Angela Cichosz laughs now as she tells the story of waiting for the ring light flash she'd ordered.
She knew she wanted to try snowflake photography this winter, so in January she'd ordered the Canon MR-14EX flash to light the crystals just right and give her the best chance of capturing a memorable shot of a single flake.
"I wanted it to hurry up," Cichosz says of the delivery. "I kept thinking, 'What if there's no more snow?'"
Turns out there was nothing to worry about, Angela.
Mother Nature gave Cichosz more than enough opportunities to point her lens and ring flash at individual snowflakes. But it wasn't until the light snowfall on the first day of spring that the photographer found the image she was looking for.
Like most of us, the Carol Stream woman looked out the window at the new fallen snow that day and cringed just a little. But as she dusted off her car to head to work, she started her usual hunt for the perfect snowflake to photograph. She's learned a lot about snowflakes as she's searched the last few months, she said.
"Not all snowflakes are equal," she said. "Some are very photogenic, with six points and symmetrical detail. Some are just not."
Some flakes break or fold on themselves as they fall, ruining their symmetry, she said.
Cichosz had a few extra minutes that morning before she needed to leave for her job as a teacher's aide, so she seized the opportunity, her camera and her ring flash. The result was a striking image of a snowflake that almost appears to glow on her car window against the dark backdrop of her car interior.
The photo was just what Cichosz had been striving for, and it caught the attention of the DuPage photo staff, who chose the image as the March winner of Photo Finish contest. For her efforts, Cichosz will receive a $50 gift certificate from PJ's Camera in Pickwick Place Plaza, 662 Roosevelt Road, Glen Ellyn.
"I like it because isolating the background really brings out the intricate structure of the snowflake," DuPage Photo Director Scott Sanders said.
Isolating the snowflake was a conscious decision, Cichosz said. Rather than wiping off her car windows with a big brush, Cichosz found the promising flake and meticulously cleaned the area around it with her finger to keep the flake in place against the window. Then, she put into practice the skills she's learned while studying macro photography.
Cichosz is a self-taught amateur photographer who bought her first "good camera" on May 17, 2007, -- yes, she remembers the precise date -- to take pictures of her puppy, she said.
"I keep pushing to learn new things," she said. "I'll get interested in something and read how to do it on websites, then it's a lot of trial and error."
Her interests have included long-exposures, which she likes to practice at festivals, taking photos of rides in motion with their lights blurred. She's also tried her hand at high dynamic range photography, which involves blending three exposures of the same shot into a single vibrant image.
Her photography goals vary by the season, she says, though her next obsession may build on the skills that helped her with her snowflake shot.
"I've been thinking about taking insect macros in the summer," she said. "I've tried in the past, but I didn't have the right equipment."
The ring flash Cichosz bought for her snowflake photography ought to help bring out the details.