Just about every phase of my has involved a tradeoff somewhere, which is probably true for most people. When I moved to Peoria, I gave up the heat of Texas summers (thank God!) for the cold of Midwest winters (so far I’m fine with that). I also gained the opportunity to really focus on my writing – but at the expense, for various reasons, of my photography.
For now, I’m mostly okay with that too, but I still need my photo fix, including a bit of creativity and exploration. Therefore, when I read on a colleague’s blog post about her attempts to photograph snowflakes using a macro lens on her iPhone, I was intrigued. The photos were pretty cool, and the Easy-Macro lens Karyn mentioned as her favorite was only $15. I figured I’d try it.
The lens arrived late last week, just in time for a snowstorm’s arrival here in Illinois. But the snow started falling too late in the day to have enough outside available light for the iPhone camera. Fortunately, it snowed again yesterday and today, so I had the chance to try out the Easy-Macro lens – basically a lens of about 1 cm in diameter embedded in a blue rubber band that wraps around your mobile device. Real high tech, right? Well, low tech doesn’t mean low quality, it turns out.
In my first “shoot,” I caught the snowflakes on the sleeve of my green sweater-jacket, which has also caught more dog and cat hair than a pet groomer’s floor, I think. As the flakes fell on my jacket, I had to move fairly quickly to pick out the best ones and try to photograph them before they started to melt. (I was also doing this while sitting in my car with the door open and a 2-year-old in his car seat anxious to go wherever it was we were going while mommy did some strange thing with her phone.)
I wasn’t thrilled with the background, so I figured I’d try something else later. I also had an Otterbox on my phone and wondered if the few additional millimeters between the macro lens and the camera influenced the magnification and/or focus. I resolved to try the lens again later sans Otterbox when said 2-year-old was not getting anxious in the back seat.
I tried again in early afternoon, but then the flakes were too small – they appeared to be only small pieces of complete flakes without any visible patterns. A few hours later, however, I saw thicker flakes coming down and decided to try again, catching the flakes on a black sweater this time. This time, the flakes were large and gorgeous. Each flake was about 3 to 5 mm and nearly every one that landed on my jacket was complete with patterns clear to the visible eye.
I discovered the black background led the iPhone to overexpose a bit, though this actually worked in my favor for photographing white snowflakes. Still, I didn’t like the grayish background (or the many pet hairs magnified in the images), and the flakes were still melting a little too quickly for me to frame and focus my images.
I experimented with a few different clothing items to “catch” the snowflakes, including a gray nylon jacket, khaki pants and gray slacks. What eventually worked out beautifully was a blue fleece blanket. I was able to bunch it up enough that my body heat didn’t travel through it, so as long as I didn’t breathe on the snowflakes, they remained intact for plenty of time to be photographed before melting. (The blanket had its share of pet hair too, but oh well.)
The focusing was understandably finicky because the depth of field range for the Easy-Macro is very small, but I eventually got a feel for approximately how far to hold the lens/iPhone from the flakes – somewhere around two inches or so – to get shots in focus.
I was thrilled with the results. The slideshow below includes some of my favorites as well as some of the missteps. I haven’t tried the macro lens with any other subjects yet, but it was definitely worth the fifteen bucks (and the freezing hands on my porch step) to get some of these lovely images of snowflakes.