Local photographer catches tiny details in snowflakes

Sinclaire Sparkman • Updated Feb 2, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Snowflakes are unique, and one local photographer has the pictures to prove it. 

Jodi Fialkowski uses microphotography to show the intricacies in individual snowflakes. 

“It’s amazing to me to be able to show people what’s really out there and what you don’t see. In a world where everybody is stuck in technology and always glued to phones and TV, it’s nice to be the person who can say this is nature, this is out there and this is what’s real in the world. It’s neat to give people a new perspective on things,” Fialkowski said. 

She uses a home-built camera setup to manually focus in on each snowflake to capture the tiny details. She said some snowfalls are more photogenic than others, and after seven years of taking snowflake pictures, she knows which systems will drop the best snow. 

“I can know by looking at them if they’re good or not. It depends on the system. If it comes in like right after rain, it’s not going to work because it’s going to have too much moisture in the snowflakes and it’s just going to be clumps, so it has to be a front that comes from the north. It has to be a really dry snow,” Fialkowski said. 

Fialkowski built the snowflake setup out of plywood so she could mount different lenses and bellows to it for the best shot. She keeps little blue plastic disks in her freezer, so when it snows she can be ready. 

“I’ll go out there with my disk and as I catch them, I’ll slide them under. And because what I’m used to is so crudely fashioned, it’s all manual, so I have to raise and lower it to focus,” Fialkowski said. 

Snowflake microphotography is something she can do at her home in Lebanon, where she lives with her husband, a Mt. Juliet police officer. They have two hairless dogs, Chinese cresteds, which she rescued. In her spare time, Fialkowski works with a hairless dog rescue based out of South Carolina called Bald Is Beautiful.

“I saw a picture in my vet’s office of these hairless dogs when I was a young girl and knew I wanted to have one someday. They do have hair on their head, feet and tail. I do a lot of transports and shelter polls and owner surrenders in the area. We work to rehome these dogs. They’re weird little animals and not for everybody,” Fialkowski said.

Photography is more than just a hobby for Fialkowski. She went to school for black and white photography, a passion she said she found at a young age. 

“When I was younger I had seen this black and white picture of my granddad on his tractor and said that’s a really cool picture. I want to take pictures like this, so I really started out focusing on black and white and it’s definitely expanded since then with the microphotography and I also do astrophotography, so I photograph meteor showers in night skies,” Fialkowski said.

For work, she photographs houses going on the market, a job that takes her all around Middle Tennessee. When she’s out driving around for work she is also scouting locations to photograph the night sky.

“The last one I did was actually an abandoned farmhouse out near Lancaster. I set all my gear up and I have a timer that I hook up to my camera that controls the shutter. I’ll set it to shoot for one and a half to two hours. Then, I kind of mesh them all together using computer software, and I can blend them into star trails or I can use individual frames.” 

Some websites have bought her astrophotography pictures, but as far as snowflakes, that’s something she does just to share with others. 

“I don’t do it for money. I don’t sell them. I share them all over local pages, and I think the last batch I sent out was viewed 25,000 times and shared all over the place.”

Responses to her microphotography range from thank you to wonderment. She has even been invited to speak to school children about the art. 

“I had a teacher who messaged me and said she was teaching her class about snow and Snowflake Bentley, who was the first person to ever really photograph snowflakes, and she asked if I would come in and speak to her class. So I went in on an afternoon and I brought all of my gear and obviously we didn’t have any snow, so I brought salt to put down on my little disks just so the kids could look through and see what it looks like in person versus what it looks like through all of the magnification. They all thought it was really neat to see and they all wanted to look through and see what it looks like. I brought pictures to hand out so they could all take one home. It was really neat to get in there and engage with them and hear all their questions and just see how fascinated they were by it. It was a really cool experience,” Fialkowski said. 


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