These Magnified Frost Crystal Images Are Totally Enchanting

Elizabeth Root Blackmer documents the natural world one square inch at a time. For decades, the Maine-based photographer has used macro lenses to capture breathtaking images of water droplets on spiderwebs , dew-soaked flower petals , thin skeins of ice , and other phenomena too small to normally attract our notice.

"I like things that are abstract and ambiguous,” says Blackmer , who studied fine arts at Harvard under renowned experimental photographer Len Gittleman . "It draws you in if there's a bit of mystery in it. Sometimes you recognize the image, sometimes you don't."

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For her latest series, Blackmer has been shooting macro images of the frost crystals that form inside the storm windows of her Maine farmhouse. The conditions must be just right for the crystals to form—the window surface can be neither too warm nor too cold, and the air must contain enough moisture. Sometimes the frost freezes too quickly and the windows develop a coat of white frost without any patterns in it.

But when everything turns out right, the results are extraordinary: delicate, gossamer-thin frost crystals that look carved out of glass. Blackmer photographs most of them at dawn, illuminated by the sun's pale golden light, before they begin to thaw and disappear. Later, in Photoshop, she enhances the colors to bring out the deep blues and yellows. ("It's the natural colors, but they aren't naturally that intense.")

Although the objects she photographs are small, Blackmer bestows an almost mystical significance on them. "There are these patterns that exist throughout nature, on all different scales," she says. "You don't necessarily know what scale you're looking at—it could be taken from an airplane, or it could be an inch across."

Like the water droplets she photographs, Blackmer's frost crystals are defined by their ephemerality. She sees her photography as a way of fixing these transient objects in time: "Sometimes they're gone within seconds, if they're dewdrops sticking to spiderwebs. And some of them would never be seen by another person if I didn't take a picture of them."

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