Your Step-by-Step Guide to Photographing a Perfect Snowflake

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Your Step-by-Step Guide to Photographing a Perfect Snowflake

I recently received a request for an up-close photo of a snowflake.  My friend’s young son just had his tonsils out, and he’s having a rough time recuperating.  His mama told me that a close-up photo of a snowflake would put a smile on his face, so this hip grandma is on it! 

Closeup snowflake on purple background
Photo credit: Melissa Tokariwski

Here’s how to make it happen if you find yourself in need of a close-up (also called macro) photo of a snowflake!

Macro Snowflake Step #1

Get Chilly!

Here in Michigan, we are in the midst of a series of winter storms, so snowflakes seem easy to come by.  We almost always have some snow in the winter, so this is a fun little activity if you are lucky enough to get snow annually as I do.

Suppose you’re not in a typically snowy location, no worries.  You can be ready if you get surprised by unexpected snow, or you can travel somewhere to find your flakes!  My parents winter in Texas.  They typically leave Michigan in the fall and come back in the spring, hoping never to see a flake fall from the sky.  Usually, it works.  This year, however, Texas is getting blasted with freezing weather and snow, so if you’re in Texas, now’s your chance to put these steps into practice!  If you want to be guaranteed snowflakes, start planning your vacation to a winter wonderland now, so you’re ready!

I have a friend who has perfected the art of photographing snowflakes up close.  Melissa lives in Manitoba, Canada, which is almost guaranteed cold and snow every year!  She was kind enough to share some of her hints and tips and some of her amazing photos, too.  If you wonder where Winnipeg, Manitoba is like I did, check out this handy map, courtesy of MapTrove. 

Image courtesy of www.maptrove.ca

Macro Snowflake Step #2

Find the Snowfall!

Now that you have your cold location planned, it’s time to prepare for the snowflakes to drop from the sky.  Unfortunately, it can be hard to get a photo of a snowflake up close and personal once he’s landed and merged with his friends, so you’ll want to capture your snowflake while plenty of them are falling and not wait until they clump together.  The bigger, fluffier flakes are the loveliest and most effortless to capture once they’ve landed.

Macro Snowflake Step #3

Gather Your Gear

Option #1 - Your Cell Phone

Don’t worry if you don’t have a fancy camera.  You can capture a snowflake beautifully close-up with just your phone if you’d like.

Melissa tells me that she likes to mix it up and use a variety of setups.  Here she used an iPhone 11 Pro Max with a Camkix Remote Shutter.  This handy little device works with Bluetooth Technology so you can trigger your phone shutter without having to find that pesky button on the screen.

Melissa also uses a cool clip-on macro lens from Shiftcam when using her phone.  This clip-on lens allows you to get a super close view of the details of each snowflake.  If you’re watching your budget and still want to try this technique, there are plenty of other options for a clip-on macro lens for your cellphone camera.  This lens, for example, is a great alternative and comes with a smaller price tag and great reviews.

Option #2 - Your Fancy Camera

You have a couple of reliable options for using your fancy camera as well.  Melissa shoots with a Sony a7iii.  Here she used a Lensbaby Velvet 85 lens and some macro filters that screw onto the front of her lens. 

macro snowflake on a purple background
Photo credit: Melissa Tokariwski
macro snowflake on a blue background
Photo credit: Melissa Tokariwski

When you purchase these little macro filters, make sure you buy the correct size for your lens.  To know what size you need, explore your lens for a symbol that looks like a zero with a line through it.  That will show you the size you need to purchase for any filter you screw onto your lens.  For more info on the meaning of the numbers on your lens, click HERE.  

camera lens with lens size circled
Photo Credit: learn.zoner.com

On this shot, Melissa used her Sony a7iii with a Tokina 100mm lens with a screw-on macro filter

close-up snowflake on a natural colored background
Photo credit: Melissa Tokariwski
White macro snowflake on a blue background
Photo credit: Melissa Tokariwski

I have not yet added either the Lensbaby or the dedicated macro lens to my gear, so I use a macro diopter to get my close-up snowflake shots.  A diopter is a simple little add-on lens that clips to the front of your lens.  It is different from the screw-on filters because it magnifies your image by 250 times and has a quick release adapter so you can pop it on and off in just one quick move.

