These Super-High-Resolution Photos Capture the Intricate Beauty of Snowflakes

published Dec 24, 2020
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Credit: Nathan Myhrvold/Modernist Cuisine Gallery

Each snowflake is like a whole universe, and not just in the sense of the live-action Grinch movie (if you know, you know). Each one has a unique crystalline structure, astonishing in its detail and symmetry. 

We can’t see all this with the naked eye, or with the best iPhone macro setting. Snowflakes require a special camera that can not only capture tiny details at high speeds but also do so without producing too much heat.

Credit: Nathan Myhrvold/Modernist Cuisine Gallery

Photographer and former Microsoft chief technology officer Nathan Myrhvold spent a year and a half building just such a camera, according to Forbes. He became fascinated by snowflakes not just for their beauty but also because they sustain life.

“Snowflakes are something that we don’t think of as food, yet most of us in North America anyway, spend our whole summer drinking melted snowflakes, right?” he told John Koestier on the TechFirst podcast. “Without snowflakes, we would have no water. It is the form of snow that allows us to meter it out over a period of many months.”

The resulting camera connects to a microscope and uses high-speed, pulsing LED lights that are both very low heat and fast enough that they can take crisp images despite vibration in the camera-microscope setup. Other cool features of the camera include a cooling system and an artificial sapphire lens.

Credit: Nathan Myhrvold/Modernist Cuisine Gallery

To photograph snowflakes, Myrhvold went to Alaska and northern Canada, which had his ideal temperature of 15 to 20 Farenheit. Each of his final images is actually a composite of 200 to 500 stacked shots, which shows more of the snowflakes’ depth than a single image could. Myrhvold says that, at 100 megapixels, they’re the highest-resolution photos of snowflakes so far.

Learn more about all the finer details of Myrhvold’s camera on Forbes.