The Way the pioneer snowflake photographer Recorded Photographs before modern technology

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Studies among the Snow Crystals by Wilson Bentley 1902. Bentley was a bachelor farmer whose hobby was photographing snow flakes. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG through Getty Images)

Studies among the Snow Crystals by Wilson Bentley 1902. Bentley was a bachelor farmer whose hobby was photographing snow flakes. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG through Getty Images)

Photo: Universal History Archive/UIG Via Getty Images

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Studies among the Snow Crystals by Wilson Bentley 1902. Bentley was a bachelor farmer whose hobby was photographing snow flakes. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG through Getty Images)

Studies among the Snow Crystals by Wilson Bentley 1902. Bentley was a bachelor farmer whose hobby was photographing snow flakes. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG through Getty Images)

Photo: Universal History Archive/UIG Via Getty Images

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Close-up of a snowflake, 1902. (Photo by Wilson Bentley/Archive Farms/Getty Pictures)

Close-up of a snowflake, 1902. (Photo by Wilson Bentley/Archive Farms/Getty Pictures)

Photo: Archive Farms/Getty Pictures

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Investigation of a snowflake, by Wilson A ‘Snowflake’ Bentley (American, 1865 – 1931); albumen print from a glass-plate picture, 1890. (Photo by GraphicaArtis/Getty Pictures)

Investigation of a snowflake, by Wilson A ‘Snowflake’ Bentley (American, 1865 – 1931); albumen print from a glass-plate picture, 1890. (Photo by GraphicaArtis/Getty Pictures)

Photo: GraphicaArtis/Getty Images

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JERICHO, VT – JANUARY 18: Jericho, Vt. is your hometown of eccentric scientist/photographer Wilson A. Bentley, who originated the notion that there really are not any two snowflakes that are alike. This is one of Bentley’s first drawbacks he created of a snowflake, seen in the Snowflake Bentley exhibit in the Old Red Mill. (Photo by Dominic Chavez/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

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JERICHO, VT – JANUARY 18: Jericho, Vt. is your hometown of eccentric scientist/photographer Wilson A. Bentley, who originated the notion that there really are not any two snowflakes that are alike. This really is one of

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A picture by Wilson Bentley, “Snowflake Number15” (ca. 1920).

A picture by Wilson Bentley, “Snowflake Number15” (ca. 1920).

Photo: Santa Barbara Museum Of Art

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JERICHO, VT – JANUARY 18: Jericho, Vt. is your hometown of eccentric scientist/photographer Wilson A. Bentley, who originated the notion that there really are not any two snowflakes that are alike. This is one of Bentley’s first drawbacks he made of a snowflake, seen in the Snowflake Bentley exhibit at the Old Red Mill. (Photo by Dominic Chavez/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Not as

JERICHO, VT – JANUARY 18: Jericho, Vt. is your hometown of eccentric scientist/photographer Wilson A. Bentley, who originated the notion that there really are not any two snowflakes that are alike. This really is one of

… more

Photo: Boston Globe/Boston Globe Via Getty Images

Picture of all

JERICHO, VT – JANUARY 18: Jericho, Vt. is your hometown of eccentric scientist/photographer Wilson A. Bentley, who originated the notion that there really are not any two snowflakes that are alike. This is one of Bentley’s first drawbacks he created of a snowflake, seen in the Snowflake Bentley exhibit in the Old Red Mill. (Photo by Dominic Chavez/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Not as

JERICHO, VT – JANUARY 18: Jericho, Vt. is your hometown of eccentric scientist/photographer Wilson A. Bentley, who originated the notion that there really are not any two snowflakes that are alike. This really is one of

… more

Photo: Boston Globe/Boston Globe Via Getty Images

Picture of all

JERICHO, VT – JANUARY 18: Jericho, Vt. is your hometown of eccentric scientist/photographer Wilson A. Bentley, who originated the notion that there really are not any two snowflakes that are alike. This is one of Bentley’s first drawbacks he created of a snowflake, seen in the Snowflake Bentley exhibit in the Old Red Mill. (Photo by Dominic Chavez/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Not as

JERICHO, VT – JANUARY 18: Jericho, Vt. is your hometown of eccentric scientist/photographer Wilson A. Bentley, who originated the notion that there actually are not any two snowflakes that are alike. This really is one of

… more

Photo: Boston Globe/Boston Globe Via Getty Images

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Close-up of a snowflake, 1902. (Photo by Wilson Bentley/Archive Farms/Getty Pictures)

Close-up of a snowflake, 1902. (Photo by Wilson Bentley/Archive Farms/Getty Pictures)

Photo: Archive Farms/Getty Pictures

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How a pioneer snowflake photographer recorded photos before modern technology

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(Inside Science) — Snowflakes. They are beautiful and fragile — and very difficult to picture. But that didn’t stop one scientist from trying.

Could you imagine how hard it would be to picture a teeny-tiny, individual snowflake crystal? Then imagine the struggles that Wilson Bentley faced back from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“Wilson Bentley pioneered in photographing snow crystals, snowflakes and raindrops. He was also a farmer by trade and a scientist by passion,” said Terry Nathan, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California, Davis.

“When snowflakes are falling by the billions from oceans, through photography, we can freeze that motion, understand how fast it’s decreasing, the way those snowflakes may be linked to the cloud and the character of this storm. Photography lets us find things that are beyond ordinary human eyesight,” said Nathan.

Bentley took what exactly are called photo-micrographs that were comprehensive pictures of snow crystals.

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“A photomicrograph is simply connecting a camera to a microscope so that it is possible to get very detailed, close-up pictures. Now, using Wilson Bentley, there were also challenges; he worked under very demanding problems. It was cold. It was snowing. He needed to accumulate these snow crystals onto a little black plank, take them in to his unheated woodshed into picture.

“He needed to move that snow crystal from the plank into the microscope slide, which is a very delicate procedure, and he used initially a small sliver out of a broom, his mum’s broom to get this onto the skid, he even had to sort of jury-rig a focusing knob, a series running into the microscope because he could not reach it, so that he turned this small knob, and he even employed that mostly his whole life,” said Nathan.

Bentley’s work resulted in camera technology such as the multi-angle snowflake camera, that monitors the speed of falling snowflakes as well as also the fast-line cutting camera, which then steps the 2-D form of raindrops.

“He created over 5,000 photomicrographs over 46 decades, and those are currently in several museums, the Smithsonian and other places,” concluded Nathan.

A man ahead of the time left a legacy for mathematics in snowflake photos that will not melt off anytime soon.

This story originally appeared on Inside Science.

Reprinted with permission from Inside Science, an editorially independent news product of the American Institute of Physics, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing, encouraging and serving the physiological sciences.

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