Armed with camera gear and a single black sock, a Colorado man has amassed a mind-blowing photo series of magnified snowflakes that look so complex and perfect that it’s hard to believe they’re real.
Colorado-born and raised, 51-year-old “storm doctor” Jason Persoff is a father of three, a physician, and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Hospital. While photography is his passion and not his profession, Persoff is making waves.
During a photoshoot in light snowfall at the end of November, Persoff took some of the most incredible photos in his snowflake series yet. He says that while he usually sees one or two 12-pointed snowflakes per session, they are “rarely this uniformly amazing.”
“I remember saying to myself, ‘Don’t breathe, don’t melt this one!’” he told The Epoch Times. “It was visibly spectacular to the naked eye. After I processed it in Photoshop, I was gobsmacked.”
According to Persoff, while the formation is breathtaking, there is really no such thing as a 12-sided snowflake since water molecules can only bond at 60-degree angles.
He said: “If you look at the center of the snowflake, you'll see it’s a six-sided flake, but it does have 12 points. So how does that happen? Early in the genesis of the snowflake, it became stuck to another growing snowflake. The net result is that the crystallization process results in equally spaced arms, or 12 points, creating the snowflake you see ... the illusion is that this is all one snowflake (even though it’s two), and they crystallized so perfectly together.”
Funnily enough, Persoff used to seriously dislike winters and briefly moved to Florida. Upon returning to Colorado around six years ago, he knew he needed a distraction to help him deal with the darkness of winter and found one in the details of a close-up photo of a snowflake.
“[I] was blown away,” he said. “I was convinced that this photo couldn’t be real, there was just no possible way a snowflake is that detailed! Suddenly I found my opportunity to take my photography in a different direction ... I love it so much that I just can’t wait for snow during the winter now.”
While Persoff does have to brave the elements, he said nature does most of the preparation work for him. But since snowflakes degrade quickly, catching them fresh from the sky is paramount. This is where the sock comes in handy.
“I catch the snowflakes on a humble black wool sock,” Persoff said. “The fibers there essentially act like little tiny easels, propping up the snowflakes from the rest of the sock. When taken up close, the depth of field is so narrow that the black background blurs into a homogenous black field.”
He uses a ring flash and LED lights to illuminate the snowflakes and his mirrorless Sony A7iii camera to capture the flakes in three dimensions. Placing hollow expansion tubes between his 60mm macro lens and the camera, he creates a “microscope.”
Persoff shared that when the angle of light is just right the snowflakes appear to be colorful.
“This process is known as thin-film interference, and it occurs because there are different densities or spacing of the crystals which creates an interference pattern similar to gasoline on water,” he said.
The optimal temperature for snowflake photography is lower than 25 degrees Fahrenheit because they tend to melt faster when it’s warmer. Persoff has to watch the direction of his breath since even exhaling can alter the snowflakes’ structures.
Since only “mere nanometers of depth” is in focus, it takes 30 to 40 photos to capture the entire surface area of one flake. Persoff then stacks the in-focus portions of each photo in post-processing to create a final, stacked photo made of only the best part of each image.
Ironically, Persoff said, the single biggest challenge with snowflake photography is the weather.
Explaining more, he said: “[T]he ideal conditions are light snowfall, as heavy snow can actually result in damage to these fragile structures through collisions and aggregations. Most of the time the window for perfect flakes can exist for 40 minutes or less ... when good snowflakes are falling, I have to be sure to stay out there and capture up all their crunchy goodness until the conditions change yet again.”
Sharing more about how he actually got behind the lens, Persoff said as a child he would take photos with his father’s camera and felt great excitement when they took their rolls of film to be developed. He got serious about photography when his interest in storms turned into active storm chasing after college.
A self-taught photographer, Persoff continued to learn from online forums, fellow storm chasers, and his mentor, visual artist Don Komarechka. He takes photos of snowflakes to satisfy his own fascination and never imagined his work would go viral.
“My hope is that it would bring others joy, and wow, I guess that happened!” he said. “It delights me to show people that snow, which often has a very negative connotation, due to travel mayhem and cold weather, is actually remarkable.”
The temporary, two-millimeter ice sculptures, he said, narrate a story of the atmospheric conditions that they formed in as they traveled down to earth.
“Sure, in the trillions they can be a pain, but if people are able to stop in wonderment, or even want to pay closer attention to them ... I will consider that the art is transformative,” he said.