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A PARALLEL WORLD

Monday January 5 2015 / Science & Technology - Art & Design

Moscow-based photographer Alexey Kljatov has garnered a well-justified reputation for his superb macro-photography of snowflakes. 


Kljatov’s photographic work reveals amazing, subtle details in the tiny flakes of crystalline ice that we rarely get to appreciate.


You might think that such cool shots – pun intended – involve an ultra-sophisticated, expensive set-up – but you would be surprised at the relative simplicity and low cost of Kljatov’s camera kit.

Kljatov uses a Canon Powershot A650 compact camera with its built-in lens at maximum optical zoom (6x) shooting through a reversed Helios 44M-5 2.0/50 lens from an old Zenit film camera made during the Soviet era.


The combination is mounted on a 30cm-long wooden board. Where the internal and external lenses meet, Kljatov has made a ‘skirt’ from a black plastic bag, protecting the connection point from outer light, snow, ice and drops of water.

He also uses some of the extra DSLR settings made available by Canon Hacker Development Kit (CHDK) software.


Kljatov captures the snowflakes either on glass with a backlight (like the photo above) or resting on dark wool (like the photo below). With the latter, you can clearly see the dark strands of the woollen fibres around the flake.


“My shooting place is on the balcony of my house,” he explains. “I am lucky that I have such a nice place, where nobody disturbs me and I can go back into the house when I start to freeze!”


When shooting the flakes on a backlit glass surface with the camera rig in a vertical position, Kljatov attaches three standard narrow extension rings from a Zenit camera to the front of the whole construction.


“The whole design has turned out rather strong and steadily stands vertically with the lenses looking down,” he says. 


“I simply put it on glass over the chosen snowflake and shoot in maximum optical zoom mode. The camera's autofocus works fine through the external lens.”


For shots with a dark background, Kljatov employs a small desktop tripod with flexible legs attached to the backside of the wooden board. 


The Russian shoots a short series of eight to ten identical shots for each snowflake and later in Photoshop merges them all into one image.


“This helps greatly to lower picture noise and reveals small and subtle crystal details, which are otherwise almost invisible in every single shot, because they are masked by noise level,” he says. 


Kljatov carries out “standard post-processing” as he puts it – sharpening, additional noise removing, cleaning the background from ice debris and unwanted adjacent crystals, colour toning and, finally, tweaking the contrast curve. 


If the images turn out too monochromatic for his liking, he might add some artificial colours to the snowflakes.


“Shooting is easy, but processing the pictures takes significant time,” he admits. 

Other photos that Kljatov has taken with this rig include these macro shots of the hairs of a stinging nettle and a close-up of a fly.


Kljatov concludes: “My technique is very inexpensive. I think almost any compact camera could be used for this macro set-up, preferably one with a good optical zoom and sensor with more megapixels.” 

For more information, please visit Kljatov’s website, The Keys To December.

Suggested by
Steven Rogers