“The Snowflake”

“The Snowflake” is finally complete. 2500 hours across 5 years, this poster print represents that largest project I have ever undertaken. Depicted in this image is over 400 unique snowflakes, all accurately measured and scaled to that they are all in relative size to one another. The poster print is currently available for purchase, and I have “artist’s proofs” available as well. Take a look! skycrystals.ca/poster/

On average, 40 separate images are combined for each snowflake photograph. This is required to get the crystal in focus from tip to tip with a process called focus-stacking. Due to the nature of the subject and the hand-held approach to photographing each snowflake, 4-5 hours are spent on each image in post-processing.

Measuring snowflakes is a time-consuming task, and the right equipment is needed to get accurate results. Thankfully, a hidden piece of metadata recorded by the Canon MP-E 65mm F/2.8 1-5x Macro lens makes this possible: the magnification factor. Combined with the physical size of the sensor and the total number of pixels across the sensor, an algebraic equation allows us to calculate the number of pixels per millimeter and measure the crystals.

The process of measuring snowflakes is made more difficult by the removal of certain metadata when editing. The “magnification factor” value is stored in a special area of image metadata called “makernotes”, and can be extracted by tools such as exiftool. This special section of metadata is removed from the file when processed through any Adobe software (and I’m sure others), requiring me to revisit the original raw files for each snowflake to obtain the proper value.

The largest snowflakes measure just over 11mm in diameter, and the smallest are 0.2mm across. Different storms create different kinds of crystals, some symmetrical but always unique. No two snowflakes falling from the sky will ever be identical. This poster shows the beauty in their variety.

This print not only shows the beauty of winter, but it’s an eye-opening experience when you dive into the details. The working file on my computer is 12 gigapixels in size, so I could theoretically make 60” x 90” print at 480dpi if I wanted, losing no detail in the process. When working on the file, my computer uses over 100GB of RAM, so creating something like this required impressive technology to boot.

Five years of photographing snowflakes, all with the same technique. I knew there was a reason why, and here it is: “The Snowflake”.

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