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How to make better Backgrounds for Mineral Specimen Pictures

Last Updated: 21st Nov 2011

By Volker Betz

By Volker Betz, Taunusstein

Photographing a whole specimen can be quite different than photographing only some crystals on a fraction of a specimen or in the microscope view. Around the specimen background appears and has a significant influence in the aesthetic impression of the picture. To take a picture of a mineral specimen, in the first approach it is put on the table and a photograph is taken. Doing this way a snap shot it may happen that other objects are in view: Table surfaces, different kind of boxes, cloth with texture, grass, specimen supports, labels, dust, glue, putty, scratches on surface etc. etc. In in many if not most most cases this extras are "unwanted" and visible because the photographer either takes no care about the background or has to little skills to do it better. Also time is a reason for more erratic background, this can seen at pictures which are made for on line mineral sales pages, for which a great number of pictures must be produced in short time.

If some aesthetic level is wanted, the visible background must be integrated in the photographic process. This requires a set up which produces predictable and repeatable and of course aesthetic backgrounds.

Mineral specimens can be everything from thumb nail size, ~ 2 cm, to meters, but in the majority up to about 20 cm. So a set up, to process this size range is described here. Smaller object are better photographed with different arrangements, and photographing larger specimens needs up scaled equipment.

The equipment set up consists of a frame carrying a 60x80 cm glass plate, about 30 cm over the table. This can be home made, but is also available from photographic studio equipment suppliers. It is put on a table covered with a black surface. One end of the glass plate is equipped with some kind of black curtain and used as background to suppress reflections on the glass plate and together with the black table coating to have a black background. Both curtain and table surface can modified if other colour effects are wanted.

Glass plate on frame

Useful other table coatings are acryl glass plates, either white and opaque or semitransparent, over the glass plate. Colour effects can be produced by colour foils between the glass and the covering acryl glass.

Acryl glass plates to cover the glass plate

Vertical view of camera

For vertical view the specimen is best mounted a few cm above the surface. This method gives a perfect black background, which can easy modified with photo editing programs. A photographed color spot or is easy made with a balanced spot on the tabe background using colored sheets.

Harmontome , Bellsgrove mine, Strontian, 7x7 cm

White and colour backgrounds are made with white backlighted acryl glass or combinations of transparent acryl glass with colour foils.

Inclined view of camera

Alternatively the set up can used in inclined view of the camera. This is the direction we see specimens exhibited in museums and collection cabinets.

This allows also various backgrounds, depending light is handled. Some examples are:

White with weak shadows on white acryl glass:

Desert Rose from La Pared, Fuerteventura, 12x7 cm

Shadows can be extincted by adding a light from below:

Desert Rose from La Pared, Fuerteventura, 12x7 cm

A fading background from white to black if the background is kept in tha dark, by covering it:

Desert Rose from La Pared, Fuerteventura, 12x7 cm

Also a almost black background using only glass:

Desert Rose from La Pared, Fuerteventura, 12x7 cm

Background variations are not limited to the examples shown.

More details about the topic are visible on my own photography web site: http://zeolite-collection.eu/Photography/Setup%20for%20specimen%20Photography.html

(to be continued)

Article has been viewed at least 12674 times.


Great suggestions, Volker!! Definitely gives me a few additional ideas.

Paul Brandes
23rd Nov 2011 2:21pm
And I was wondering what to do with the old glass coffee table my wife wants to throw out!!!

Chris Rohricht
2nd Dec 2011 6:08pm

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