Kris Light: Journey into the lens of her photography

Susan EspirituOur Town Neighbors

Last week, we saw incredible Jewels from the Sky photos where Kris Light captured individual snowflakes through the lens of her camera. This week, we learn how Kris discovered this passion for snowflake photography.

Kris Harris grew up in Donelson, Tennessee, near Nashville, developing a love of nature by spending as much time outdoors as possible. Attending the University of Tennessee brought her to East Tennessee, earning a degree in microbiology and eventually meeting husband Kenny Light.

Kris Harris Light’s career pulled her from cancer research in the Y-12 Oak Ridge laboratory to the Internal Medicine Department of ETSU, and eventually back to Oak Ridge, settling in as a stay-at-home mom to son, Curtis, and then to daughter, Lydia, four years later.

Kris’s love of nature always incorporated photography so, when her children were in school, Kris used her pictures of plants and flowers to create a presentation about plant adaptation, and created a new career for herself, teaching children and adults. Her nature-based website:

First, she discovered a new science outreach program called “The Ecological Study Center” where her plant program fit into their curriculum and over the next few years as she developed numerous other classes and other instructors joined the program, they taught the classes at the historic Freels Bend Cabin on Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge.

Eventually, the study center was transferred to the American Museum of Science and Energy and the classes became more outreach-oriented with the instructors traveling to the schools. Kris became the only outreach instructor, and she was incredible with students and classrooms as she was a frequent presenter at Pond Gap Elementary where I was principal.

Kris’s instinctive ability to communicate with all ages of students was always impressive and was due to her experiences with so many groups of students, plus over a decade teaching science enrichment class in a half-time position at Willow Brook Elementary School in Oak Ridge.

So, what about the snowflake photography?

Kris says, “Around 2010, I thought it would be fun to try to take pictures of individual snowflakes. I put black velvet on a foam core board to catch the flakes. I found out that didn’t work too well when the wind blew, I had to put rocks in front of it to hold it down! Eventually I attached the velvet to a piece of quarter-inch plywood and that took care of the wind problem.”

That’s it. She just decided to take pictures of snowflakes!

She laughs, “It is good that I live on the end of our street so not many people see me out there running around on the patio with a board trying to catch snowflakes!”

Now, Kris says snowflake photography is not inexpensive nor easy. The camera and lens are costly and a tripod is an absolute necessity. She also quips that getting herself ready takes longer than preparing the camera equipment because she has to wear so many layers of clothing to stay warm, intending to be outside as long as the snow continues to fall which last week was several hours into days.

The process doesn’t stop with the photo session and what happens after Kris takes the photo is not a simple process either. “After I finish taking the photos, the difficult part begins. I take all my photos in RAW, so they have to be converted to JPEG files. I crop the photo to isolate the flake I want then I have to change the background to solid black to get rid of the pattern of the velvet. I use a Wacom tablet with a stylus, it is very tedious to have to draw between every point on each snowflake!”

Taking photographs of snowflakes has led to other snowflake hobbies. Kris has printed the snowflakes, made note cards and even jewelry from the photos which she sells at craft fairs and at The Locally Grown Artisan Gallery in Oak Ridge.

As she did so many years ago when she developed a presentation focused on her love of plants, Kris has developed a presentation, but this one focuses on snowflakes called “Jewels from the Sky,” showing the different kinds of snowflakes and how they form.

Exploring possibilities hasn’t stopped this wily adventurer! Last week, she was taking pictures of frozen bubbles, out at sunrise to backlight them. Beautiful!

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