Over the past few winters, I have been looking at snowflakes to see what kind of crystals are falling in various winter storms. It can get really cold working on pictures outside but the results can be breathtaking when you get just the right one! We all know how hard it can be to see the delicate structures of crystals but this really simple method really helps in seeing what the crystals really look like. Not only that, you can then document and post them for the world to see!
I'm a huge fan of the KISS principle. Keep It Simple Stup#%...well, you know what I mean. This will be a short but easy Instructable to learn how to take pictures of snowflakes and other really small items with a digital camera and any SLR lens!
Step 1: Items You'll Need
Digital camera (point and shoot or DSLR, anything with a decent optical zoom)
Adjustable camera tripod (Gorilla Pod Joby is great, although I only have a knock-off for personal use unfortunately!)
Opaque paper or plastic cup
Scissors or Exacto knife
A card or printout with small text on it
See the picture notes for more details on each item
Step 2: Really Simple Theory
For any camera, the lens takes a very large scene you’re trying to photograph and shrinks it down to a very small size that fits on the sensor (or film) to be recorded. Not only that, it flips the image! We use this characteristic of the lens to our advantage by flipping it around!
Instead, what we’re doing is taking a very small item (i.e. snowflake) and magnifying it by flipping the lens the other way. It essentially acts as a magnifying glass but better!
A simple illustration I made may do a better job explaining it for others.
Now, remember I said you want to use a camera with a good optical zoom (see the notes on the picture of the previous step)? This optical zoom coupled with the magnification of the lens turned upside down is what gives you the magnification you need to photograph tiny snowflakes in great detail!
Step 3: Camera and Lens Setup
Remove the lens covers from your SLR lens. Also extend the barrel of your camera by zooming as much as you can.
WARNING! Depending on the camera barrel and the SLR lens you’re using, you’ll need to be careful with this next step!
Set the end of your camera lens on top of or right above the front of the SLR lens. This will be the side that is mostly glass on the SLR lens or what is normally considered the front of the lens. My gear just happened to work out well where the two lenses never touch as the camera barrel and the black HELIOS ring with writing keep the two lens separated. REMEMBER! Don't scratch your lenses on either the camera or the SLR lens!
You’ll probably want two people to do this part of the Instructable.
Hold the lens and camera over some text on the junk mail and move the two items together up and down until you see the text in focus on the camera. Once you find a good spot with the image in focus, have your helper measure the distance between the text and the bottom of the SLR lens using the ruler. Write this dimension down.
Step 4: Cutting the Cup
Most SLR lenses will have threads so you can attach it to a camera. Measure the outer diameter of the threads and make note of it (40 mm in my case)
Using your scissors or Exacto knife (or tearing it if it's paper), cut a hole into the bottom of the cup to match the diameter of your lens. My Dixie cup ended up being just the right diameter.
You will then need to cut the other end of the cup so the height of the cup is a little longer than the distance you measured for the spacer height. Why you ask? You would rather it start out too high than it be too short!
Once you make your initial cut, place your cup spacer with lens and your camera in position and look at the same text on the paper again. It will be out of focus. Move the lens and camera together away from the page to ensure the image doesn’t come into focus as you get further away. If it does, you cut the spacer too short and need a new cup!
Then start cutting down the spacer a millimeter or two at a time and keep testing the focus until the text is back in focus.
Step 5: Final Step!
Once you have it cut out to the proper height for you lens and optical zoom, use your tripod mount and get it set so you don't have hold the camera, lens, or spacer!
There are other options for spacers. I prefer an opaque, plastic cup as it helps diffuse the light evenly one what I am photographing. For those with a 3D printer and CAD knowledge, you can also print a spacer to the specification you need. Use white ABS or PLA and you have an excellent spacer you can use!
To give you an idea of the kind of magnification we're looking at with this particular camera and Helios lens. The picture of the ruler in macro mode shows roughly 44 mm across the image. With the magnification, it's roughly 6 mm across, which is almost a 8x magnification of what you're looking at! Couple in a high megapixel camera and you can digitally crop and zoom even more for really highly detailed pictures of snowflakes!
Be sure to use a dark background to catch the snowflakes on. A nylon bag or anything dark works fine. Just be sure you let it sit outside for a while to stabilize with the outdoor temperature so you don't melt the snowflakes when they land!
Now you're ready to take pictures of snowflakes all winter long!
I hope you enjoyed this Instructable. See my others if you want to figure out what other crazy things I have done!