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The absolutely impossible to photograph specimen.

Posted by Jenna Mast  
Jenna Mast July 10, 2012 04:14AM
I have a specimen of water clear, light blue fluorite on pyrite and galena from Peru. It's an absolutely wonderful specimen but it's absolutely impossible to get a photo of it that does it justice. If I illuminate one crystal face, another is muted due to it's clarity. I've come to the conclusion I either need incredibly tiny independent light sources and photoshop, or this specimen just cannot be properly appreciated without binocular vision.

Have any of you found an easy way around this before?
Rui Nunes July 10, 2012 06:32AM
Hi Jenna, I've been fighting with some water clear fluorites too :-D
Maggie Wilson July 10, 2012 10:48AM
What colour background are you using, Jenna? I have better results with a black ground when the specimen is white or clear. And sometimes, fewer lights but more reflective surfaces make the difference. But I am far away from being able to claim total success. I have come to the conclusion that some pieces absolutely REFUSE to be photographed!

Good luck!
Alex Homenuke July 10, 2012 03:33PM
Some thoughts and maybe combine them

1. outside on a bright cloudy day

2. work from a greater distance with a tele-macro lens

3. use a light table and move the spots further away - kind of let the light come from within the crystal and not so much reflection from the surfaces
Mark Willoughby July 11, 2012 09:31AM
Howdy All,

Treat the specimen the same as you would a clear glass or bottle, use lights with large diffusers (soft lighting) and add reflectors if and where needed, preferably with a dark background for lighter coloured or clear specimens.
If you do an internet search for 'photographing glass', you will find numerous sites with instructions that are fairly easy to follow.

Cheers Mark.

We will never have all the answers, only more questions!
Nik Nikiforou July 11, 2012 05:03PM
Hi All,

I've been struggling with this problem of photographing the clarity of fluorite accurately for several years. In my experience:

1. I use a dark background.

2. I don't diffuse the lighting; I use as direct (point) a light source as I can and place the lights to the side of the specimen aimed towards the center. l have found that any reflection of light on a crystal face will mask the clarity behind it.

This is an example of a specimen that I photographed recently:

Xianghuapu fluorite

I am pretty pleased with the results; in person the clarity is even more impressive, but this is the best that I could do without driving myself crazy.

Best wishes to all,
Nik Nikiforou
Vítězslav Snášel July 11, 2012 08:02PM
Hi Jenna,
Photograph fluorite with low light and long exposure time and the room must be absolute darkness!
As a source of light using a halogen lamp 25 watts.
10 -15cm before this lamp I have black paper a with a little round hole(such as aperture).
To brighten dark areas using pieces of white paper (as a reflective plate).
Here some photos with this setup.

..and my all section with fluorite photos


Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 07/11/2012 08:12PM by Vítězslav Snášel.
Jenna Mast July 12, 2012 06:11AM

I usually experiment with different backgrounds, even multi-toned backgrounds. I admittedly don't have the best lighting set up for crystal faces but I've been able to improvise with every specimen except this one.

I'll try everyone's suggestions!
Robert (Bob) Morgan July 16, 2012 02:50PM
Looks like others have better ideas - but one other suggestion not mentioned so far. ' Took lots of shots from various angles, looked at results immediately, and then worked from there. Electrons are free.
One accident that occurred was a differing color of light that came reflected from my yellow house that helped faces stand out that were otherwise invisible.
I don't know if that helps show internal clearness, but it does help the faces of a crystal stand out and be differentiated.
Bob Morgan
José Antonio Soldevilla Gonzalez October 08, 2012 07:07PM
Fluorite need a light for every facet. An approach to the solution is to place the camera and fluorite absolutely still and do a lot of photos with a flash in hand from all possible orientations. As fluorite has not moved, all photos can be superimposed in layers in photoshop and we can choose images that show the faces that we want to highlight. Try adjusting layers multiply mode and adjust the transparency of each.

Some of my microimages here

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/08/2012 07:09PM by José Antonio Soldevilla Gonzalez.
Joe Mulvey October 14, 2012 10:24PM
In one of the recent Rocks and Minerals articles on agates the author noted that all of his agate photos were taken submersed in water. Ithink mostly this was because they look better wet but I wonder how this would impact reflections and the diffusion of light.
Rock Currier October 15, 2012 10:55AM
Its doubtful that putting the cabs in water would make them look any better. Take a few cabs and put them under water and see how that effects the highlights that would be produced from a point source of lighting. You might be surprised.

Rock Currier
Crystals not pistols.
Owen Lewis (2) October 17, 2012 03:05AM

The refractive index of water is 1.33 and that of cc quartzes are 1.54-1.53, which are not too far away from that of water. This means that there will only be very weak reflections or refractions from any surface of the submerged Agate. Were the the RI's perfectly matched then there would be *no* reflection or refraction at all at the surface of the specimen. This can be useful when studying transparent specimens under a microscope and for some photography. A colourless stone submerged in a liquid of identical RI will actually disappear; all one will see are any 'guest' minerals that are lodged within the host crystal (or adhering to the surface.

N.B. It will not make a submerged specimen look wet, That wet look only appears when a specimen is viewed in air but with water adhering to its surface. This is because the water fills the small imperfections in the surface making it smooth(er) and a better reflector.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/17/2012 11:10AM by Owen Lewis (2).
alan ions October 17, 2012 06:25AM
I've struggled with this one, but i've found that the best pictures i take are done in natural daylight ( on a window cill) on a dark background using macro setting held a few feet from the subject. and this bit will sound stupid, but wear white ( a white shirt ) when taking pictures because the colour of your clothing can reflect on the surface of the subject.
Michael Hopkins October 17, 2012 11:13AM
If your using a Nikon get this free program and you can see your photo immediately after taking it on your pc or laptop. Saves alot of time! You can also adjust all the settings as well as taking the shot from your pc to stop camera shake.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/17/2012 10:46PM by Michael Hopkins.
Volker Betz October 17, 2012 11:38AM
Hi Jenna,

I have struggled with such minerals also. (Zeolites are mostly white on white and transparent also). Water clear and colorless means it is invisible. What you see with the eye is either refraction or reflection of the crystal, not the crystal itself like with colored or opaque crystals. The only way out ist to mask the invisible with some soft reflection. balanced so that both ist visible the crystal face and the transarency. I do that with light tents or screens and a lamp spot for each crystal face.

