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Beginners "Budget" Mineral Photography Setup

Last Updated: 14th Jul 2010

By Peter Rhodes

There are plenty of posts on mineral photography on Mindat and I have read all with interest and learned much from them. I thought it would be useful, for newbie’s mainly, to run through my own setup and show a few pictures that, hopefully, demonstrate a decent level of skill and good results from a budget setup.

I am not rich so cost is a major consideration in all things. I have listed all the key elements and will summarize the total costs at the end of this article. I am no expert but have put together a low cost setup that will produce decent pictures of Minerals and crystals. As they say, neccessity is the mother of invention.

If you are just starting in this field I suggest you download the various photo guides and read some of the posts from the message boards as they will give greater detail on the art of photography. This article is about the mechanics of mineral photography, not the photographic skills required.

For consistency of photo images, it is vital to have a controllable, flexable platform to obtain good results. It allows for experimentation with lighting and lets you control the photo session environment.

1 - Mini Studio

The mini studio is a simple layout made from unused MDF left over from a home project and screwed together (approx size in inches - 10 W x 8 D x 18 H). Basically a box with a high back and a glass plate onto which specimens are placed to photograph. Based upon posts on this forum, I had a glass plate cut to size to use in the studio box instead of other platforms, it also adds some nice effects. A simple dark blue fabric is used to cover the box to act as a background and control the environment better. This is inserted between the glass plate and the mini studio. I sometimes put the fabric over the glass plate when photographing.

The height of the studio appears high (18 inches)? This is so that reflections from the rear panel onto the glass do not become part of the picture. With a high back, the refection on the glass is the covered back panel which is the same as the base plate, showing a continuous plane on the final picture.

It is good to have some bluetack close to hand as it is useful in positioning specimens for photography. As minerals are unusual shapes, using bluetack allows you to set the specimen into the best postition for the photograph.

A mini studio is also very convenient in saving space. You can simply put it away in a cupboard when not in use, set it up when you have a picture session. An instant mineral studio, fully controlled environment!!!

Mini Studio Covered with Glass Plate and top and side lights (note high back)

Mini Studio Uncovered

2 - Tripod

I always use a tripod as it is the only way to get those crisp, clean images. Using a hand held camera only will NOT produce the best pictures, especially close ups. I think the tripod is one of the best investments you can make. Even a table top tripod is only a few £’s/$’s.

3 - Camera – Olympus C- 460 Zoom

This is probably the most important consideration for good quality pictures. It does not have to cost the earth BUT you need a few features to get the best results.

Super Macro mode – allows close ups of the minerals – up to 6 cm away

Tripod screw hole – allows the camera to be tripod mounted

Memory – enough to take about 50 pictures at one session on the highest image quality.

NO Flash mode – switches off the flash on the camera. Flash is not needed if you use your own lighting setup.

USB Port – for PC connection and downloading

I love the digital world for mineral photography, instant access to images, 200 pictures in one camera, download to the PC for editing etc. A real boon, instant and cheap.

4 - Loupe Eye Glass - Microscopic Close ups – Two Loupe eye glass's - 5 & 10 x magnification

Some times you want to photograph a small crystal, say a few mm’s in size that the camera does not get close to. I use a simple, low cost loupe lens attached to my camera with an elastic band over the lens!!!!!! Sounds crude (and it is) but it works OK and does not cost the earth. I have purchased 2 Loupe lens, a 5 and 10 times magnification. I know serious photgraphers will scoff at this idea, but for a few £/$ you can get reasonable results. As can be seen in the examples here, definition on the edges of the image does suffer. If you want to make the image look better, you could crop the image using editing software.

Camera with Loupe fitted using elastic band !!

Picture taken with 5 x loupe fitted to the camera. Area is 2 cm across (definition on the edge fading)

5 - Lighting – Cheap home table lamps with daylight bulbs

A must for consistent good quality pictures. Normal, home lighting introduces unrealistic colours into pictures, reds, yellows etc. The true crystal/mineral colours do not come out in your pictures if you use normal house lighting.

I use 2 cheap house table lamps into which I have installed fluorescent daylight bulbs. You do not need high intensity bulbs, to strong and white flaring occurs on picture high lights. I use 11 watt daylight fluorescent bulbs.

I use a small room at the back of the house and I always take my pictures at night and with the room lights OFF. This method gives me full control of the lighting environment. If you leave the room lights on you get yellows and reds etc appearing in your pictures that are not accurate crystal colours. One light is high above the specimen for down lighting, one is to the side (left or right) to give shading effect.

You have to experiment with the light angles and positions as each crystal type responds differently to light angles and intensity. I occasionally take my mini studio out side to use real daylight as some crystals do photograph better in real light. You just have to experiment to get the best results. If the specimen is placed onto Bluetack you can move it about so that the "best effect" is obtained ie, refected surfaces, crystal facets, shading etc. The "playing about" with the positioning and the light will change a good picture to a great one. The more you experiment the better you will get!!!

6 - Daylight Bulbs

The ones I use are 11 watt, low energy day light bulbs purchased from EBay.
NOTE: Make sure you buy low energy DAY LIGHT bulbs as the normal low energy bulbs give a yellowish light and are NOT suitable for mineral photography.

Low Energy DAY LIGHT BULBS (NOT standard Low Energy)

7 - Editing Software – I use Photo Shop

Software can be expensive but there are a number of budgetary software packages that will help you to edit the pictures. I see the editing of pictures as a means to make the pictures closer to the original specimen, not to enhance the images. Even with the best setups, the final picture does not often ring true. Image editing can be used to make the picture a true reflection of the original with careful editing. It is also vital in framing the picture to be more aesthetic looking and sizing the final image file size.

