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Graphics Science

19th-Century Photographer Captured 5,000 Snowflakes 80

Posted by kdawson
from the more-science-than-art dept.
tcd004 writes "Wilson Bentley began photographing snowflakes in 1885, and managed to immortalize more than 5,000 crystals before his death in 1931. Now his images are widely recognized and highly sought after. At the age of 19, 'Snowflake' Bentley jury-rigged a microscope to a bulky bellows camera and took the first-ever photograph of a snowflake. Photography then, particularly microphotography, was much closer to science than art. In a 1910 article published in the journal Technical World, he wrote, 'Here is a gem bestrewn realm of nature possessing the charm of mystery, of the unknown, sure richly to reward the investigator." The video embedded at the link above touches on another long-forgotten piece of history: a sketch of the photographers who captured arial views of assemblages of tens of thousands of soldiers returning from WW-I, carefully choreographed and arranged to form a Liberty Bell, a Stature of Liberty, a US flag... as forgotten as the origin of the WW-I term razzle-dazzle.
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19th-Century Photographer Captured 5,000 Snowflakes

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  • Arial? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Ariel: A character in "The Tempest". Also "The Little Mermaid".
    Aerial: existing or living or growing or operating in the air
    Arial: A font from Monotype.

  • Public Domain (Score:5, Informative)

    by Skapare (16644) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @12:01AM (#31050474) Homepage

    Follow the "snowflakes" link and look at the bottom of the page:

    Copyright/Public domain works
    Wilson Bentley did not copyright his photographs and thus they are in the public domain and free to use for any purpose.
    HOWEVER
    No materials or images from this (or any other) website may be resold in any form (print or electronic).
    The Public Domain status does not give you the right to resell material unless you have access to the original source and permission from the owner to reproduce the material. Any published works of Public Domain material is only "Royalty free" if explicitly stated.

    WTF? Someone just doesn't understand what Public Domain really is.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That would be you. You can copyright works containing public domain artwork. Only the original photographs are in the public domain, not the reproductions offered by the site.

      • Re:Public Domain (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 07, 2010 @12:26AM (#31050594)

        (Sigh) Bridgeman v. Corel [wikipedia.org] says otherwise.

        • by jamesh (87723)

          I would have modded you +1, but that "(Sigh)" really bugs me :p

          btw, does a watermark count as making it an original work?

          • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            (I'm the annoying sigher; apologies) No. A spark of originality/creativity is part of the requirement for copyrightability. (above case and Feist v. Rural Telephone [wikipedia.org])

        • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Actually, no it doesn't. First, Bridgeman, while influential, isn't settled law; it is, after all, only a district court opinion, although admittedly from a highly influential court. Second, Bridgeman does not say that every photograph that includes a public domain work in the image is in the public domain, only that a "slavish copy" does not have sufficient originality to be copyrightable. The website video is certainly copyrightable, even though it contains some pictures of prints on display at the muse

          • Re:Public Domain (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdotNO@SPAMhackish.org> on Sunday February 07, 2010 @01:18AM (#31050772)

            I don't see why a still from the movie that consists of nothing except a verbatim copy of the original photograph wouldn't be in the public domain. If the movie itself has creative arrangement it may be copyrightable as a work, but that doesn't mean that any subsidiary parts of the movie that were drawn from the public domain magically get a new copyright as part of the new work.

            For example, if I quote a public-domain poem in a new novel, the entire work (novel+poem) is copyrighted, but anyone may extract that poem from my novel and use it without my permission.

            • PBS puts watermarks on their videos, so arguably a screenshot could arguably be not a "verbatim copy" (by very persistent lawyers, no doubt).

              - RG>

      • by Skapare (16644)

        However, you cannot claim ownership to what already is public domain. Sure, you can make a new work consisting of parts that are public domain. If your work is creative, it can then be copyrighted. But the original public domain parts remain public domain and not subject to royalties.

  • Dazzle Camouflage (Score:5, Informative)

    by AtomicSnarl (549626) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @01:15AM (#31050768) Homepage
    For those wondering how wild colors and stripes on ships would hide them from U-Boats -- it didn't. It made it hard for the U-Boat captains to properly evaluate their targets. The colors and pattern would disrupt the length, angle, and speed clues seen though binoculars at a distance, and through the periscope when preparing to fire torpedoes.

