Macro Photography : Snowflake-a-Day #17 by donkom

It has been a long day, so today’s snowflake isn’t quite as gargantuan as yesterday’s, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. Sublimating edges on a sectored plate-type snowflake – view large!

In might be of interest to some of you to see my segment on Canada AM, a breakfast television show on CTV here in Canada. You can watch the 4-minute segment here: – it was a ton of fun being interviewed by Marci Ien and it’s always a challenge to speak generally about complicated topics in a way that everyone can appreciate in a universal way. These hosts are pros at it, and I hope my attempt was a success!

This snowflake shows a few interesting features – let’s start with the outer edges. I can tell that this snowflake has already started to fade away; the edges of the outer-most branches are rather broad, but rounded. This is a sign of sublimation – the snowflake begins to evaporate from its solid state directly into gas, a process that begins as soon as the snowflake leaves the cloud that created it. If a snowflake has been sitting on the ground for a few moments, you’ll be able to capture much sharper edges on the branches. If it sits for even 10 minutes, this is how it might look. Timing is everything!

You can tell the effect is caused by sublimation by little “nubs” at the end of some branches. A few can be seen in the broader lower-right side-branches. These are little bits of ice right at the tip that do not conform to the same curve as the rest of the branch. This is caused by a thicker ridge running along the center of the branch, and therefore taking longer to sublimate. It sticks out a little bit further in this scenario, a feature that can only exist when a snowflake is disappearing, not growing.

This is a “sectored plate”. The center the snowflake appears to be solid, but cracks at 60-degree intervals reveal that it is actually a series of branches that have grown so tightly together that there is no longer any space between them. This snowflake began branching very early, but then changed its mind. The branches grew back into a plate-like formation, but they can never properly fuse back together. There will always be a scar, some evidence to show the initial branching of an even smaller hexagon.

This branching continues outward with a very blocky, broad design, as if each branch was growing like its own plate. They couldn’t hold themselves together as a solid mass, as the outreach for water vapour will eventually accelerate growth away from the center faster than it can fill itself in. The result is a dense but simple snowflake, worthy of admiration.

Every snowflake has a story. If you want to understand the physics to explain how each snowflake is formed, check out Sky Crystals: – there’s a hundred pages dedicated to photographic techniques and tutorials in this book too – it’s a perfect photography field guide for winter macro work!

To see this snowflake alongside over 400 other crystals in a never-before-done print I’ve titled “The Snowflake”, click here to see what 2500 hours of work with snowflakes can produce: – oh, and if you want a special 40” x 60” version? I’d be happy to make one special. The detail WILL astound you. :)


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