How to Photograph Snowflakes with an Olympus OM-D Camera
Olympus OM-D Cameras are terrific for macro photography including Snowflakes photography. Olympus cameras also have several features that help make macro photography easier: Focus Peaking, MF Assist, and Focus Bracketing.
With the 60mm macro, 10mm & 16mm, and the Raynox DCR-250 macro lens, you’ll have plenty of magnification to capture great snowflake photographs.
In this blog, I’ll tell you how I use my Olympus gear to photograph snowflakes including equipment required, set up, techniques, and post processing tips.
Equipment for Snowflake Photography
Below is a list of equipment that I use to photograph snowflakes. This seems like a long list of equipment, but some of the equipment is optional but will make it easier to get good quality snowflake photographs.
- Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III
- Olympus 60mm Macro Lens
- Tripod. A lot of macro photographers that photograph snowflakes hand hold their cameras. I find that with focus bracketing, even with Olympus’ Image Stabilization, I can’t hold the camera steady enough for a sequence of 30-40 photographs.
- Newer 4-Way Macro Focusing Rail Slider. A focusing rail is optional, but I find it lets me work faster when changing focus between large and small snowflakes.
- Meike 10 & 16mm Extension Tubes. These will allow you to focus closer to the snowflake.
- Raynox DCR-250 Macro Lens. A snap on macro lens that will let give you even greater magnification. To use the Raynox DCR-250 with the Olympus 60mm and 30mm macro lenses, you will need a 46-52mm Step Up Adapter Ring.
- Remote Shutter Release. You can also use the delayed shutter release modes on the camera.
- Black Cloth (mitten, scarf) to catch the snowflakes. I use a black gaiter that is about twice the size of a mitten. The black color helps to make the snowflake stand out.
- A stand to place your mitten or gaiter to catch snowflakes. Make sure it is tall enough so you don’t have to bend over or kneel down. I use the top step on a 3 step ladder.
- Hand warmers. I take touch screen gloves out with me to photograph snowflakes. But since you need to work quickly, I usually end up not wearing them. Hand warmers are nice to have in your jacket pockets to warm your hands up
- A couple of microfiber cloths to wipe the snow off your photography gear.
Equipment Set Up for Snowflake Photography
Program Focus Peaking and Focus Bracketing to Buttons on your Camera.
Setting Focus Peaking and Focus Bracketing to buttons on your Olympus camera will allow you to quickly turn these functions on and off. I use the two buttons on the front of the camera to the left of the lens when looking from the front of the camera. Use the Gear Icon in the lower right of the Super Control Panel to set functions to camera buttons.
I set Focus Peaking up with Red Highlighting which can be easily seen on the white snowflake. You can set the color and intensity for Focus Peaking in the Gear – D3 – Peaking settings menu.
Disable the Eye Sensor on the EVF
Disabling the Eye Sensor in the EVF will prevent your LCD screen from turning off when snowflakes cover your EVF. The Eye Sensor on the EVF can be disabled by pressing the monitor button on the left side of the EVF for 2 seconds and turning EVF Auto Switch to Off.
Level the Camera
Since the depth of field is so shallow for macro photography, it is important to level the camera. You can display the internal camera levels on the LCD Screen by pressing the info button. If the levels do not show when you press Info, you can configure what information shows when you press info in the Gear – D1 – Info Settings Menu.
I bring a small LED video light out with me in case I need additional light on the snowflake. Although, I find that most of the time that the natural light suffices for photographing snowflakes.
Snowflake Photography Camera Settings
Here are the settings that I start with for photographing snowflakes. You may need to alter these settings based on the amount of light, size of the snowflakes, angle of the snowflake you are shooting, etc.
Manual Shooting Mode
I shoot in manual mode to keep the aperture consistent and change the shutter speed to adjust the exposure for changing lighting conditions.
For macro photography, I like using Manual Focus in combination with Focus Peaking. Manual focus also works well with Focus Bracketing, just ensure you focus on the front most part of the subject before you start your Focus Bracketing sequence.
I find that f/5.6 is a good starting point when Focus Bracketing for snowflakes.
This will vary based on the lighting conditions. Keep an eye on the Exposure Meter or Histogram to ensure you are not blowing out the snowflakes. I like to have it around Exposure Meter at -.3 to ensure I don’t blow out the whites in the snowflake.
