When it comes to macro photography, the winter doesn’t provide us with many subjects. Flowers hide under the snow, insects vanish and all the tiny details disappear. But the winter months do bring snowflakes! They are as beautiful as they are difficult to photograph. Since most of the country is buried in snow you won’t have to travel far to see them. Here are some tips for taking great photos of those snowflakes.
What you’ll need
Normally standard macro lenses are fantastic at rendering small details of items that are a few inches in size with their 1:1 reproduction ratio. For snowflake photography, we’re dealing with subjects that are much smaller. Because of their miniscule size, the best lens to start shooting snowflakes is the Canon 65mm f/2.8 MP-E Macro from Beachcamera.com. This lens is unique because it’s a pure macro machine. In fact, this lens is basically blind to anything further than 4” away from the lens. What you give up in infinity focusing you gain in the ability to go up to 5x life size with the rotation of the focus collar. Don’t shoot Canon? Try using this extension tube set for your Sony lenses. Either way, the key is to get as much magnification as possible because snowflakes are pretty small, in the 0.1” to 0.2” inch range.
Staging the scene
You’ll want some basic supplies handy to act as your background. You don’t need anything fancy. Dark knit fabrics or wool work well, even a mitten or glove can do the trick! Dealing with a narrow depth of field is going to be your biggest hurdle. Using a tripod can help isolate some movement but it makes composition trickier. The easiest thing to do is move your snowflakes, not the camera.
Lighting is everything
Just like anything in photography, the secret to a great photograph is the light. If you’re shooting outside, you can get away with natural light. Assuming you’re shooting while it’s snowing, you’ll likely have overcast skies which will act like a giant soft box. That light will work for your basic photos. But to get a more dramatic look you’ll want to experiment with your light sources and placement. Adding some off camera flashes to your setup will give you more control. Ring flashes make capturing them a little easier. Most ring flashes, like the Canon MR-14EX from Beachcamera.com, allow you to control two banks of light and make one brighter than the other. Almost completely turn one bank off, use half of the flash, and aim for the perfect angle.
Getting amazing images of snowflakes is the perfect lesson in trial and error. You’ll have to really practice, and experiment with varied weather conditions, before you start making awesome images.