Crystal Ice Prisms

Icy Shards

Winter Ice Storm © 2008 Bo Mackison

I discovered Ken Libbrecht’s book called Field Guide to Snowflakes, a book, yes, all about snow. There is much going on in this frozen world that we are mostly unaware of, and it’s darn fascinating stuff! The book has photos of snowflakes produced under all sorts of weather conditions, including different temperatures and amounts of humidity. It’s a great book that both pleases the eye and expands your knowledge of the natural world at the same time.

Libbrecht suggests getting a black cloth (though a piece of black paper could easily substitute) and placing it on a surface to catch snowflakes. Then one can study them with a magnifying glass or jeweler’s loupe. (Or maybe a macro lens…hmmm.)

The crystals in the photo, as best as I can identify by reading and comparing, are columns or prisms and were probably formed in temperatures ranging from 18˚F to 27˚F. The geometric shape we think of as the typical snowflake, the thin and flat, six-sided crystal,  develops when the weather is a bit warmer – in the 27˚F to 32˚F range – or when it’s colder – from -8˚F to 18˚F. The temps between -5˚F and 10˚F produce the fanciest, most delicate of the hexagonal flakes.

I recently read a BBC article about an early photographer, Wilson A. Bentley. Ten of his pioneering photographs of snowflake crystals – he was the first to photograph snowflakes, and did so over a century ago – were sold in a recent NYC auction. According to the article, Bentley took photographs of snowflakes because he wanted to share their beauty with everyone.

Bentley was quoted as saying, “Every crystal is a masterpiece of design, and no one design is ever repeated. When a snowflake melts, that design is forever lost.” True wabi-sabi, those snowflakes!


About Bo Mackison

I’m a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place – a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I’d love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It’s my gift to you.


  1. With rain and what little snow we had rapidly thawing here, I’m really enjoying this bit of virtual snow today 🙂

  2. I never thought to use black paper or cloth to catch a snowflake. That would be tricky to do so and quickly photograph it with a macro lens… yet a neat challenge! Beautiful photo and interesting post.

  3. I worry that I’ve moved just enough south to not have the opportunity to photograph snow. A year or so ago I tried to photograph snow flakes and subsequently read a few articles about the technique for doing so. Snow is truly a fascinating subject. I love your ice prisms. Nice subject and interesting reading in today’s post!

  4. I actually have a oopy of Bentley’s book–page after page of photos of snowflakes (though not so pretty as Libbrich’s book looks). It’s astounding and, really, no two are the same! (I love when cliches are actually true.)

  5. Fascinating stuff, Bo, and those ice prisms are magical.

  6. So pretty and precise!

  7. Beautiful image Bo..Don’t know if I would ever have the patience to photograph snowflakes though 😉

  8. It’s a good thing those are ice/snow & not thorns. They would be beauty with a bite otherwise.

  9. Thanks for the book idea! I just adore the snow and snowflakes.

    Delicate shot you have taken here…fragile, yet powerful

Leave a Reply