Category: "Photos"

Anticipating Snowfall...

January 25th, 2010
The January thaw lasted extra long this year, with temperatures yesterday topping 50F here in Kalamazoo. But in the winter the warm days are usually precede a cold snap - and it's cooling off a bit now. A little snow is actually blowing in the air. Let's hope for snowfall and a chance for photos. Above is one taken three weeks ago, on January 4, 2010, the last opportunity for snow crystal photos hereabouts. - Mark

USA Today's Book Roundup

January 21st, 2010

The Story of Snow is featured in today's USA Today's  Book Roundup - in an article entitled Weather the Winter with a Picture Book. The book is described as "an artistic science lesson about the rise and fall of snow crystals."  The article also features Carl's Snowy Afternoon by Alexandra Day, Life in the Boreal Forest by Brenda Z. Guiberson, illustrated by Gennady Spirin and Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson by Sharon Robinson, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.

You can read the on-line version here:


Last night I spoke at the Grand Rapids Camera Club and provided a demo of how to take snow crystal photo. The turnout was great with well over 100 people in the room, and it was a lot of fun.

The presentation is a bit of a stroll down memory lane and the evolution of the process I use to take snow crystal photos. Of course, it starts at the beginning, with the very first snow crystal shots I managed to make. Here they are - from the winter of 1998/99. It was my second or third try at it, only very small crystals were falling, and on a wing and prayer I snapped a few shots with a high magnification setup, manual flash, and ancient Spotmatic film camera. I was really happy with the results, but it was the end of the season and there were no more opportunities that winter.

It took me a few more years till I was able to duplicate these results, but these photos gave me the inspiration to keep on trying...


Snow Crystal
Snow Crystal
As always - click on the image for a larger file.
- Mark

Reviews in McClatchy Newspapers

January 19th, 2010

On Monday several of the newspapers for the McClatchy company ran a review of The Story of Snow in their "Read It:" column.  An excerpt: "Part science, part art, this beautiful book explains a bit of the chemistry behind winter's cold, white precipitation and also features startlingly detailed and amazing photos of ice crystals."

Here's a link to the review in The Sacramento Bee:

Monday evening also brought a bit of snow to SW Michigan. The crystals were not terribly clean or symmetric, but here are a couple of snaps:

Snow Crystal Photo
Snow Crystal Photo
- Mark

NSTA Recommends: The Story of Snow

January 14th, 2010

A little while ago I mentioned that The Story of Snow was named an Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2010 by the national Science Teachers Association and Children's Book Council. Here's a link to a review that appeared a couple of days ago on the NSTA's website:

To quote reviewer Diana Wiig: "I loved this book! What a wonderful combination of art and science. The explanations are thorough, yet simply stated. The photos/illustrations are exceptional."

We're in the midst of the January thaw here in Michigan, with balmy temperatures up to 40F and yesterday a rare sunny day.No new snow crystal photos for now.  

Here's an old  photo -  taken on film in 2003.

Snow Crystal Photo
- Mark

A Few More Lighting Experiments

January 6th, 2010
Snow Crystal

I'm continuing to work on taking snow crystal photos to the next level. It's funny because in past years I tried different approaches to lighting, and none of them worked. So it was a surprise when I picked up a couple of spare C9 holiday lights, dropped them on the flash, and suddenly saw a whole new range of colors in the snow crystals.

I tried similar things in the past, but they just haven't worked. Then I realize that I've been fiddling with the exact placement of the flash beneath the coffee can that holds the glass plate full of snow. Adding the colors, combined with the way the light from the flash was bouncing around inside the coffee can, did the trick. Insanity has been described as doing the same thing over and over, hoping for a different result. But sometimes it turns out, you're not really doing the same thing and you may have learned something new, even if you don't know it.

Now, if only the snow would cooperate. Here are three shots from last night. The lake effect bands have been running to the west of Kalamazoo these last few days. Every now and then one drifts our way and brushes against the city.  If I'm lucky I get half an hour, maybe a little longer, before the band of falling snow wanders back. Unfortunately, the snow that has been falling hasn't been the most photogenic.

The crystal at the top of this post landed on its side. I knew that it would exceed the camera's depth of field, but I liked how it looked in the finder. It's easy to imagine the crystal falling through the atmosphere. Below is a  simple crystal that has a 'spur' (as I'll call it) growing perpendicularly out of the center. I see many of these - I'm not sure why they form. The crystal is also spotted with rime.

Snow Crystal

Lastly - here's another double crystal, similar in basic structure to the one I posted on 12/27, but with much greater difference in size between the two crystals that make it up. As always, click on an image for a larger view.

Snow Crystal

 Let's hope for more snow, soon!


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

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


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