A Vermont farmer, Bentley became fascinated by the crystalline structure of snowflakes as a child and began experimenting with trying to capture the singular shape of a snowflake under a microscope with a bellows camera -- the contraptions with a folding box of pleated material between the lens and film.
"Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind," Bentley is quoted by the Jericho Historical Society.
During a snowstorm on Jan. 15, 1885, Bentley became the first person to ever photograph a single snowflake.
Although it took years for Bentley to establish a process to photograph snowflakes, once he mastered it, his only complaint was the cold.
"The photographing of snowflakes, although quite delicate work, can hardly be called difficult, although some hardships attend it, because the work must all be done in a temperature below freezing, and under conditions of much physical exposure,” Bentley wrote in a 1922 article for Popular Mechanics Magazine.
In 1931 he would publish a book, "Snow Crystals" chronicling more than 2,400 photographs of snowflakes.
While Bentley may be most famous for his snowflake studies, he was an equal-opportunity weather-lover and conducted experiments with raindrops as well. Bentley’s studies were published in the scientific magazines and journals of his time. In 1924 he was awarded the first-ever grant from the American Meteorological Society.
At the time of his death in 1931, Bentley would leave behind more than 5,000 photographs of snowflakes.
Content Provided by Smithsonian and The Jericho Historical Society, Photo provided by Smithsonian