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How to Take Mineral Photos

Taking Great Pictures of Minerals and Gemstones

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You can photograph a deeply colored specimen against a white or light background.

You can photograph a deeply colored specimen against a white or light background. Backlighting can display translucence.

Jon Zander
Do you want to take great pictures of your mineral specimens? Here are some tips and tricks to help your mineral photos turn out looking wonderful.
  • Know your camera.
    You can take wonderful pictures of mineral specimens using a disposable camera or cell phone; you can take terrible photos using a high-end SLR. If you know what works in terms of distance and lighting for the camera you are using then you'll have a much better chance of taking a great shot.

  • Be accurate.
    If you are taking a photo of a mineral out in the field, then take the picture of the mineral where you found it rather than moving it to a 'pretty' location.

  • Take multiple pictures.
    If you're in the field, approach your specimen from different angles and take a variety of shots. Do the same back home. Taking ten shots of the exact same angle, background, and lighting is less likely to give you a great photo than taking several different photos.

  • Make the mineral the center of attention.
    If possible, make it the only object in the photo. Other objects will detract from your specimen and may cast nasty shadows on your mineral.

  • Choose your background wisely.
    I take the majority of my pictures on a white plastic cutting board because it doesn't cast reflections back toward the camera and because I can apply light behind the mineral. White is great for specimens with good contrast, but it doesn't work as well for light-colored minerals. Those minerals may do better with a gray background. Be careful using a very dark background because some cameras will take a picture that washes the detail out of your specimen. Experiment with different background to see what works best.

  • Experiment with lighting.
    You are going to get different pictures in sunlight than you will under fluorescent or incandescent lights. The angle of the light makes a big difference. The intensity of the light matters. Look criticially at your photo to see if it has distracting shadows or whether it flattens out any three-dimensional structure of your mineral specimen. Also, keep in mind some minerals are fluorescent. What happens in you add black light to your specimen?

  • Process your image, with care.
    Pretty much every device that takes pictures can process them. Crop your images and consider correcting them if the color balance is off. You might want to adject the brightness, contrast, or gamma, but try not to go beyond that. You might be able to process your image to make it prettier, but don't sacrifice beauty for accuracy.

  • To Label or Not To Label?
    If you are going to include a label with your mineral, you can photograph a (neat, preferably printed) label along with your mineral. Otherwise, you can overlay a label on your picture using photo editing software. If you are using a digital camera and aren't labeling your specimen right away, it's a good idea to give your photo a meaningful name (like 'cordundum' rather than the default filename, which is probably the date).

  • Indicate Scale
    You may wish to include a ruler or coin with your specimen to indicate scale. Otherwise, when you describe your image you might want to indicate the size of your mineral.

  • Try the Scanner
    If you don't have a camera, you may be able to get a good picture of a mineral specimen by scanning it with a digital scanner. In some cases a scanner can produce a nice image.

  • Take Notes
    It's a good idea to jot down what works and what fails miserably. This is especially helpful if you are taking a large sequence of pictures and making a lot of changes.

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