    Radar didn't exist during WWI, so U-Boats cruised on the surface with lookouts who could eyeball ships or ship smoke at 10 miles, maybe 20 on a good day. Given their 15-18 knot surface speed [k12.nc.us] and 6-8 knot submerged speed, the U-Boat now had only 30 minutes or so to get into proper position ahead of the approaching ship -- about 4000-6000 yards (2-3 nautical miles) ahead and to one side of the approaching target. WWI German torpedoes [wikipedia.org] could travel 6600 yards at 36 knots, for a max run time of just over 5 minutes. A target ship moving at 12 knots would move 400 yards in a minute. A 600 foot ship travels it's length in only 30 seconds. It's this tiny window that the Razzle-Dazzle would screw up. If the U-Boat captain guessed wrong on the ships movement due to painted false bow waves and extra bow/stern lines, the firing solution would be bad.

    Remember that the ship view from the U-Boat was usually against cloudy skies of some sort in the North Atlantic. Add in the blue haze with distance, and the yellows, purples, and pinks start to blur into the background blue-gray sky. Now think of that sight through a wet periscope a few feet above the water, and you get the idea.

    WWII had a brilliant camoufalge example in the bizarre sounding Pink Spitfires [airplane-pictures.net] used for reconnaissance [ipmsstockholm.org]. The pink shade was selected to blend against the just-past-sunset twilight sky and clouds when those aircraft flew, and it was very effective.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      Correct. However the link in the summary is incorrect - dazzle camouflage was widely used in WWII. Some of the schemes used by the USN can be seen here [navy.mil].
       
      It's worth pointing out however that proper studies of the effectiveness of dazzle camouflage seem to have never been carried out.

    • Radar didn't exist during WWI, so U-Boats cruised on the surface with lookouts who could eyeball ships or ship smoke at 10 miles, maybe 20 on a good day.

      Actaully, WWII boats also cruise on the surface looking for targets; once they found one they would maneuver to intercept and make a submerged attack run. It wasn't until nuclear power submarines came into existence that the submarine was transformed from a surface vessel that attacked submerged to a true submarine. Adm Flukey, amongst others, began cruising with the periscope fully extended to be able to see further over the horizon.

      Yes, I realize the snorkel enabled longer under water operations, and th

    • by Dupple (1016592)
      If you happen to be in London, take a walk down the Thames and you'll see HMS Belfast in her dazzle http://www.edwud.com/photos/hms_belfast.jpg [edwud.com]
    • by couchslug (175151)

      "Pink" and "broken outlines" still works, note that Stealth aircraft are black to appeal to aircrew. Black isn't optimal for the night ops required by stealth systems, which is why WWII night fighters were often a lighter color.

      Factory stealth camo:

      http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/f-117-camo.jpg [fas.org]

    • by Yo_mama (72429)

      In addition to the pink spitfires, there were pink ships: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountbatten_pink [wikipedia.org] [Wikipedia]

      A couple of the photos in the "razzle dazzle" article were of WWII ships and not WWI as implied. Razzle Dazzle itself was not an official term used by the US Navy and I don't believe the Royal Navy either, albeit I'm less sure of that.

  • Off topic (Score:5, Funny)

    by electrosoccertux (874415) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @01:25AM (#31050788)

    I'm wondering who this advertiser [yfrog.com] thinks they're going to make money off of here at slashdot.
    Just saw it to the right of the /. homepage.

    • Hm, you'll note I went to the trouble of painting out my username in mspaint.
      Even though it is clearly visible with every post I make at slashdot.
      I need another beer.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Do you work for them or something?

      I mean, do you seriously suppose that nobody knows how advertising works on the internet? The ad is not on slashdot, it was targeted at you personally because your browser reported that you have been browsing sites that the ad server associates with you having an interest in scantily clad models..

      AdBlockPlus ffs!

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      I imagine there's a number of slashdotters who can afford an "escort" like that. I hear those guys like to buy those girls gifts for some reason...

  • by Gordonjcp (186804) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:55AM (#31051296) Homepage

    It would have been nice to see how they looked.