Internal refections have to be minimized. I use up to 8 light sources, more are just difficult to balance.
Every light is added step by step and has to be balanced, so that you see shades of reflection intensities or edges of crystal faces.

This may be take very long time and several experimental pictures.

This was for me the only way to photograph the three dimensional phillipsite-multiple twins


To see the clearness, somecrystal faces shoud not reflect, if possible. So you have a window looking into the crystal.

Some argument that such pictures look not natural. This is right, as you never look at a specimen with complex illumination. But colorless clear you cannot photograph, its not visible for a camera lens, like a glass window.


Owen Lewis (2) October 17, 2012 11:42AM
On the basis that you are inside the room, then the sunlight must work in two ways. Firstly, it's a strong back-light to your specimen on the (interior?) window sill. This can be an important help in the photography of transparent or even very translucent specimens - but its entirely wasted on opaque/near opaque subjects. Secondly - and less powerfully, the stone will be illuminated from the sides and front (camera-side) by sunlight reflected off the the window reveals,, curtains, room paint scheme and - as you say - you. This all is quite dependent on the decor for its success and is not best suited to all sspecimens.

As you have discovered, such a setup can give pleasing results but there are far to many variables (decor colours, strength.angle of sunlight and colour temperature of the light) for it to be a good general recommendation. In such a situation, the photographer has very little control over how his specimen is lit and - unless everything in the room is a dead white - there must be some colour cast (for which a decent digital camera should be able to compensate - if the photographer knows how to let it).

Better by far to buy two or three lights and obtain and use some neutrally coloured (black, grey or white) panels (cards?) for provision of background and reflectors providing diffused light. With these, a little table-top studio can be constructed in minutes, giving the photographer a very high degree of control over the imaging of his specimens - or the smaller one's anyway ;-)
Rock Currier October 17, 2012 11:58AM
Those are enviable images Volker.

Rock Currier
Crystals not pistols.
Owen Lewis (2) October 17, 2012 05:05PM
Interesting post Volker - and excellent photography too!:)-D Rock has the right word for it - enviable.

Take the thinking one step further. The only reason we see any objects at all is because of light reflected off their surfaces towards our eyes/imaging device. With no return of light from the object one sees nothing. This is exactly why, if a colourless, transparent xtl is viewed whilst submerged in a bath of fluid of an identical refractive index one can still see the bath and the fluid's surface but the xtl will have completely disappeared. The only clue to the fact that there is still a xtl there is that the bubbles and other 'foreign' materials trapped within the xtl will still be visible - indeed much better so that when reflections from the host xtl occur.

However, returning to the problem you want to address. You take the the approach that to show a transparent form - particularly one with planar surfaces, you go to great trouble to arrange your lighting so that reflective effects only are recorded in the image and the return of refracted light back out through the surface of specimen is reduced to something that is visually negligible.The result is to make the subject appear as though it is opaque but with a highly reflective surface (similar to that that Galena would have in any lighting). This is a technique that many microscopists will use from time to time, at it has several practical uses as well as - in your hands - being elevated to an art form).

That said, this is the complete antithesis of what many concerned with the presentation/imaging of colourless and transparent materials must strive to achieve. How attractive will a cut diamond seem if imaged with the method you describe?

The skill of the photographer is to know how to emphasise/deemphasise whatever message he want viewers of his image to receive - and to be able to identify correctly that message in the first place. The use of optical illusion (tricking the viewer's mind) and also the destruction of optical illusion are both necessary tricks in the photographer's bag.
As an illustration of how the preservation of a sense of transparency (i.e. something the observer can't see) can be important, please take a peep at the following pair of (pretty crudely executed) macro images.

1. A fragment of colourless and water-clear Spodumene gem rough is imaged. The background, lighting, surface texture and angle combine to make the specimen appear a slightly dirty-white opaque stone. Since the reality of a near perfect diaphaneity is what needs to be conveyed to a viewer, this 'optical illusion' of opacity is entirely unhelpful as can be seen here.

2. To destroy the unhelpful 'optical illusion' and show the very good clarity of this specimen, all that is required is to place a high contrast linear image behind the stone, so it can be seen through the stone. And Pop! The illusion of opacity has vanished. No change to stone, lighting, angles or anything else. Just the addition of some contrast to allow viewers' minds to interpret the image more usefully.

Understanding what needs to be achieved is, in my view, the image creator's prime requirement. Learning how to achieve it with the use of some chosen effects) is a more or less complex, skilled - and time consuming task, depending on the techniques used.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/17/2012 09:45PM by Owen Lewis (2).
open | download - 077_Spodumene.JPG (208.2 KB)
open | download - 077_Spodumene(2).JPG (190.1 KB)
John Stolz October 18, 2012 01:19AM
My God Volker--that I could aspire to that kind of photography... incredible!
Christian Auer February 11, 2013 03:00PM
Oh my God Volker or better God Volker!
Mineralogical Research Company February 11, 2013 07:13PM

Superb, simply superb! Just when I think I'm getting good results, you throw something like that at us... Well, at least I have something to aim for.

Best regards,
Matteo Chinellato February 14, 2013 10:17PM
nothing is impossible

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