Art Of The Storm

Snowflakes lit through color gels accumulate on a sheet of glass during an experimental shoot in East Chicago, Ind., early Friday, February 22, 2013.

Despite measly 5″ snow accumulation forecasts disappointing the snow lover in me, Chicago is expecting its largest snowfall of the season so far today. In the past weeks, unseasonably devoid of snowfall, I’d caught wind of a few great examples of snowflake photography online. Today’s storm brought a great opportunity to try my hand at lighting and photographing these microscopic gems first hand.

I’ve never done any sort of macro photography at all, nor do I own the proper gear to do it, so focusing in on something as small as a grain of sand with only my standard lenses was my first challenge. On one of the snowflake photo websites I visited, someone mentioned shooting though a reversed lens. I tried several combinations of lenses, forwards and backwards, while shooting flecks of pepper on my desk.

After much trial and error with numerous lenses and configurations, I found that shooting through a backwards Canon 28mm-70mm f2.8 zoom lens with my Canon 100mm-400mm f4.5-f5.6 zoom lens gave me a passable macro setup. I used a glass picture frame as my shooting platform for the snowflakes, held with 2 c-stands. A third c-stand was used to stabilize my body and the camera. Focusing on the snowflakes was done by sliding the camera and my arms down the c-stand (while intently controlling my breathing) until the snowflakes and ice crystals were sharp, all while holding the backwards lens against the front element of the lens attached to my camera.

I eventually arrived at the combination of my Canon 100mm-400mm f4.5-f5.6 zoom lens on the camera as normal, zoomed in to 400mm and focused as close as possible, shooting through my Canon 28mm-70mm f2.8 zoom lens, held in reverse right up to the front element of the 100-400, also focused as close as possible. In this configuration, when the 28mm-70mm lens was set to 70mm, the field of view was wider than when the lens was set to 28mm.

With a few more tweaks to my setup, I was ready to capture the snowflakes in different lighting configurations using both an Alien Bees B1600 strobe (brought out strictly because I needed a modeling light to see what I was shooting), as well as a Vivitar 285HV flash. I mixed and matched red and blue gels on both heads, or only one, or none at all.

I was really expecting the snowflakes to look like the stereotypical kinds you cut out of paper in elementary school, but alas, today’s storm produced flakes that looked more like little cylinders. These snowflakes are of the “needle” variety, and only occur when the air temperature is around 23 degrees Fahrenheit (which it was exactly at the time I shot this).

A blue gel on my Alien Bees B1600 strobe made these lackluster snowflakes start to blossom, and letting them accumulate on the glass (playing with my very limited depth of field as they piled up) produced some interesting effects as well.

This image is the result of shooting through many accumulated needle snow flakes. You can see the in-focus needles at the top of the pile, with the out of focus flakes below. This created a very painterly effect.

With only white light, the ice crystals took on the form of raw gemstones.

I’m not sure I really care for this composition, but I liked the bold colors and contrast in this frame.

When shooting through two lenses held front to front, something they’re not designed to do, you’re going to reveal many of the flaws in each lens that aren’t normally seen. I decided to exploit the chromatic aberration in this image (the rainbow halos around the ice crystals) that I corrected from my other white light images, creating an interesting color palette.

Posted in Experimental, Photography, Tips And Tricks by Guy Rhodes on February 22nd, 2013.

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