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Photograph snowflakes with a basic point-and-shoot camera

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Picture of Photograph snowflakes with a basic point-and-shoot camera
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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.
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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.
 
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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. 

ecorso1 year ago
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!
adial11 year ago
this is so cool
chrispix1 year ago
You can get pretty good pics with an iphone as well. I took this one just this weekend.
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Cool shot!
Or get a macro lens.
I will try this with the macro lens.
clewis211 year ago
Very cool. I'm going to try this. I took some pictures once of JackFrost prints on glass. I need to find those shots!
Dale_D1 year ago
Very Nice!
Doireann1 year ago
Excellent! I am looking forward to our next snowfall, to see if I can do this.
Beautiful job- thanks!
Great instructable! Can't wait to try this!!
Jupolo1 year ago
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!
guywire1 year ago
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. http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blogland/2012/dec/18/snowflake-science/
nicolemiko1 year ago
Thanks for posting. I think I'll try this today - if it is snowing out like it's been all week! Yeah.
Dark Light1 year ago
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.)
kretzlord1 year ago
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!
rimar20001 year ago
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.
Very impressive, and proof (if proof were needed), that you don't NEED hugely expensive equipment to take interesting pictures. It's much more important to know how to use a basic camera to make a good quality image, than buying a more expensive machine that does it for you.

Mind you, those snow flakes are also impressively well defined. You are lucky to get snow like that.