal shape. But probably the most bizarre thing I saw occurred when I decided, just for kicks, to try to evaporate ice from the inside of a crystal by connecting the wide end of the capillary up to a vacuum pump.

Full story »

Snow Crystals!

December 27th, 2009

About the time I was typing “It’s snowing like mad” last night, it stopped snowing.

A feeble mid winter sun greeted us early this morning, and then the clouds rolled in and brought an exceedingly light snow. Come evening, barely half an inch of fresh snow lay on the sidewalks and the car windshields. I had checked the snow throughout the day only to find it to be tiny, crunched-up bits of dusty ice. But stepping outside this evening to grab a log for the fireplace, I was surprised to see that the dust had given way to some very nice snow crystals.

I fired up the camera and for brief intervals in the evening, the dust gave way to crystals, which in turn gave way to dust again. Here’s the first shot of the evening:

Snow Crystal Photo

That one actually looks like two crystals sandwiched together. (As always - click on the image for a larger file.)

Here’s another shot from tonight – the little specks all around it are the ‘dust’ I as referring to early – tiny bits of eroded snow crystals. They make the main subject look quite large – but it was well under 1/16th of an inch in size. More shots will be coming in the next few days.

Snow Crystal Photo
- Mark

Winston - Salem Journal and Chicago Tribune Reviews

December 27th, 2009

Today’s Winston-Salem Journal has a nice article about books to read on snowy days – and The Story of Snow is one of them.  You can read the whole review, Snow Days Call For Snowy Pages here –

http://www2.journalnow.com/content/2009/dec/27/snowy-days-call-for-snowy-pages/

Last week the Chicago Tribune‘s print edition featured a review of winter books for young readers by Mary Harris Russell. Christmas, Snowflake Stories Are Delightful featured only 3 books – The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson, What’s Coming for Christmas by Kate Banks and  The Story of Snow by yours truly.

Sorry – I don’t have a weblink for this review.

It’s snowing like mad here in Michigan. The Christmas storm of 2009 is moving along to the east, and we are falling into the northerly winds. For now it is just a dusty busted up snow with no good snow crystals so far. Once the storm passes and the gentle lake effect snow kicks in, things may get better…at least from the perspective of someone looking for snow crystals to photograph!  Best wishes to everyone who is travelling through this storm during this holiday season.

In the meantime – here’s a shot from last March:

Snow Crystal

 - Mark

Hoar in a Hole

December 26th, 2009
A hole in the ground is a good place to look for large hoar crystals. Next to some rice paddies, just uphill from the tubs, lies a few small holes in the cement roadway. From eye level, the white tinge of hoar frost just inside the lip is easily overlooked. Indeed, the hole pictured below is slightly less than 3 cm across at the widest and I sometimes have to look twice before I notice the ice.

Like snow, hoar can grow as a thin plate, a thin dendrite, a long column, a sharp needle, or some intermediate form, except hoar generally grows out in only one direction, not the six directions of the snow crystal. The ground surface here can dip slightly below freezing, but a short distance below the surface lies warmer, often moister, ground. At such temperatures (i.e., within a few degrees of freezing), both snow and hoar grow into platelike, or tabular, forms. Even when nearby blades of grass or foliage have columnar hoar crystals, the hole usually has tabular, showing that a small change of temperature changes the crystal considerably. (The dendrite, the most extreme tabular crystal form, grows at temperatures even lower than the columns.) (a) shows a few long, narrow crystals with jagged edges like a sawblade. And like a sawblade, these crystals are thin, as some of the side-views in (b) show.

-JN