11.23.2010

How to photogaph a snowflake under a microscope (tutorial)

We had a snow day yesterday.  I go stir-crazy on snow days (see these posts for Snow Storm 2008).  This year I am trying to embrace the "forced days off" that Mother Nature has provided (if you haven't heard, Seattle shuts down in the snow).  That said, you will be unsurprised to hear, that I set up lab on the front porch at 8am yesterday morning.  I brought out my microscope and "science box" and started trying to catch snowflakes.  Catching them was not the hard part.  The hard part was trying to get them to stick around long enough on the glass microscope slide.  Even on the plastic slide, they melted before I could get the microscope focused.  But eventually I figured it out- before I got frostbite on my finger tips.

Here's what I learned:


  1. It IS possible to view and photograph snowflakes using a $1.99 used toy microscope.
  2. Use the lowest power lens - for 2 reasons.  First, snowflakes are pretty big in the grand scheme of the microscopic world.  Second, the higher power lenses have to get too close to the slid to focus - you will smash your fragile snowflake.
  3. FREEZE your glass slides first in the freezer.  You have to get it (only take out 1 at a time) from the freezer to the snow quickly before it warms back up (and carry them on the edges, so it doesn't warm up from your body heat).
  4. Be patient.  For prime viewing you want a single layer of snowflakes.  Since you can't move the flakes that stack up, you will have to look at a lot "piles" before you find the lone flake - but it's worth it!
  5. To photograph it, I used my Canon PowerShot SD780 IS.  This is not a fancy camera - but it does have macro mode.  All of the other settings were on automatic.  I used 1/2 of a cardboard toilet paper tube to block out the light between my camera lens (zoomed out) and the eyepiece from the microscope.

3 comments:

Marja/Glass Elements said...

Love! Now I wish I had a microscope, too! :)

Kayce said...

you are a genius! and a patient one at that. I don't think I have it in my to do this with the kids. I'll just show them what you've done :)

Haute Goat Reclaimed Cashmere said...

Marja - I can hook you up for about $3.99 ;)

Kayce - You have far more patience than me, I've seen it! Alas, put me in front of a microscope and I'm a different person!