I love it because it is so easy and inexpensive.  You can throw your diopter right into your camera bag or pocket and pop it on your lens; in a second, you’re ready to capture a macro image.  It works perfectly on my Canon 50mm 1.8 lens!  Here are a couple of shots I got today of snowflakes up close using my diopter.

Here is an image I took using my 50mm and my diopter.

Macro Snowflake on wood background

Another bonus of macro photography is that you get a super close view of whatever surrounds your snowflake.  You will soon find out exactly the texture of your scarf or how many cracks are in the wooden deck railing grain.  Side note – My husband will love learning that I’ve added to his honey-do list.  Oh, honey!!!  Our deck needs another coat of weather seal this spring!

As you can see, these little beauties are all unique and gorgeous, no matter what gear you have on hand.  But we’re not done with our steps yet.  Now is the time to talk about your macro technique.

Macro Snowflake Step #5

Camera Settings

Now let’s talk about where to start with your settings.  Remember, these are just beginner guidelines.  Once you are on-site and photographing, you will make all kinds of adjustments to fine-tune your images.

Shutter Speed

An excellent beginning setting for macro snowflake images is a shutter speed around 200-300, and here’s why:  Once you’ve caught your snowflake, it won’t be moving, so you won’t need to account for movement.  However, if you are hand-holding your camera, then you do need to account for camera movement.  When you’re shooting macro shots, you’re so close to your subject that even the slightest shake will show up as motion blur.  To counter this, you can use a tripod, but that limits your ability to make fast, minute shifts that you’ll need to make to get your snowflake in focus.  And with that, we are ready to talk about our next setting, aperture.

Aperture

When you are shooting macro images, your depth of field will be very, very small.  To give yourself the very widest depth of field in this super close setup, you’ll want to stop down that aperture (bigger #).  I begin around 8 for my macro images.  Of course, now that you’ve closed your aperture setting a bit and your shutter speed is reasonably fast, you’ll need to accommodate for that with ISO.

ISO

Of course, whenever you take a close-up image of anything, you need to remember that cropping the image will enhance the graininess because you are really zooming in on your pixels.  To keep grain at a minimum, you’ll want to set your ISO as low as possible.  A bright and sunny day is perfect for photographing snowflakes because you can crank that ISO down pretty low.

If it’s overcast, which is much more likely when the flakes are falling, or in a darker area to avoid wind and blowing, then you may have to adjust some.  The good news is there is a whole lot of light bouncing around and reflecting on all of the white snow you’re shooting in, so even if you need to start your ISO higher, you’ll still get some great images.

I’ve created this handy cheat sheet for you to clip out and put in your camera bag, so you know just where to begin when you’re ready to photograph your first close-up snowflake!

graphic showing settings for how to capture a perfect macro snowflake
Remember these settings are just a jumping off point - you will have to change and adjust as you shoot!

One last tip to keep in mind here – take more images than you think you need, and go ahead and change up your settings and try, try again!  You will thank me for that when you get to editing.  Practicing is the best way to learn what settings work best.  Practice makes progress, especially when choosing photography settings.

Macro Snowflake Step #6

Post-Processing

Once you’ve captured a whole bunch of snowflakes, and I mean a whole bunch, you’ll be ready to process them.  If you process your photos in a program such as Lightroom as I do, then you’ll have a few quick adjustments to make your image a work of art!

Start with cropping your image and adjusting your white balance.  Once you’ve got that just how you’d like it, then you can fine-tune the details.  Melissa’s secret formula is to lower highlights and increase the texture and clarity to get nice and crisp details.  She has created her own preset in Lightroom, so she only needs to click a button or two.  Great idea, Melissa!  Thanks for sharing!

If you would like to follow Melissa on Instagram and see more of her fantastic work, you can find her HERE.

Macro Snowflake Final Step

Share Your Snowflakes!

Now you should be completely set up to capture a brilliant snowflake up close and personal!  I would love to see your images.  Be sure and like my Facebook Page and join our super-friendly Facebook Group to show off those incredible macro snowflakes!  You might even make a new friend there as well!

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