It’s easy to forget that the mounds of snow lining sidewalks each winter actually are comprised of billions of tiny crystals with individual grooves and feathered offshoots. A trio of photographs taken by Nathan Myhrvold, though, serves as a stunning reminder of that fact as they expose the intricacies hidden within each molecule.
To capture such crisp images, the Seattle-born photographer traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska, and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, where temperatures plunged to –20 °F. “Water, an incredibly familiar thing to all of us, is quite unfamiliar when you see it in this different view. The intricate beauty of snowflakes is derived from their crystal structure, which is a direct reflection of the microscopic aspects of the water molecule,” he says.
Formally trained in physics, Myhrvold spent 18 months building a custom camera with a cooled-stage microscope to ensure that the flakes remained frozen as he shot. Short-pulse, high-speed LED lights reduce the heat the instrument emits, and at a minimum, its shutter speed clocks in at 500 microseconds. Myhrvold says it’s the highest-resolution snowflake camera in existence.