Mineral Photography in 1908Last Updated: 1st Jan 2008
By Daniel Russell
Mineral Photography in 1908
In 1908, Louis Pope Gratacap published one of the earliest articles on the techniques of mineral photography. Although somewhat simplistic by today's standards, it is interesting (and somewhat comforting)to note that Gratacap and other photographers fought against "burned out" highlights on crystals surfaces.
Gratacap had joined the staff of New York City's American Museum of Natural History as assistant curator of mineralogy in 1876, immediately after graduating the Columbia School of Mines. He was promoted to curator in 1900, and remained with the museum until his death in 1917.
The following article appear in the 1908 edition of the “American Annual of Photography”, edited by John A. Tennant
Mineral Photography By L. P. Gratacap
PHOTOGRAPHY has accompanied man in almost every avenue of research. It has even performed an excellent service in psychology where, as in a realm of thought and emotion, it might hardly have been suspected of application. In the photographs of expression, abnormal facial states, of definite mental defects associated with physical features, photography has played a useful part. And it advances; methods improve and more and more skillful results are exhibited. Certainly in its artistic aspect the wonderful progress recorded in the last twenty-five years unfailingly shows how the operator becomes an artist. Delicacy and beauty, rich meanings and refined values of light and shade have been secured, its technique passing into the higher realm of artistry and composition.
It is a pleasant problem to discover where photography — if applicable at all — has not been helpful. In the mineral world there are temptations for the photographer and there are conquests to be made. To make a successful picture of crystals, to portray the fine needle structure of some zeolites to give character and definition to a specimen holding two or three different minerals, to reveal the enclosures of transparent crystals, to make a mineral species speak from the picture of itself are tasks more easily discerned than solved, more easily bungled than finished. The writer responds to the kind invitation of the editor to contribute something to the ANNUAL, mere from a desire to point out a field of work not yet adequately covered than from any conviction of his own that he has in this direction done any good work himself.
Some time ago he induced his assistant, Mr. Milton G. Smith, to undertake some experiments, and the results, chosen from a large number, are here shown. They are attractive, but it is quite incontestable that they could be excelled. Mr. Smith developed with ortol. He used appropriate backgrounds and manipulated the light. In this respect much of the secret doubtless lies. The possession of a room with many windows, the use of reflectors, the careful adjustment of the specimens to the light, a perfect control of the light by shades all go towards helping out, in fact are the indispensable adjuncts of successful photographs of minerals. And then the lens! There indeed is the deus ex machine of the whole business. The lens must have depth of focus and definition for at all commensurate work. This has been demonstrated over and over again, and Mr. Smith's equipment in this respect was not altogether adequate.
As regards the subjects presented with this short notice, Fig. 1 fairly well shows a glistening black heap of crystals of hematite, opaque and simply lustrous, upon a rock fragment of quartz crystals (out of focus). Fig. 2 shows a series of geniculated rutiles, those exquisite twinning groups which may form a closed polygon, or (as in the example on the lower left hand corner) a succession of elbow joints. A more searching lens would have improved this result. Fig. 3 is attractive and is printed on a half-tone velox. The effect of this in the velox print is immensely heightened by holding it against the light, letting the light enter it and give it relief. But the picture is quite unable to produce the exact effect of the original specimen. That is a spherical surface covered over with projecting twin crystals which intersect or unite in leaf-like sheets, of a wonderful beauty. The lens here again has failed in individualization and depth. The result is sensibly abortive. The specimen would offer a good crucial test to a fine instrument. Fig. 4 offers much less difficulty, and naturally elicits attention from the beautiful reticulation it exhibits. It is a carbonate of lead of unusual perfection. Fig. 5 shows a group of pink translucent beryls impacted in a mass of lithia, mica, and tourmaline. The faces and edges are here detailed with some skill.
The above examples scarcely do more than call attention to a very wide field of photographic experimentation, which while occupied, in a measure, might tempt fastidious operators to enter it as, to them, an untried and novel area of effort.
Scientific requirements compel the photographer to introduce some sort of a scale by which the original size of the specimen, unless of natural size in the photograph, can be deduced. It is customary to use an inch rule or just one inch mark, but a very ingenious and adequate plan was devised and utilized by Mr. F. A. Canfield in his excellent work. He secured a steel ball of exactly one inch in diameter, and placing this at the base of the specimen photographed, secured an almost absolutely trustworthy result, the steel ball being easily manipulated and not readily displaced or shifted.
There is another consideration which occurs to me, though it would naturally suggest itself to any practical photographer, especially those engaged in the reproduction of "still life," and that is the control of the highlights. Minerals have glossy, very lustrous, surfaces and if too much light is admitted halation over these surfaces takes place, and the prints are spotted, unreal, and worthless. It is quite usually found therefore that the diffused light of even dull days works advantageously. The chaotic reflections from such faces in minerals obscure and break the edges of the crystals while they greatly interfere with the penetration of the lens into the cavities. There are, on the other hand, dull surfaces of minerals, absorbent colors, and the use of artificially directed light, as with small hand mirrors and where interior districts are to be illuminated, can be usefully invoked.
1) This is probably a reference to A.Radclyffe Dugmore, a pioneer color photographer -DER
Article has been viewed at least 10558 times.