Using old camera parts hacked together with boards and tape, Russian amateur photographer Alexey Kljatov has been capturing amazing shots of snowflakes falling on his Moscow balcony for the last five years.
Kljatov’s obsession began one day when he came across a couple of photos of snowflakes online. He’d owned a digital camera for several years, but hadn’t ventured beyond the usual subjects.
"When I got my first digital camera in 2002 or 2003, I loved its macro capabilities—I could shoot in detail the world unseen by the naked eye," Klajtov says. "Like many beginners, I started to shoot flowers, insects, and butterflies, and for many years didn’t try anything else. But one day I saw two shots of snowflakes on the Internet and thought the snow crystals looked amazing and very unusual. And these shots were done with a simple point-and-shoot camera."
The next winter, Klajtov decided to give snowflake photography a try. At first, things kept going wrong: The corners of his balcony were too dark, his camera made shadows in the pictures, and the settings didn't work. But eventually he set up a makeshift studio for the snow. He put a glass plate on an upturned stool and cut up a plastic bottle to hold his camera exactly the right length from a snowflake. With his free hand, he held a flashlight to light the crystals from below, and suddenly the photos started to look more like something you'd find in a scientific journal.
More recently, to get better closeups, he set up his current rig with a lens from an old Russian SLR strapped on his digital camera in reverse. A black plastic bag, wrapped around the connection point, keeps out light and snow.
After shooting a series of pictures of each snowflake, Klajtov spends hours in post-processing, using techniques from astrophotography to clean up the shots. It’s the sort of dedication that reaches to the levels of Wilson Bentley, who was the first person to ever photograph a snowflake (in 1885, using a feather to carefully carry a snowflake inside to a microscope after waiting patiently for hours outside). Bentley spent a lifetime photographing snowflakes, and Klatjov also has no plans to stop.
"When a good snowfall starts with interesting crystal types, I can spend a lot of time outside, forgetting about the cold," Klatjov says. "I’ve shot snowflakes for five winters and haven’t gotten tired of them."