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Ideas for Simple Textured Backgrounds in Photography

Last Updated: 19th Sep 2011

By Ron Gibbs

Ideas for Simple Textured Backgrounds in Photography

What follows are several materials I have used as photographic backgrounds with some degree of texture. Texture (variation) can also be created with the use of lighting tricks, but that will be for some future article.

Here are some examples of materials that produce a variety of different textures.

1.) Pizza Pan - metallic/granular (also aluminum/stainless cookie sheets)
The brushed aluminum, stainless, or more granular pizza pan can produce a nice background that has texture and still produces a degree of reflection. It can be toned by reflecting a colored material from behind. It also will reflect light upward on to the under side of the specimen opening up some shadow detail.

2.) Tefal - pseudo-metallic/granular (non-stick cookie sheets/baking pans)
Tefal or another of the teflon coated cookware materials can produce a clean surface with a fine texture. They tend to be less reflective, but the texture is readily apparent and easy to light. Many are gray or close to neutral tone.

3.) ABS plastic - ridged (from E-Bay or Amazon)
The actual intended use for this material is unclear to me, but it is available in 12”x!2” Sheets and a variety of thicknesses from both E-Bay and Amazon. It comes in white and black and has a rough-pebbly texture with a minimal reflection (black). The white will once again add light to the underside of a specimen opening up shadow detail. It is a bit directional with a grain.
Black ABS
White ABS

4.) Frosted Acrylic - sandblasted (acrylic sheet - sanded)
Here is a stand-by of the jewelry industry, often used in table-top mannequins. It can also be purchased directly as plastic sheet and is usually “frosted” on only one side. It can be used in a variety of ways and can be modified by placing different materials under it and varying their depth. (depth=distance suspended over a backing)

This limits reflectivity (frosted side up) and the frosted look is enhanced by using darker materials below the sheet and keeping them further from the plastic. When a backing (paper/cloth/colored foam) is placed directly against the back of the frosted panel, it overpowers the frosted look in all but the darkest materials.

Here is a white backing in contact with frosted panel. Almost no texture visible.
Photo 5

This is the same white backing but now about 2” below the frosted panel. Additional lighting can be added below the panel in this type of configuration.
Photo 6

Here is a black backing about 2” below the frosted panel and produces the most texture from the panel itself. Again there are many other possibilities by adding directional lighting below the panel. (small spotlights)
Photo 7

5.) Drafting Vellum - fine sandblasted - (drawing pad)
This is sort of a “poor-man” frosted panel. It has roughly the same optical properties as the frosted acrylic but can be purchased by the tablet. In the first image there is clear acrylic below the vellum and a white backing directly beneath.
Photo 8

In the next photo the vellum is still directly below the object, but the clear plastic is now 2” offset from a dark background. There is also a small spotlight just below and to the front of the set up.
Photo 9

Here is the same set up as the previous photo but the spotlight ha been moved to the rear left of the image.
Photo 10

FInally the same 2” displacement a above, but the light is slightly directed upward from just behind the sample. Obviously a number of different lighting placements and variation in the color beneath the plastic will produce a wide variety of different effects but all should retain a degree of the “frosted” appearance form eh vellum.
Photo 11

Finally here is a wider angle view of the above vellum setup with a spotlight light coming from behind.

More effects can be created by reversing the frosted acrylic sheet, and placing it below the sample rather than directly in contact with it. (i.e. frosted side facing down with sample sitting on clear side.) The same is true of the vellum, it can be used below a clear plastic sheet, and the object being photographed will show more of a ghost reflection in the polished side of the plastic.

Obviously I would normally remove the specimen from it’s plastic base if these photos were designed to show-off the mineral sample, but here I am actually trying to illustrate the difference in using a variety of backgrounds. By the way the mineral is schorl tourmaline from Golconda pegmatite, Governador Valadares, Doce valley, Minas Gerais, Brazil.

Article has been viewed at least 13711 times.

Discuss this Article

19th Sep 2011 19:42 BSTJake Harper Expert

Really enjoyed this Ron -
Some great info here. Thanks for all of your work and for sharing!


21st Sep 2011 19:32 BSTJohn M Stolz Expert

Great presentation and info. Thanks! Can you provide a shot of a representative lighting setup?


24th Sep 2011 23:44 BSTMaggie Wilson Expert

Thank you, Ron!

25th Sep 2011 21:14 BSTHarold Moritz Expert

Interesting materials. What are you using for the overhead lighting and is it the same color temp as the spotlights?

25th Sep 2011 23:24 BSTRon Gibbs

The spot lights I am currently using are LED based (3W - LED). They are "claimed" to be white light, but are definitely in on the blue side. I am using a variety of compact fluorescent bulbs with diffusers for my main lights. (Usually two - sometimes one with a white reflector - sometimes three.) They are always color balanced for "white", but I use one set that are 5000K OR a different set that are 6500K. (I don't ever mix them in the same shot.)

I will post another article showing my entire set up and the "stage-type" I tend to use. (Stage = lighting/table top) When I shoot my normal work I use black acrylic or black glass for most of my imaging. I tend to use clear backgrounds or (the ones from this article) far less often, but did the above write-up as a response to a question on the Mindat forum under photography.

26th Sep 2011 01:51 BSTHarold Moritz Expert

Thanks. I prefer black background, too, but for dark minerals a much lighter background is best, otherwise one must overlight the specimen so much it no longer looks dark.

15th Oct 2014 13:49 BSTJay I. G. Roland

Fantastic article Ron, it has given me a few ideas to play with so many thanks. I have to say though, I think it is quite comical that an article about showing off one's minerals to their best should include a stray 'pube' twixt the crystal and plinth!

I shall also say that often when I do image stacks, halfway through the process I regularly see minute 'pubes' lurking about whatever it is I am photographing despite having treated the specimen to several severe blows from my bulb annoying!

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