Shooting Snowflakes, while they're still with us.

Started 9 months ago | Discussions thread
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livn4him
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Shooting Snowflakes, while they're still with us.
9 months ago

I would like to piggyback onto a brief discussion I read recently about photographing snowflakes (http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/53123420), for those who might be interested in benefiting what I’ve learned from others, and my own trial and error from thousands of photos.

The techniques I’m using will work with both m4/3 and 4/3, especially the high-end solution at the bottom of this post. The low-end solution requires higher ISO use, and it better suited to the OMD.

Although I have used a tripod and a cheap macro rail, I find it easier just to shoot without these, as long as I have a way to rest my hand and the camera.

Two sources that have been of huge help to me are blogs by:

Alexey Kljatov

http://chaoticmind75.blogspot.com/2013/08/about-averaging-identical-shots.html

AND

Don Komarechka

http://digital-photography-school.com/how-to-photograph-snowflakes-with-a-dslr

I’ve tried shooting with the OLY macro lenses, but these get you no better than 1:1. A great solution is to get a lens reversal ring for 4/3. This allows you to reverse mount lenses to your camera. I’ve found that the old 14-42m 4/3 works great, and if it gets messed up, it's cheap to replace. I seem to be getting up to 3.5x actual size onto my sensor, which is important to me since most of the flakes I shoot are roughly 0.5-2.0 mm in size. The downside is, about the only thing you can choose is ISO and shutter speed. Focusing is manual, by turning the zoom or moving the camera.

Reversal ring for 4/3. Mine has a 58mm thread.

The ring screws onto the end of your lens. The 14-42 is an EXCELLENT lens for this application.

Here's what it looks like attached. This end mounts to your camera.

Here it is on my OMD, attached using Pany's version of the 4/3 to m4/3 adapter. You'll probably notice I've got the JB grip on my EM5, which makes a HUGE difference in handling. It's the must-have accessory for this camera.

The next key is sufficient lighting. I had an old LED ring light that has worked out really well. Unfortunately I never found a good solution for securing it to my lens, so I did it with electrical tape, which held up surprisingly well.

Here's the ring light on the end of the lens.

Here as some photos I’ve taken with this set up.

This was shot on a dark mitten. I believe that the actual size of this flake size was about 0.5 mm. This was shot freehand at high shutter (1/200-1/400?) and ISO 25600 on the OMD, so a lot of NR and enhancing were performed to get this result. You can also reduce noise through photo stacking in PS, as long as you have shots from the same vantage point. Not all shots are taken at this high of ISO, but lower ISO requires a steady hand. Or, you can use a tripod for REALLY low ISO.

This was shot through the windshield of my car while sitting in the driveway. I use the steering wheel to help steady the camera. This was illuminated with the cheap ring light above, at ISO 5000 with the OMD. Once again, a bit of NR was applied here. This flake was about 2mm in size. I took a lot of AMAZING shots like this that night. The detail is incredible, with no two identical.

Eventually, I moved onto the OLYMPUS ring light flash (my High-end solution). With this, I can easily shoot at the lowest ISO and almost eliminate noise. Already had the controller; spent about $150 to get the light 2nd hand.

OLY ring flash mounted to my OMD, using an after-market Chinese flash adapter (screws into the tripod slot) and "scotch" tape. This would work great on 4/3 bodies as well, since it would allow shooting at lower ISO

Here are some photos take with this set up.

Very small flake, less than 1mm across, shot at ISO 200 using flash ring.

This flake was about 2mm, also taken with ring flash at ISO 200. Angle of the light/camera is key to degree of reflected light / degree of translucence.

Final thoughts: This high magnification shooting results in VERY shallow depth of field. Snowflakes are three dimensional, they do have depth (especially if shot at an angle). Depending on the snowflake you are shooting, it will most likely require multiple frames if you want to capture all of the detail. These can be combined later in Photoshop or Helicon Focus. The last two shots in this post are examples of that.

Enjoy!

Stan

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