Snowflake, 40 bracketed images, Diff - 2, Aperture - f/5.6

Why is it So Difficult to Photograph Snowflakes? Plus Tips to Make it Easy

Snowflakes are one of the most stunning and sought after winter macro photography subjects.  Snowflakes are beautiful and like fingerprints, each one is different.  Photographing snowflakes doesn’t have to be difficult.  In this blog, I will give you tips to easily capture beautiful snowflake photographs.

Why is it So Difficult to Photograph Snowflakes?

Snowflakes are tiny, normally between 1mm and 10mm in size.  You are also photographing them in cold weather conditions with numb fingers where a small gust of wind may blow your snowflake away.  In addition, when photographing snowflakes in temperatures just above freezing, they may melt before you have a chance to photograph them.

Snowflake Photography Tips

  • Patience and Practice
  • Use a Dark Background so the Snowflakes Stand Out
  • Chill the Surface you are Using to Catch the Snowflakes
  • Use Focus Bracketing / Focus Stacking
  • Increase your Magnification
  • Use Manual Focus and Focus Peaking
  • Tripod or No Tripod
  • Move the Snowflake not the Camera when using a Tripod
  • Use a Remote Shutter Release
  • Have a Consistent Process
Snowflake, 40 Bracketed Images, f/5.6
Snowflake, 40 Bracketed Images, f/5.6

Snowflake Photography Tip Details

Patience and Practice 

Look at photographing snowflakes as a winter project not a single photoshoot.  As you gain more practice, you will find the right settings and process to capture terrific snowflake photographs.  I share my process to photograph snowflakes at the bottom of this blog.

Use a Dark Background so the Snowflakes Stand Out

I use a black gaiter, others use a black mitten, or some other type of dark cloth. A piece of glass or dark plexiglass will also work, and will need less clean up of the background in post processing.

Chill the Surface you are using to Catch Snowflake 

This will help to keep the snowflake chilled so it doesn’t melt as fast in temperatures around freezing.

Use Focus Bracketing / Focus Stacking 

Snowflakes may look flat but with the shallow depth of field at higher magnifications, just a small tilt or raised surface will impact your focus.  Many mirrorless cameras have focus bracketing built into the camera.  Some cameras will even stack the photographs in camera creating a single image from all the bracketed photographs. 

If your camera does not stack the bracketed images, software like Photoshop, Helicon Focus, and Zerene Stacker can combined your images into a single stacked photograph.  I use Helicon Focus.  It consistently produces good stacked snowflake images. It is also quick and easy to use.

Increase Your Magnification

Snowflakes are very small ( normally between 1mm and 10mm) so additional magnification is helpful when capturing the details of snowflakes. Increasing your magnification doesn’t have to be expensive.  Add an additional macro lens (like a Raynox DCR-250 Macro Lens) to the front of your lens and extension tubes between your camera and lens.

Use Manual Focus and Focus Peaking

Focus peaking will highlight what part and how much of your subject is in focus.  Program focus peaking to one of your camera buttons so you can quickly turn it on and off.

Tripod or No Tripod

This will depend on how steady you are.  I find that I have much more success using a tripod than trying to hand hold the camera doing focus bracketing at high magnification. I use a tripod, ball head mount, and a focusing rail. The focusing rail allows me to quickly get focus on the front of the snowflake before starting the focus bracketing sequence.

Move the Snowflake not the Camera when using a Tripod

I find it quicker and easier to move the material that I’m using to catch the snowflake than trying to move and adjust the tripod.  This also helps to find the snowflake in the viewfinder / LCD since you can move it right under the lens.

Use a Remote Shutter Release

Any vibration can impact a focus bracketing sequence at high magnifications.  I use a remote shutter release to reduce the vibrations when tripping the shutter.  You can also use your camera’s WiFi app or a delayed shutter mode.  I just find it quicker and easier to use a remote shutter release.

Have a Consistent Process

When photographing snowflakes, you will need to work quickly.  The wind may blow your snowflake away or another snowflake may land on it. Having a consistent process will help you work faster and ensure you don’t skip steps.  Below are my process steps for photographing snowflakes.

Snowflake, 30 Bracketed Images, f/5.6
Snowflake, 30 Bracketed Images, f/5.6

Process Steps for Photographing Snowflakes

  • Place the 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.
  • 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.
  • Turn the Focus Ring until the closest part of the snowflake is in focus.  This can be difficult to determine on snowflakes.  I use the focus indicator scale and focus peaking to determine when the closest part of the snowflake is in focus.
  • Press the shutter button on the remote cable release to take the bracketing sequence.
  • 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.
  • Press the programmed button to turn bracketing back on for the next sequence.

Written by Martin Belan

Related Posts

How to Photograph Snowflakes with an Olympus OM-D Camera
Testing the Raynox DCR-250 Super Macro Lens with the Olympus 60mm Macro Lens
How to Create Clean, Non Distracting Backgrounds for your Macro Photographs

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