Text and Photography by Richard De Nul
As for a photographical approach of a mineral you can devide them into five categories:
All images were taken before 2012 with a Nikon D200 camera or a Nikon Coolpix mounted on a third ocular of a microscope.
I consider a very large rock to be one bigger than 30 cm. Due to these larger dimensions, such a rock is not easily viewed under the microscope. It should be quite easy to make a photo of something that big and, in fact, it is.
Septarian nodule (fov: 35 cm) - Wienerberger Clay Pit, Rumst, Belgium.
However, to obtain the result above, more was needed than simply one click on the release button. Not only the presentation of the specimen is important, but also the lighting. A lot of light is needed to see into the depths of the septarian segments. The disadvantages of too much light are burnouts, something to be avoided at all times, certainly in this case, were no reflections of any crystals are possible. To photograph this rock I used a Nikon D200 SLR camera mounted on a tripod. For illumination, only daylight and no special light source was used. Five identical images, but with different exposures, were made using the camera's bracketing option. Those images were merged into a HDR (High Dynamic Range) software package to obtain a 32-bits/range colour image with a perfect overall illumination.
Presented here are large rock or cabinet specimens which are between 10 and 30 cm. In general, these are show case specimens that don't need to be observed under the microscope. Often they are very beautiful, attractive and eye-catching specimens and therefore very valuable.
Septarian nodule (fov: 6 cm) - Wienerberger Clay Pit, Rumst, Belgium.
Cuprocalcite on dolomite (fov: 115 mm) - Tsumeb, Otjikoto Region, Namibia.
This first photo represents a part of a typical septarian nodule which is completely covered with calcite and minor pyrite. The overall view of this rock is much more attractive than any of its details. Therefore I decided to highlight the contoures with a low aureole. This doesn't affect anything on the specimen itself and it accentuates the true identity of Pinocchio... With some imagination you can see him standing on the moon! The photo is made with a Nikon Coolpix 4500. The image width is approximately 60 mm.
This second photo is made with a Nikon D200 SLR camera, using HDR techniques. This was needed to obtain a correct colour representation under a high resolution (32bit). This is a rare mineral specimen. At first sight, not that attractive, therefore I didn't use external eye catchers. The viewer's attention only goes to the specimen and nothing else...
This is, perhaps, the most difficult part to describe. Small cabinet specimens are about hand sized rocks or minerals with a size of a few cm. Sometimes a microscope is needed in order to see the individual crystals. It can be said that every rock is different and many different approaches can produce a good photo. A good photo depends on the creativity of the photographer… but that's always a point of discussion!
Ferro-Rocherite (40x50x30 - 15x) - Clitters Mine, Gunnislake, Cornwall, UK.
Gypsum (50x30x20) - Manor Farm Borrow Pit, Oxfordshire, UK.
The first example is an outstanding specimen of an extremely rare mineral - ferro-roscherite. Several nice and undamaged aggregates are very well presented on a red carbonate-fluorapatite matrix. The overall view of the rock shows the individual dark green aggregates very well but the important details cannot be seen. Therefore I decided to present both in one image, a technique also known as PIP (picture in picture). The detail is a manually combined image of three separate slices. By focussing on a different area it is possible to obtain a very good depth of field. To accentuate the aggregate and to further improve the depth of field, the background has been selectively made unsharp using Photoshop. The linear magnification is approximately 15x. Read more about this further on.The overall image is taken with a Nikon Coolpix 4500 pocket camera and shows the specimen in its full size. The rock is 40x50x30 cm and is pasted in the detail image using a very fine white frame.
The second example is a larger gypsum crystal without matrix. Nothing special, but it was collected from an old English classic location. Photography is playing with light… you see?
I think it’s safe to call a mineral a ‘micromineral’ when you need a microscope to look at it. Many papers have been written on macro photography and it certainly isn’t the purpose to revisit this. If you’re interested in learning more about, I highly recommend you to read the UK Journal of Mines & Minerals magazine, n° 25 (2005) and n° 27 (2006). Most important to realise is that the microscope and not the camera is the determining factor for the quality of the image. A very good knowledge of software programs such as Photoshop, layering techniques and professional add-ins is, without doubt, essential. It isn’t possible to tell you when or where to use a certain filter or photo technique. All depends on the image and, most of all, your inspiration. Without doubt, your photo must be sharp and of good quality before you make any attempts to improve the image with a software application. You can’t make a good image from a bad photo. You must have the image you want in mind, before you push the release button! Knowledge of traditional photography is a sine qua non! Last but not least… look carefully at photos with a very critical eye. Never be happy with ‘your’ photo, show it to the wide public and be open for positive criticism. I’m sure you’ll learn a lot from it…
Quartz (Image width: 4 mm) - Clitters Mine, Gunnislake, Cornwall, UK.
Cassiterite (Image width: 3 mm) - Wheal Uny, Redruth, Cornwall, UK.
