The Stunning Macro Snowflake Photography of Sergey Kichigin

Our new blog includes some amazing slideshow features, so to help spotlight them, we’re resurfacing some of our favorite image galleries from the past. This interview originally ran in December of last year, and reappears here in our new format.

Russian photographer Sergey Kichigin specializes in mesmerizing macro images of snowflakes. By meticulously tracking the weather and working in a freezing studio, he’s able to capture some of the most stunning crystalline revelations we’ve ever seen. Better yet, despite the obvious skill on display in Kichigin’s work, he’s only been practicing photography for a few years, which means his future output is bound to improve even more. Prior to picking up the camera, Kichigin earned a PhD in economics and went on to work in the field, only to realize his true calling was of a more artistic nature.

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It’s not all frost and fantasy for the artist, either — you’ll discover a wide variety of styles in his full portfolio. Kichigin, who hails from Vologda, north of Moscow, has been a Shutterstock contributor for a year now, and his awe-inspiring work makes him an easy choice for the title of our latest Shutterstar. We caught up with him to talk about his transition to photography, his extreme focus on certain subject matter, and the process he uses to capture his amazing imagery. Read on to learn more, and discover his tips for similarly minded contributors.

What made you decide to start photographing snowflakes and ice?

A few years ago, I saw a program on the National Geographic channel that focused on the unique properties of water. It mentioned that water taken from different places in the world never forms identical ice crystals. It also showed significantly enlarged photographs of snowflakes in America and Japan. At the time, I didn’t know very much about photography, but I became interested in giving it a try, and around a year ago, I succeeded in taking shots that were of a high enough standard. This was thanks to the realization that it’s not the camera or the lens that is most important, but finding the right light.

What is your process when photographing such a fast-changing object like a snowflake?

The greatest challenge when taking photographs of snow and ice is to get the shot in focus before it melts. You also have to know when the snow is gong to fall, and what kind of snow it will be, because even where I live in the north of Russia, the best snowflake shapes only fall a few times a year. From a practical point of view, when a good snow starts to fall, I go out to my cold studio (the temperature is around -15 degrees Celsius), and I put some glasses outside to collect snowflakes. I then bring them into the studio and take the shots using special lights.

What kind of equipment does it take to get those macro shots?

All of the shots in my current collection were taken last winter using very simple equipment — a Sony A330 and a collection of old Soviet manual-focus lenses with focal lengths of 50/2.8, 135/3.5, and 200/4, as well as a macro extension tube and bellows for an old camera with M42 clamps on the threads. At the moment, the winter snow season is starting up again, and I’m getting ready to shoot with new equipment — primarily a Canon Mark 2 with a 135/2.0 lens and a complement of macro extension tubes, a specialized converter that increases the focal length, and a 40/2.8 lens from a medium-format Pentacon Six camera. I’m positive that I will get even more interesting shots with this equipment, with even better resolution and clarity, and that they will soon make their way into my collection.

What influences your style and subject matter?

If we’re talking about taking photos of snowflakes, the most important thing is the weather. For example, I already know what kinds of flakes will fall under certain temperature and humidity conditions. The best results are achieved at -15 degrees Celsius and very high humidity. And when I choose which ones will go in the collection, I also pay attention to symmetry of geometric form, the subtlety of the transition from simple to complex forms, and the golden ratio within every crystal’s structure.

Do you ever see your work out in the world?

As far as exhibitions and galleries are concerned, I have quite a lot of experience. For example, the image above was in the Top 100 at the Nikon Small World competition in the USA, and will be on display in 22 cities throughout America as part of a traveling exhibit. I’ve had three personal shows in Russia to date, two of which are currently on display in Vologda and in Veliky Ustyug, at the residence of the Russian Father Christmas.

Are there any adversities you’ve had to overcome to focus on your career as a photographer?

I’m now 33, and have only been taking photos professionally for a year. Before I became a photographer, I studied economics and graduated from one of the best schools in the country. I completed my PhD and went through a few jobs. But it’s only now that I understand that what I’m doing with photography is what’s really fulfilling. My friends joke that I sleep with my camera. But all of these results I obtain are just links in a chain. If you don’t go the whole way, you never get where you want to go.

Do you have any favorite images in your collection?

Some of my favorites (by ID number) are 103901252, 95312482, 95963704, 95312485, and of those images not dealing with snow, 112776103, 113098813, and 114604561. But I’m sure the most interesting and best work is still to come. I’m just starting out in photography, and it will be very interesting to go around the world and take even better photos. I’m sure my work in the future will have a lot to do with that.

Are there any tips you can share with other contributors about selling designs?

There are two pieces of advice I can give, the first of which is that for photos to sell well and bring in a profit, they must be unique — such pictures must be very rare or exist nowhere else. This is of course very difficult, but achievable if you pick a narrow topic and then specialize and concentrate on that and that alone. Then, even by photographing cacti and only cacti, you will start to sell well — because they will be the best cacti shots in the world. The second piece of advice is that you need to shoot something you really like. In life, in general, you need to do something that you like — it’s only then that you can really achieve great results. If you don’t really care what kind of cacti you shoot, you’ll never take the most magical photos of cacti in the world.

Explore more of Sergey’s snowflake photography in his portfolio »