How to Look at a Snowflake

Gilmore Girls’ Lorelai Gilmore once said: “Everything’s magical when it snows.” And she was correct. The first snowfall of Winter symbolizes the huge shift, from a crisp and cozy Autumn to a frosty and glistening Winter. Snowflakes are extremely visually appealing however, no one can truly embrace their beauty as they are microscopic and quickly melt away.

© Copyright 2010 Kulden, Marcus. “snowflake 1” Photograph. Ryerson University. 31 January 2020.

Snowflakes are similar to humans and their fingerprints, as no snowflake is identical to another. No one really knows how they form their shapes but the scientific background is actually very interesting: a snowflake is an ice crystal, that develops its shape by moving through different temperatures in the atmosphere. Cool, right? But who discovered that snowflakes are not similar to one another? The answer: Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley. He was so intrigued by the snowfall in his hometown of Jericho, Vermont, that he conducted a new form of photography called Photomicrography. His use of a microscope and camera system allowed him to view snowflakes up close and producing high-quality photographs. Anyone who attempts to replicate his work or do it as a hobby struggles a little as firstly, you have to stand in the cold (depending on where you live) and secondly, the photos have to be timed in order to capture the snowflakes clearly. Bentley managed to capture 5,000 photos and even donated a portion of his collection to the Smithsonian Institution before his death.

What about the colour of snow? How can something so small that melts away in a matter of days be the brightest white one has seen? This is because visible light is white and when it hits the snow, the snow obtains its colour. Hence why when sunlight shines onto the snow, it is actually almost blinding to look at. Furthermore, some particles in the atmosphere can change the colour of snow. For example, soot can turn snow grey and dust can make it light brown.

© Copyright 2018 Centomo, Alex. Instagram. Ryerson University. 31 January 2020.

Snowflakes can also serve as a prop when it comes to taking photos. Due to its artistic, or rather geometric, properties, the slow-motion falling of the snowflakes onto your hair along with the snow in the background of the location you’re in work together to result in an aesthetically pleasing photograph. However, many photographers have to replicate the snow sometimes when it is not possible to obtain the real thing (as snow is not available everywhere in the world).

When one thinks about it, snowflakes are actually quite peaceful to look at, whether it’s during the day or at night. Imagine getting into cozy pyjamas, making yourself a nice cup of tea, hot cocoa or warm milk, grabbing a blanket and sitting near a window or place where you can just watch the snow fall. It is a good way to take a break from whatever you were doing before and just appreciate the beauty of nature.

It is interesting to see the value something in nature has, especially when people usually do not pay much attention to it. The next time it is snowing, try to see if you can see the snowflake’s pattern and maybe even capture it.

Works Cited

Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.

Wells, Sarah. “The Beauty and Science of Snowflakes.” Smithsonian Science Education Center.21 Feb. 2019,

“Snow Characteristics.” National Snow and Ice Data Center, 10 Jan. 2020,

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