The first two examples are made with a semi professional Stemi-2000C microscope. A Nikon Coolpix 995 camera is installed on a third ocular. The position of the two specimens is chosen to obtain a perfect harmony with the crystal and the light. For illumination, only a ‘cold’ halogen ring light was used. I’m quite proud of the first photo which is a beautiful quartz aggregate from Clitters Mine, Cornwall. Quartz isn’t that easy to photograph because the many crystal surfaces reflect the light very easily, causing burn-outs. When looking carefully you’ll see the goethite in the quartz. Due to the high light intensity in the back of the cavity, it looks as if the cassiterite crystal is escaping from the cavity. The ‘back light’ accentuates also the transparency and the crystal termination of the cassiterite. No expensive equipment is needed to produce nice looking photos of microminerals. The two images below were made with an old Russian microscope. The same camera is installed on the eye-piece using a self made metal adaptor. For illumination I used a 7W TL-ring light. The specimens are unlickely to have reflection problems and they are nicely presented. Using a long shutter time (1/8 sec) with the smallest possible aperture gave me a good depth-of-field. And as you can see, the crystal I wanted to show, is sharp whilst the background, which isn’t important, is unsharp.
The small over-illuminated area on the calcite crystal below is used here to accentuate the striations on the crystal faces. The same camera settings were used for this beautiful isolated honey coloured siderite crystal on the right side.
Calcite (16x) - Landelies, Hainaut, BE.
Siderite (40x) - Wheal Drea, Botallack, Cornwall, UK.
All images were made using a single shot. Only a very smooth selective unsharpness (few percent) within Adobe’s PhotoShop was used. Both set-ups are presented in the ‘equipment’ section, elsewhere on this website. Except for the cassiterite, all these images have participated in different photo exhibitions as prints of 30x20 cm.
There’s no doubt when calling these types of minerals ‘microminerals’. A magnification of 50x or more is needed to see the mineral or crystal. When you observe such a crystal under a stereomicroscope you also use the vertical movement knob to see the different parts of such a crystal shape. That’s what you’ll have also to do when you want to present the specimen as an image… All these images below are made using multi-layering techniques. There are several ways to do this. Combine Z, Zerene Stacker or working with layers in Photoshop are only some of them. When or why to use a particular technique depends a lot on the image and the crystal. A lot of experiences, patience, trial and error are the only ways to become familiar with the techniques and to obtain good results. As before, there’s only one sine qua non… every image you’ll take must be sharp without too many reflections or burn-outs. The latter is very important as CombineZ will generate nasty artefacts which are almost impossible to remove later on.
Anatase (50x) - Poldice Mine, Redruth, Cornwall, UK.
Anatase (60x) - Hendre Quarry, Glyn Ceiriog, Wales, UK
One of the difficulties in photographing microminerals is to obtain a good depth of field and resolution. Stacking several digital images or working with layers using the appropriate imaging software can approve this shortcoming. The first two images are very good examples of such combined images. Anatase is a pain in the heart for the photographer. The first example illustrates an almost black anatase crystal. Because of the typical metallic lustre these crystal faces reflects the light very easily, resulting in burn-out. Several images were made focussing on different depths of the 101 face. These were combined into one image to illustrate the typical striation of the crystal. The top of the crystal (001) is a single shot image that has been aligned with the previous resulting image. Both were merged as different layers in Photoshop. I feel that red is a very difficult colour to photograph. The reason for this is the camera sensor (Nikon Coolpix 995) which seems to accentuate red more than other colours. To represent this beautiful red anatase crystal, light and camera settings are even more important in this matter. A good reference to use in order to avoid the red cast is the white quartz. This image is the result of a manually combined composite of four separate images.
The images below are also the result of multi-layering techniques. CombineZ was not exclusively used but sometimes certain triggered images were used as different layers within Photoshop. Afterwards, a slight change of the histogram levels, a selective unsharpening or noise reduction may improve your image very much.
Holmbushite (100x) - Holmbush Mine, Kelly Bray, Cornwall, UK.
Langite (120x) - Wheal Hazard, Botallack, Cornwall, UK.
To photograph the fluorescence of minerals, special UV lights are needed. Also, not every camera is capable of producing the required image. The technique is quite different to normal photography and I think it's safe enough to conclude that this is a speciality on its own. The images below are made with a 'long wave' UV light under the microscope. The micromineral specimens were mounted in a small tube to exclude normal daylight.
Aragonite (5 mm) - Beauraing, Namur, Belgium.
Calcite (3 mm) - Dolyhir Quarry, Wethel, Old Radnor, Powys, Wales, UK.
A different technique is needed to photograph gem stones. What you see below is only a first attempt with which I'm not very happy yet. More experiments are required. I look forward to receiving more information and suggestions from fellow photographers.
Heliodor, variety Golden beryl (6 mm).
Quartz, variety Citrine (6 mm).
Pyrope, variety Rhodolite (6 mm). <