Creator Q&A: Catch a snowflake on your camera, not your tongue
If you're a dweller of the northern hemisphere, then you're probably sick of this arctic blast overstaying its welcome and wreaking icy havoc on your local weather patterns. Perhaps the one redeeming quality of the cold, heartless season we call winter is this — that snowflakes exist. You know, those absolutely mind-blowingly insanely intricate and beautiful little pieces of ice that remind us of the good in the world and the beauty that surrounds us every day.
The first time I saw a macro photo of a snowflake, I proceeded to contemplate the meaning of life for a few solid hours. You don't even want to know the effect this gorgeous time-lapse video of magically forming snowflakes had on me:
Needless to say, I had some questions about form, process, and the meaning of life for the video's creator, Vyacheslav Ivanov.
VVS: How did you get the idea to make this video? What was the inspiration?
Vyacheslav Ivanov: I saw a lot of pictures of snowflakes and I loved them. They always present a sense of mystery and incredible beauty. I was inspired by the work of Professor Kenneth Libbrecht.
VVS: What exactly are we watching? Scientifically, can you give us any insight as to what is happening?
VI: This is a sublimation process. Under certain conditions, snowflakes sublimate, which means that they transition from a crystal into a gas. Then, you just reverse the video. This process is very similar to crystallization, just the opposite of it!
VVS: Also, maybe this is a stupid question, but how is this different from a snowflake melting?
VI: This is different from melting, which is the process of transitioning from solid ice to water. Sublimation is the transition of a substance directly from the solid to the gas phase without passing through an intermediate liquid phase.
VVS: What conditions are necessary for a snowflake to sublimate like this? And how did you make sure you'd be able to shoot this under those conditions?
VI: The temperature must be below -10 C (14 F), and there must be high atmospheric pressure (sunny weather). Under these conditions, the air is very dry and hygroscopic. Knowing this in advance, I was able to choose the correct time to shoot. Filming took place in my backyard at a temperature of -15 C (5 F).
VVS: Brrrrrr! Where do you live?
VI: St. Petersburg, Russia.
VVS: Do you have a background in science?
VI: I'm studying physics, including crystallography. I am also familiar with the methods of microscopy. All of this helped me a lot. The process is very moody. Because it is possible only in certain conditions and weather, it is not easy to do.
VVS: How did you shoot the video? Walk us through the process. What techniques and equipment did you use?
VI: I used a microscope, camera, and flexible fibers. I shot on a Canon 5D mark iii. Connecting a camera to a microscope is a complex process, and each case is unique, but all of the information is on the Internet (for example, here). I used flexible fibers for spot lighting, which can be used to achieve the correct angle of illumination.
VVS: And you’re shooting time lapse, correct?
VI: Yes. I shot 25 frames for one second of video. I had to set the interval depending on the speed of the process, because it changes. For example, in the morning it goes faster. I used about 3,000 frames.
VVS: How long did it take to shoot each snowflake? How long did it take to make the entire video?
VI: It takes 20 minutes for a snowflake to sublimate in the morning, and one hour in the evening. As the air becomes more humid, the process slows down. I spent three full days shooting, and seven days in post-production.
VVS: Had you shot something like this before? Where did you develop the skills to shoot something like this?
VI: For more than seven years, I have been doing time-lapse video. I have also always been interested in micro and macro shots. I have acquired various tools and conducted a number of experiments for both over the years. It is very interesting to me. There are many forums and books where you can learn a lot.
VVS: What was the most challenging part of making this video?
VI: The hardest part was trying not to freeze! Also, to put a snowflake on the glass, it must first be retrieved from a snowdrift. It snows at night, and in the morning, when the shooting starts, you must get a snowflake from the surface. It is a very difficult process to separate them from each other. You have to use brushes to pick it and put it on the glass. You have to hold your breath and act very carefully, because your breath could destroy a snowflake in a split second.
VVS: What was the most rewarding part of making this video?
VI: The whole process was very interesting and exciting. Most enjoyable was to come home after shooting, drink a hot tea, and start post-production. And the finest moment was seeing the final result.
Physics major and time-lapse master Vyacheslav Ivanov mesmerized us with his video of magically forming snowflakes. We asked him to reveal his snowy secrets.
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