Photograph Snowflakes With a Basic Point-and-shoot Camera





Introduction: Photograph Snowflakes With a Basic Point-and-shoot Camera

The goal: photograph snowflakes using an ordinary, off-the-shelf, point-and-shoot camera. I also created a "holiday mosaic" using the snowflake pics. You can skip to the last step for a "Gallery of Snowflakes."

Capturing these works of nature's art can be tricky--you have to wait for the just the right day, the snowflakes simply will not cooperate, your fingers freeze and then they don't cooperate, the batteries also seem to freeze then just don't work, and then the pics come out all blurry. Rats! But, when you finally get the snowflakes photographed, they're truly beautiful.

This project has two parts, (1) outside, photographing in the cold, and (2) inside, doing the computer work. Thus, this project is great with the snow falling outside and a cup of hot cocoa inside to warm you up.
To photograph snowflakes, you'll need the following:
  1. A day when the snowflakes are falling by themselves, not clumped together. The less wind the better.\
  2. A dark background that's cold.
  3. A camera.
  4. A computer to upload and edit the pics.

Step 1: Snap the Snowflake Pictures

  1. Lay out your background in such a way that you think it'll catch the snowflakes. The background material needs to be cold else the snowflakes will melt almost instantly. I used a snow shovel because I liked the dark green and it was already outside (cold) and then a cardboard box because it was mostly black and smooth. The curve of the snow shovel seemed to help catch the flakes. The cardboard box was inside but got cold quickly enough.
  2. Meanwhile, get your camera set up. I used a 12 megapixel Kodak Easyshare C190. It's a basic camera I got from Walmart for $99. This is by no means a professional camera with no special lenses. This is the type of camera that "regular folks" have. Put it on the largest megapixel setting your camera has. Mine went up to 11.8MP, so that's where I set it.
  3. Set your camera for close-up shooting. A person with a better camera (one that can change lenses) would likely use a "macro" lens here for photographing close-up. My point-and-shoot can't do that, but it does have a setting for taking pictures of flowers close-up. If your camera has something of that order, choose that.
  4. Snap the pic by getting down close to the snowflake. You want to get as close as possible while still taking a photo that's in focus. This will likely take some trial-and-error. If at all possible, steady your hands on something. It's hard to get clear photos like this so take two or three pics of each flake, especially if it's a promising looking one. I found that about 2/3 of my pics, maybe more, were blurry and really not usable. 

Step 2: Edit Your Snowflake Pictures

  1. After getting the photos, upload the pics onto your computer in whatever manner you normally do that (USB cord, SD card, etc.).
  2. Your photo likely looks something like the one shown here--a speck of a very small snowflake. The goal now is to "zoom in" or isolate the snowflakes and make them bigger. There are lots of ways to do this and lots of different programs to use. I'll show what I did.
  3. Crop out your snowflake. I used a program called "FastStone Image Viewer" (link: It's freeware, pretty simple, and seems to have a fair amount of doo-hickys along with it. There are many programs for this type of editing, use whichever one you like. Online, I like and Using FastStone, I chose the "Crop Board" on the left hand menu. Then I simply drew a box around the snowflake to crop out the border stuff I didn't want (see pics below).
  4. There are lots of other edit tricks you might like to do, such as rotate the pic to straighten it up, or fiddle around with the color or contrast, but that's up to you.

Step 3: The Next Level: Create a Holiday Mosaic of Photos

I thought I'd "take it to the next level" by creating a mosaic out of the snowflake pics. This takes a main photo and creates a mosaic of that photo out of many other photos. It seems to me that this technique might be neat for a family Christmas card photo. Instead of the one static family Christmas photo, this would show the one family photo made up of tons of individual family photos.

For the purpose here, I just used the main snowflake pic in this instructable, changed the colors to give variation, then created a mosaic of a base picture. 

To make a mosaic like this, you need:
  1. bunch of photos. Ideally, they'll be in various colors with various shades of light and dark. I changed the snowflake pic using
  2. A program to create the mosaic. I used the freeware program called "Andrea Mosaic", link:

I really don't want to go into the details here for making a mosaic like this. Just realize, it's easy. Still, here are the basic steps...
  1. Take your photos.
  2. Download and install the program.
  3. Run the program and choose the shape of the pics, then choose a Main Image. The program's main screen is shown.
  4. Create a "Tile List" by choosing the location of the photos you want to use.
  5. Fiddle around with the options and sizes until you get it right. This will take some trial-and-error but it's no big deal to just start over.
As a note, the mosaic doesn't show up too well on screen. It shows up better if the pic is downloaded, and even better still if you make one yourself. If you make your own, the individual pictures are all viewable when you mouseover them. I included a zoomed in pic to try to show the better quality. The program can make even higher quality as well--such that a person's face can be clearly seen within one of the little pixel squares.
Good luck creating something cool!

Step 4: Gallery of Snowflakes

Some of the better snowflakes are pictured here. The asterisk on the box I was using just seemed to fit. The funky colored ones were made using

Have fun!

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    I discovered this quite accidentally a couple years ago. I had no idea snowflakes actually looked like the pictures people draw of them. LOL I was taking photos of the horses in the snow and was going for a closeup of the horses' winter coats. I tried the "macro" setting on my low end Cannon digital camera to get the hairs in focus up close. What I ended up with were photos of some beautiful snowflakes, much to my surprise. I was shocked. I seriously had no idea they really looked like that. Beginners luck as well on the photo. Thanks for sharing this instructable. I wondered if others knew about this too!

    Oops! "Snow Crystals" was originally published 1931 & reprinted in 1962.

    Wilson Alywn ("Snowflake") Bentley would've been jealous! If you're interested, see the children's book "Snowflake Bentley" by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (NY: Scholastic, c1998, 1989). You probably know he was doing this 100 years ago, but of course it was much, much more difficult. To see his images, his book "Snow Crystals" is just fabulous! He authored it with W.J. Humphreys; it was published in NY by Dover Publications in 1931. Thanks for this great Instructable!

    this is so cool

    You can get pretty good pics with an iphone as well. I took this one just this weekend.

    1 reply

    I will try this with the macro lens.

    Very cool. I'm going to try this. I took some pictures once of JackFrost prints on glass. I need to find those shots!

    Very Nice!

    Excellent! I am looking forward to our next snowfall, to see if I can do this.

    Great instructable! Can't wait to try this!!

    Nicely done - I've never really thought about trying to take pictures of snowflakes, though I have seen it done. A tripod or method of camera stabilization would probably help. Also if you really wanted to take time with the pictures before the snowflake melted, perhaps place a cookie sheet on snow - it would chill very quickly and be about the same temp as the snow, so when the flakes landed they would stick around. Another option, put the cookie sheet on dry ice. Though honestly why complicate things!

    This recent episode of radio lab dealt with how impossible it is to capture a perfect snowflake, with a microscope, anywhere in the world, so I have my doubts about these photos. Brilliant if it works though.

    Thanks for posting. I think I'll try this today - if it is snowing out like it's been all week! Yeah.

    Very nice snowflake pictures. Thanks for sharing!

    Personally, I would have put the camera on a small tripod and put the camera closer with a small closeup lens. (which are cheap if you take a part an old camera.)

    perhaps a matte black background and the flash could take care of the shaky hands issue? Either way I'm trying this with the kids!

    Very interesting!

    In my city snowed only once in my life, was the July 9, 2007, and luckily I was there to see it. I never saw those little snow crystals individually.