JEWELS OF THE SKY
“Each of my crystals has a story and is special to meNorbert Span
because it has survived the flight through the atmosphere
to my glass plate. In that sense,
I have a special relationship with every crystal.“
Norbert Span studied meteorology, glaciology and astronomy in Innsbruck. Ice and glaciers were also the main topics of his master thesis. After completing his doctorate, he worked as a research assistant at the Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics at the University of Innsbruck. During this time, he undertook several research trips to various glaciers around the world. But even the smallest ice structures captivate his passion. On every winter’s day with snowfall, he stands in his garden shed and lurks among the filigree beauties with a microscope and camera. The main protagonists are the snow crystals. Over the years, he has compiled a huge archive of the enormous variety of crystal forms. Span is one of the best photographers in the world in his field and there is probably no one who has captured so many high-quality photos of snow crystals.
“My camera is an ordinary SLR camera. The secret is the lens. Either a magnifying lens with about five times magnification or a microscope lens between two and ten times magnification. I catch the snow crystals with a small glass plate. I often spend hours outside my garden shed in Steinach am Brenner. All the photographic equipment is also placed outside to cool it down. Snow crystals melt or evaporate very quickly, so I only have a short time to take the photos – it’s always a matter of seconds or minutes at most. I then place the glass plate under my lens and illuminate the snow crystal from below, usually with two colours to enhance the contrast.
Snow crystals are normally transparent, translucent – i.e. without contrast. I then sort out the interesting objects on the glass plate using a marten hair brush. All other brushes would be too hard and would damage the crystals. I often take up to a hundred photos during a snowfall. I then select the most fascinating crystals in front of the computer. Of course, this is a subjective process. The question is: what does ‚beautiful‘ or ‚exciting‘ mean when it comes to natural wonders?
During my time at university, I read a book by Wilson Bentley, who was one of the first to photograph snow crystals. I started doing this myself in 2004 and the passion has never left me.