Note: when you have Focus Peaking turned on, you will not see the Histogram on the LED. You will need to press the button you assigned to Focus Peaking to turn it off to view the Histogram.
I like to keep the ISO as low as possible (ISO 200 – ISO 320) to keep the noise at a minimum. If the light is low or it is snowing heavily or windy, you may want to raise the ISO to get faster shutter speeds. The faster shutter speeds will help to complete your Focus Bracketing sequence before another snowflake enters your composition or the wind blows your snowflake away.
Focus Bracketing Settings
I prefer using Focus Bracketing over in camera Focus Stacking for snowflake photography. I can get more exposures using a smaller differential with Focus Bracketing. I can also select which pictures to include in the group that I send to Helicon Focus to stack.
A good starting point for Focus Bracketing settings is around 35-40 images with a Differential of 2. 35 images should be enough if the snowflake is flat. If it is sitting on an angle it may require more bracketed images to get the entire snowflake in focus. It better to take more photographs and delete the unneeded images in Lightroom than not get the shot.
Technique for Photographing Snowflakes
Once your camera, tripod, and rail are setup, you may need to work quickly if it is snowing heavily. Below is the process I use quickly capture snowflake bracketing sequences.
1. Place your material to capture snowflakes on your stand and watch for nicely shaped snowflakes to land on the material. Rotate the material so the snowflake is under your lens. Moving the snowflake to the lens is faster than trying to move and set up the tripod.
You may need to shake off the material several times if you don’t find a snowflake you like, and it is snowing heavily.
2. Use the focusing rail to quickly zoom in or out to focus the snowflake. Focus Peaking helps to quickly see when you are positioned correctly. For snowflakes of a similar size, the camera should already be close to position.
3. Turn the Focus Ring until the closest part of the snowflake is in focus. This can be difficult to determine on snowflakes.
Technique to Get the Closest Part of the Snowflake in Focus
To get the closest part of the snowflake in focus, I use Focus Peaking and the Focus Indicator in MF Assist. The closest part of the snowflake is in focus at the right most point on the Focus Indicator where Focus Peaking is highlighted on the subject.
In this blog, I explain how to Set Up MF Assist for Manual Focusing.
4. Press the shutter button on the remote cable release to take the bracketing sequence.
5. In between Focus Bracketing sequences, I turn off bracketing using the button that I programmed with bracketing and take a single image with my finger in front of the lens. This helps me easily identify where bracketing sequences begin and end. This is especially helpful when you are taking multiple bracketing sequences of the same snowflake.
6. Press the programmed button to turn bracketing back on for the next sequence.
Snowflake Photography Post Processing Steps
- After I import the images to Adobe Lightroom, I stack the sequences into groups and delete the separator image of my finger between sequences.
- I also add the Focus Peaking information in the comments field in the EXIF data since this information is not passed thru from the camera. This is helpful for reference for future snowflake photography shoots.
- I go thru each image in the sequence and determine if I want to send that image to Helicon Focus to be part of the stacking process. If an image does not have part of the snowflake in focus, I will not include it in the stack. I use the Pick Flag (white flag) in Lightroom to mark the photos that I want included in the stack.
- Select all the picked images and export to Helicon Focus for stacking.
- I generally start with the Depth Map Rendering Method and the default settings for radius and smoothing. If the stack doesn’t look right, I’ll try the other rendering methods.
- Back in Lightroom, I will do a light crop and basic processing.
How to Get a Clean Background in Your Snowflake Photographs?
- In Photoshop, I create a Layer Mask to be able to replace the background with a solid color background (typically black) and to be able to process the snowflake separate from the background.
Select Subject usually gives you a good start to creating a layer mask of the snowflake. In this blog, I explain how to create a Layer Mask using the Select Subject feature in Adobe Photoshop.
- I like to add a light texture to the background to enhance the solid color background. A texture can be added in Photoshop or plugins like Topaz Studio 2 and Topaz Texture Efex.
- If you don’t want to do this amount of processing in Adobe Photoshop, you can capture your snowflakes on a piece of chilled glass or dark plexiglas.
Written by Martin Belan
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