How to take macro pictures of snowflakes

  • With colder temps, many photographers struggle getting out their cameras during winter. But photographing macro snowflakes can be a fun and rewarding winter challenge!

How to take macro pictures of snowflakes

With shorter days and colder temperature, many photographers struggle getting out their cameras during winter.

However, the icy weather brings beautiful snow which can provide great inspiration.

Photographing macro snowflakes can be a fun and rewarding winter challenge, especially since no two snowflakes are the same!

Gear

Many snowflakes are only millimeters in diameter. This means you’ll need a way for your camera to magnify the snowflakes and get as close as possible. A few options are:

  • Macro lens: A macro lens that can provide a 1:1 magnification factor is a great starting point.
  • Macro extension tubes: These fit between the camera body and the lens and extend the lens to get closer to the subject. They can be used individually or stacked together.
  • Macro filters: Like reading glasses for your camera, these attach to the end of the lens and provide magnification.
  • Mobile macro lens: These small, light lenses attach directly to your smartphone, making them a great option if you don’t want to take your nice camera outside in the snow. You might also be surprised by the quality of the photos as the cameras on most smartphones are getting better each year. (all the photos here were taken with my iPhone and olloclip)

Related: How to create macro pictures without a macro lens

Be sure to take care when bringing your camera in and out of cold, wet weather. Use a camera cover to avoid water damage while you’re outside.

Then, before coming back inside, place your camera in a zipped bag. Once inside, wait until it has come to room temperature before taking it out of the bag.

How to take macro pictures of snowflakes by Karen Schanely
With colder temps, many photographers struggle getting out their cameras during winter. But photographing macro snowflakes can be a fun and rewarding winter challenge!
How to take macro pictures of snowflakes by Karen Schanely

Weather conditions

Snowflakes are obviously formed when it’s cold. But, it’s helpful to understand and observe the weather conditions that create the kind of snowflakes you want to photograph.

In my experience, the best conditions are when it’s lightly snowing with no wind. With heavy snowfall, it’s more challenging to get a shot of a snowflake without other snowflakes photobombing your frame.

Temperature is also a major contributor. It’s best if the ground temperature is at least several degrees below the freezing temperature of 32° F. Higher temperatures only give you a few seconds before the snowflake melts.

In addition, colder air temperatures and higher humidity in the clouds result in more complex and elaborate crystal designs in the snowflakes as they fall through the moisture-rich atmosphere.

With colder temps, many photographers struggle getting out their cameras during winter. But photographing macro snowflakes can be a fun and rewarding winter challenge!

Backdrops and surfaces

With your gear ready and an eye on the weather forecast, you can also prepare by identifying some interesting backdrops or surfaces against which to shoot.

It’s hard to see a snowflake on a light background like the snow-covered landscape that is most often present on a snowy day. So find a background that is darker than the snowflake such as tree branches, leaves, a building, or a car.

With colder temps, many photographers struggle getting out their cameras during winter. But photographing macro snowflakes can be a fun and rewarding winter challenge!
With colder temps, many photographers struggle getting out their cameras during winter. But photographing macro snowflakes can be a fun and rewarding winter challenge!

You can also use interesting textures to shoot against such as blankets, scarves, mittens, or other fabrics. I like to set material out in the cold (or even the freezer) for a few minutes before shooting, so that the snowflakes don’t melt immediately.

With colder temps, many photographers struggle getting out their cameras during winter. But photographing macro snowflakes can be a fun and rewarding winter challenge!

One of my favorite ways to capture snowflakes is from the comfort and warmth of my home by shooting through the glass in a window or door. Watch for snowflakes to land on the glass, and then quickly shoot them before they blow away.

With colder temps, many photographers struggle getting out their cameras during winter. But photographing macro snowflakes can be a fun and rewarding winter challenge!
With colder temps, many photographers struggle getting out their cameras during winter. But photographing macro snowflakes can be a fun and rewarding winter challenge!

Getting the shot

Because snowflakes are so incredibly small, the focus window is very narrow. As a result, a cluster of snowflakes could look like a big blurry mess.

So, as the snow lands on your surface, look for a snowflake that is all by itself and isn’t broken. You can use a toothpick or small paintbrush to gently separate snowflakes, move other snowflakes out of the way, or nudge your snowflake into a better position.

Generally, snowflakes are flat, which is quite helpful when focusing. In order to get as much of the snowflake in focus, angle your camera lens so that it is as parallel to the snowflake as possible. Starting with a smaller aperture like f/11 is also helpful to get all of the snowflake in focus, adjusting for exposure as needed.

You can also take multiple shots and combine them in post processing with focus stacking.

With colder temps, many photographers struggle getting out their cameras during winter. But photographing macro snowflakes can be a fun and rewarding winter challenge!

Post-processing polish

To take snowflake images to the next level, I love to add some editing magic. This usually involves cloning out distractions like other snowflakes, rogue fibers, or dust on the glass. I also add clarity and contrast to the snowflake to highlight all its intricate details.

With colder temps, many photographers struggle getting out their cameras during winter. But photographing macro snowflakes can be a fun and rewarding winter challenge!
With colder temps, many photographers struggle getting out their cameras during winter. But photographing macro snowflakes can be a fun and rewarding winter challenge!

Winter doesn’t have to be all gloomy and grey. So consider photographing nature’s ordinary miracle with the next snowfall and be sure to have a mug of hot chocolate ready to enjoy afterward!

About the Author:

Karen is a lifestyle photographer living near Dayton, Ohio. She loves pretty light, chocolate, tulips, and capturing her everyday life with her husband, 2 young kids, and foster puppy. Visit Karen Schanely online.
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9 Comments

  1. Karin Dec 18 2017 at 11:22 am - Reply

    Love this! I can’t wait for some
    Snow to try this out!!

  2. Gen Palmer Dec 18 2017 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    Great tips! My favorite is putting your surface in the freezer before laying it out to catch snowflakes. I never would have thought of that!!

  3. Tricia Dec 18 2017 at 8:12 pm - Reply

    I totally want to try this with my phone! Gotta get that clip!!

  4. Elana Dec 20 2017 at 9:53 am - Reply

    These shots are incredible! Which olloclip lens did you use?

    • Karen Schanely Dec 21 2017 at 2:51 pm - Reply

      Hi Elana! Thank you!! I have the 4 in 1 lens set (with an older iphone) and use the macro lenses.

  5. April Dec 31 2017 at 9:19 pm - Reply

    LOVE your images! I’ve put this on my to do play list for 2018! Happy New Year from the Frozen Tundra.

  6. Tanya Rey Feb 11 2018 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    These are so amazing. I am obsessed with snowflakes! I really want to get a macro lens!

    • Karen Schanely Feb 13 2018 at 2:43 pm - Reply

      Thank you Tanya! I use the olloclip macro lens on my iphone, and it’s a great budget option!

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