  • As a photographer, I've been a fan of Snowflake Bentley for a long time.

    His contemporary counterpart is Ken Libbrecht. [caltech.edu]
  • In the linked video, at 1:44 the narrator says

    Gallileo said "I'm only as good as those shoulders I've stood on before,"

    which nearly had me rolling around on the floor laughing.

    I think he's trying to reference Newton's statement "If I have been able to see further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants."

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Chris Mattern (191822)

      I think he's trying to reference Newton's statement "If I have been able to see further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants."

      I can see where he got confused; Galileo was in fact one of the "giants" Newton was referencing in the quote (Kepler was another). The great thing about that quote is that it's actually a stealth insult. Newton wrote it to a rival named Robert Hooke, who was somewhat, um, short. That exact wording is Newton's, and it is the best known expression of th

      • by Estragib (945821)
        Much earlier than that in a different part of the world, it was customary for Buddhist and Taoist monks to sign their written musings not with their own name but those of their teachers.
        • Acknowledging that you've built on the work of those who came before you is universal and goes back before recorded history. What I was talking about was the specific imagery of standing on your predecessors' shoulders.

          • by Estragib (945821)
            While I don't know anything about that, you're probably right. Anyway, I wasn't going for "Wrong, this is how it really was" but for "Oh, this reminds me". I should have been clearer.
  • Two Books by Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley:

    Snowflakes in Photographs [amazon.com]
    Snow Crystals [amazon.com]

    Three books about Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley:

    The Snowflake Man: A Biography of Wilson A. Bentley [amazon.com]
    My Brother Loved Snowflakes: The Story of Wilson A. Bentley, the Snowflake Man [amazon.com]
    Snowflake Bentley [amazon.com]
  • Why? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It's said that no flake is equal to another, which is amazing de per se.

    But I'm intrigued by the constant symmetry.

    I can understand crystals and why they form natural patterns, like prisms or cubes, but given that everyone is different why an arm (or leg) is equal to the other? Maybe they form together (hence they grow identical) and then split somehow?

    Any geologist or spelunker in the room?

    • I read about this once. Basically the shape of a snowflake is determined by the exact conditions over the course of the formation of the snowflake. This is why finding two identical snowflakes is so unlikely. That being said, apparently the vast majority of snow flakes aren't symmetrical. It's just that they aren't pretty so no one posts pictures of them. According to this site <URL: http://www.its.caltech.edu/~atomic/snowcrystals/class/class.htm> (run by a Caltech physics prof, its got amazing info a
  • I don't really think Snowflake Bentley has been "long forgotten", as the summary implies. Our homeschooled children just finished a unit study on him a few weeks ago (which doesn't prove anything of course except that he's still well known enough for there to be unit studies made available on him...).

    In fact, a book about him, appropriately titled Snowflake Bentley [amazon.com] won the Caldecott medal as recently as 1999!

  • The video embedded at the link above touches on another long-forgotten piece of history: a sketch of the photographers who captured arial views of assemblages of tens of thousands of soldiers returning from WW-I, carefully choreographed and arranged to form a Liberty Bell, a Stature of Liberty, a US flag... as forgotten as the origin of the WW-I term razzle-dazzle.

    Fans of old photos should look up the classic survey of the San Francisco earthquake, which were taken by kite-borne cameras.

    Oh, and Linux fans will want to check out S.S. War Penguin at the razzle-dazzle link.

  • A microphotograph is a very small photo. Like the micro dots spys used to send under postage stamps or the flaps of envelopes. A photomicrograph is a photo taken through a microscope. I think he took photomicrographs or micrographs.
  • Bentley donated the original glass plates to the Buffalo Museum of Science (a city known for snow itself, though Bentley did most of his work in Vermont as far as I know). They have many of them scanned, and include data about each photo as well. See it here. [sciencebuff.org]

    I'm from Buffalo and have been to the museum countless times; after learning about Bentley I am always amazed that they don't capitalize on it with some sort of exhibit. Seems like it would be a nice attraction to a museum that otherwise seems to be hav

  • No doubt this material would have been of enormous use to poor Dr Max Box and his quest for two identical snowflakes.

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