By Bryan Stevens
Erwin resident Amy Tipton is creating one-of-a-kind photographic works of arts, but she’s limited to when she can pursue her unique photography by certain weather conditions.
The best time to pursue her specialty photography is when the mercury drops in the thermometer and snow starts falling. Tipton’s recent specialty has been capturing exquisite images of the unique crystalline structures of snowflakes.
“The first snowflake I ever photographed was in January of 2016 while walking along the linear trail in Erwin,” Tipton recalled.
“A few inches of snow had fallen and I, of course, was out taking photos,” she said. “I stopped to take in the view along the bridge when it started pouring the snow. I watched in disbelief as one single beautiful snowflake floated down and landed on my glove. My gloves were so cold, it didn’t melt instantly.”
Tipton snapped as many photos of the frozen flake as she could before it disappeared. The ephemeral nature of a snowflake offers its own special challenges.
“I felt like it was special delivery just for me from God,” Tipton said. “I couldn’t get over how beautiful it was — a tiny frozen masterpiece.”
She remembers feeling stunned that the snowflake actually looked like one a person might see in a drawing or perhaps on a Christmas card.
“My profession is that of a registered cardiac sonographer,” Tipton said. “I perform ultrasounds (echocardiograms) of patients’ hearts and believe me, the human heart looks nothing like the heart on a Valentine’s Day card.”
An interest in taking photos is part of her heritage.
“I’ve enjoyed photography ever since I was a child,” Tipton said. “I was blessed to grow up with parents who enjoyed the outdoors. We enjoyed camping, picnicking and taking drives through the mountains, especially during the fall and when it snowed.
“My father, Edison Wallin, and grandmother, Helen Wallin, were the photographers in our family. They would always let me use their cameras to take photos of anything I thought was interesting. I still remember dropping off the rolls of film to be developed and having to wait for what seemed like an eternity (usually about a week) to pick up the photos.
“It was always so exciting to tear open the pack and look at the photos from our family outings.”
These days, digital photography has significantly shortened the wait period, but it certainly hasn’t dimmed Tipton’s excitement.
In a sense, she was born to take up the art of photography, even her special interest in capturing photographic images of snowflakes.
“I was born during a big January snow,” she said. “I have always loved snow, but that cold January day in 2016 was the first time I had ever truly seen an actual individual snowflake. I was in love and from that day forward, I was hooked on trying to catch and photograph more snowflakes.”
Tipton said that she couldn’t wait to get home and show her husband, Paul, and her parents her first snowflake photo.
“I imagine most reasonable people stay inside during blustery cold January days,” she said, “but if it’s snowing, you’ll most likely find me outside trying to photograph snowflakes.
“Snowflakes are fragile and only here for a little while, just like us. I’ve read that scientists agree that the likelihood of finding two identical snowflakes is zero. I think that fact adds to their beauty and intrigue. You only have a moment to photograph something that will never be seen again.”
Despite a mild start to this year’s winter season, Tipton never doubted the snowflakes would come.
“I wasn’t too worried about our unusually mild December hurting my chances of photographing snowflakes this winter,” she said. “The month of January always seems to deliver more than a few good opportunities to photograph snowflakes.”
Tipton noted that optimal conditions for photographing snowflakes are during periods of light snow with temperatures in the low to mid 20s with light to no wind.
“If it’s too windy, they aren’t in one spot long enough to photograph,” she said.
“If it’s too warm, with temperatures at or near freezing, they stick together and fall in clumps,” Tipton added. “It’s next to impossible to photograph individual flakes once they have clumped together.”
Through trial and error, she has discovered that the colder it is, the better.
“I’ve also learned that big mugs of hot chocolate and heated blankets are very useful in helping to thaw out after being outside trying to catch and photograph snowflakes,” Tipton said.
Standing outside in the cold trying to photograph snowflakes may not be for everyone, but, she said, “When the perfect snowflake gently lands in front of my lens and I’m able to get a clear photograph of it, it’s like winning the lottery.”