I frame my pictures using Photoshop to 700 bits horizontally, the vertical size looks after itself. This way I fully control the size of the mineral pictured as well as having a consistent quality, fixed sized file and picture.

If you are interested in FREE picture editing software then follow the link below. I cannot vouch for its quality but I have used Serif Software products befor and found them OK. The older version is free, the latest version is only a few $/£ to buy. Copy the url link below and paste it into your search window in Explorer and hit return to get to the web site.


Photo/Image Naming

As I don't have a good specimen filing or recording system, I actually use my images to keep a record of my specimens. I use the following naming structure for my images:

Image Description - Mineral-Country of origin-locality-weight-lengthxheightxwidthcm-image number.jpg

Naming Example (realgar & orpiment on one specimen)

1st Image - Realgar-Orpiment-Peru-Oeru-119gm-10x6x4cm-001.jpg
2nd Image - Realgar-Orpiment-Peru-Oeru-119gm-10x6x4cm-002.jpg

WARNING - Only use the "-" (minus sign) & "x" (X sign) symbols for seperating information as above (with NO spaces). If you use "." (full stop) or "," (comma) in a file name this will make the file unusable as these symbols have specific meaning and functionality within file names.

You can also add date of purchase, dealer, purchase value etc. keep it consistant and keep to the rules of naming.

8 - Estimated Cost for Mineral Photography Photo Studio Setup

The cost are based upon my own experience, I use EBay a lot as it offers a great range of products and generally low cost. If you use EBay I recommend you track 3 or 4 similar items for a few days just to get the feel for costs before making any purchases. I have traded on EBay for about 6 years and found it great for many things. Caution and checking sellers’ feedback is the key.

Most of the items listed below are probably to hand, table lamps, camera etc so costs may be very low if you already have these items.

Studio Setup Cost

Tripod £15
Mini Studio FREE – use spare bits
Glass plate £2
Camera (EBay) £65
House lights £15
Daylight bulbs £9
5 & 10 X Loupe lens £8
Editing software $/£as required

TOTAL £114 ($210)

Images using the items listed in this article

The images below have been taken on the 2nd highest quality level, not the highest, to reduce file size.

Click on the images below to enlarge.

Multiple Sequence Photgraphs

I like to take a number of pictures of the same specimen as it is difficult to show all the best features of one mineral with one picture. The sequencies below show how to bring out the better features of specimens by selective photography.

Sequence 1

4 pictures of a Fluorite specimen from Weardale in the UK. The specimen is 11 x 6 cm in size. It is covered in twinned crystals. Note final close up of twinned crystal using the 10 x loupe attached onto the camera.

Sequence 2

3 pictures of a Meta Autonite specimen. The second picture uses the 10 x loupe attached on the camera. The small crystals are only about 1 mm across. The 3rd picture has been created by using Photoshop on picture 2, cropping the centre and enlarging the overall picture to see more detail of the very samll crystals.

Article has been viewed at least 41582 times.


If anyone needs to contact me to ask any questions, or has other ideas on the above article, then please contact me at - kprhodes40@hotmail.com

Peter Rhodes
31st May 2008 9:28pm
Excellent, newbie friendly, article. That has given me a few ideas. Cheers Peter

Bill Gordon
1st Jun 2008 4:17pm
Hi, I have added a link to a web site in the article that offers free picture/photo imaging from a company called Serif. It provides a basic editing facility, capable of giving you enough features to improve your pictures befor posting on Mindat or adding to your collection. It is under section 7 - Editing Software.

Peter Rhodes

Peter Rhodes
10th Jun 2008 4:48pm
Here you offer some excellent tips for taking great mineral photos without breaking the bank. I personally just started to use a similar setup that I based off of what you're doing. You will notice that my latest photos have increased in quality, which is due to the use of that new setup. Very helpful article!

Jeremy Zolan
21st Jun 2008 4:01am
Good tips Peter. I am having my carpenter make a platform for me right now. Thanks, Lyla

Lyla J. Tracy
24th Sep 2008 8:19pm
I have read this 4 times. I am printing tonight. Husband is putting together the MDF "studio" room and I am off to buy the lights. Thanks for a well written, simple instructional article. You make my life easier.
Linda Smith

Linda Smith
27th Dec 2008 4:27am
Excellent article Peter!!! For anyone that is looking for CFL daylight bulbs, Home Depot sells N:Vision CFL's in the blue package which correspond to daylight (5500K) colour temperature. I have been using these bulbs and have had great success with obtaining the proper colour of the mineral. Even better, the bulbs won't break the bank when you purchase them; around $10 for 4 60w.....

Paul Brandes
31st Jan 2009 8:38pm
Excellent article. Is it paper that you are covering the lights with, or some other filter.

Mark J. Sigouin
13th Mar 2009 2:53am
Hi Mark,

thanks for the question. The covering on the lights is stiff opaque plastic. Its just to difuse the light to give a more even covering and reduce high lights on the photo's

Peter Rhodes
18th Mar 2009 10:42am
I think the loupe lens is a great idea. Very innovative. Great for those on a tight budget, which is probably most of us these days. Thank you for a wonderful article.

Eric Diaz
11th Apr 2009 8:42pm
Thumbs Up !

Nauroz Nausherwani
5th Oct 2011 7:56pm
"The covering on the lights is stiff opaque plastic"
I was JUST about to ask! ;-)

Jonelle DeFelice
11th Jul 2017 8:42pm

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