In this showcase series we feature the stunning snowflake macro photography of Alexey Kljatov.
Alexey told us about himself and the background to this series:
I’m 38 years old, and live in Moscow, Russia. When I bought my first digital camera, I was impressed by its ability to capture the tiny world, things almost unseen by naked eye. Like many beginners, I started to capture flowers and ladybugs, and for several years I didn’t really think about trying something else. But one day on the internet I saw two shots of snowflakes (unfortunately, I do not remember the author’s name), and was amazed by its cold crystallic beauty.
The next winter I started to shoot snowflakes, using the standard macro mode of my camera. In the beginning I amde mistakes: shooting in poor light and handheld, and my first snowflake shots were terrible, but I was happy because I see snowflake shapes and patterns, almost unseen without good magnifying glass.
Soon the quality of my photos improved, but the magnification of standard macro mode was not enough, so I was forced to cut only a small central region of each snowflake shot. These pictures was acceptable only for web use, but not for any printing.
You’ve used a relatively low-budget set-up to get these wonderful results, can you tell us a little about how you did it?
A year ago I started to use an external lens as a magnifier in front of my camera, and this helps greatly with resolution and the detail of my snowflake macro photography. I use point-and-shoot camera Canon Powershot A650 and additional lens Helios 44M-5 (aperture 2.0 / focusing range 58 mm) from old film SLR camera Zenit made in USSR.
This is variation of well known reverse lens macro technique for point-and-shoots: camera’s optics in maximum optical zoom mode (6x for my camera) shoot through reverse mounted Helios. Camera works with CHDK; Canon Hacker’s Development Kit, often it is named “alternate firmware”, but actually this is resident program, which is placed on the SD card.
It auto-starts when camera turned on and greatly enhances camera functionality. CHDK is not necessary for this type of shooting, but it is extremely useful, because it writes RAW shots as well as standard JPEGs and able to execute scripts (I use intervalometer script “Ultra intervalometer” with zero delay between successive shots: thus, it works as continuous series of shots with autofocusing before each of them). Shooting snowflakes is quick, but processing of pictures takes significant time for me.
At first, I align and average my series of identical shots: this dramatically reduce noise level and reveals subtle details, which can be unseen in every single shot because they are masked by noise. Then I undertake standard post-processing: sharpening, additional noise removing, cleaning background from ice debris, color toning (I prefer adding blue colors to my shots: originals almost monochromatic grey and looks not that appealing, to my taste at least) and finally, contrast curve.
Do you have any plans for a new macro photography series in the near future?
I think, snowflake macro photography will remain my main focus in near future. From the past winter I have about 200 gigabytes of source material: serial shots in JPEG and RAW formats. Even now I have not sorted and cleaned this archive completely.
Photophique has express permission to publish these images and Alexey Kljatov retains full copyright to all photographs featured in this showcase series.