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Photographing with glass base

Posted by Matt Courville  
Matt Courville June 17, 2015 07:21PM

In my attempt (journey really) to redeem myself on taking poor mineral photos, I have a quick question. I see that many of the best photographs seem to have used a glass base. Is this recommended, and what purpose does it serve?

I'm not fond of the reflections it creates, but needed to know if it was a trade-off for a better photo.

Much appreciated,
Owen Melfyn Lewis June 17, 2015 07:27PM
It won't give you a better photo.
Matt Courville June 17, 2015 07:36PM
Hi Owen, thanks for the quick reply. I should get my tripod in the mail today and was ready to start experimenting properly. Do you happen to know why anyone would use the glass, if it offers no help?
Bob Harman June 17, 2015 07:40PM
Besides glass, many custom made bases are acrylic. These usually are for hi end specimens and done in such a way as to show off the specimen in its aesthetically best pose. It also holds the specimen firmly, especially if it happens to be uneven and/or delicate. As OWEN noted, it has little to do with the quality of the picture, but might, in some cases, make for good specimen poses. CHEERS…..BOB
Matt Courville June 17, 2015 08:33PM
Thanks, so more of a artistic tool from what I gather.
Chris Stefano June 17, 2015 08:39PM
The glass is used to provide a colored background. It's artistic. If you can't take a good photo to start with, the glass won't help you. A tripod and good lighting are the two things that will make the biggest difference in the quality of your photos.
Colleen Thomson June 17, 2015 08:40PM
are you actually asking about the 'glass base' (ie: as Bob stated- an acryllic 'base' for mounting a specimen on for display or to help position it correctly to photograph) or are you asking about the use of a glass base as the background upon which the specimen is photographed? :-S

cheers, Colleen
Ed Clopton June 17, 2015 08:47PM
I've never used the technique myself, but I think some photographers pose specimens on a sheet of transparent glass some distance above the background surface. That puts any texture or details in the background out of focus, helping the specimen to stand out and appear to be floating in mid-air. That would also allow experimentation with different background colors and materials without handling the specimen repeatedly. With practice one would learn how to eliminate, or at least to control, reflections from the glass surface.

Perhaps someone who has actually used the technique can tell us more about it.
David Von Bargen June 17, 2015 09:13PM
You can use nonglare glass to cut down on reflections.
Amir C. Akhavan June 17, 2015 09:44PM
If one is happy with "mineral mug shots", then certainly the choice and control of the background has little to do with quality.
A good background creates an "environment" that emphasizes the shape and color(s) of a specimen without being distracting itself.
And a glass base gives you more flexibility in controlling this background/environment.

As Ed said, you can exchange backgrounds without moving the specimen, leave more or less space between the specimen and the background to blur or even "remove" the shadow.
You can create spots of light in the background at some distance without illuminating the specimen. It's easier to create smooth transitions from bright to dark with the background at some distance. Specimens that hover in space do look odd, and the reflections of the specimens on the glass actually help to make it look more "normal".

And not to be forgotten: You can still put whatever you want on the glass, even an ugly carpet. You don't lose much using a glass base.

There are two potential drawbacks of a glass base:
1. Its reflections illuminate the specimen, too, and depending on the position of the lamps, sometimes much more than a white cardboard would. In the beginning I was very worried about this and did not use a glass base and instead added an artificial background in post.
Later I found it to be much less of a problem than I had thought. In fact, when I did not use a glass base, I always had to add some illumination from below, otherwise the specimen would be too dark at its base.

2. If you make use of reflections, the specimens must be placed in the correct position on the glass, otherwise reflections will be oblique, and many specimens need a stand or another extra support to get them in the right - and unfortunately often instable - position. You also have to make up your mind on how to position the specimen before you put it on the glass, you can't rotate it freely in all directions.

Three examples, all done with the same setup, all with a glass base (the upper part of all backgrounds is still artificial/altered):
Plain window glass with "normal" reflections, blue background 10 cm below it.

Roughened non glare window glass (no special non glare glass) with blue backgrund 10 cm below it. One can really see the glass in that photo, it is nevertheless not distracting

Plain window glass like in the first shot with a white background moved up to about 5 mm from the specimen, resulting in a soft shadow.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/17/2015 09:50PM by Amir C. Akhavan.
Susan Robinson June 17, 2015 10:28PM
The glass base is most useful when taking photos with the camera positioned higher and looking down at the specimen at angles between 20 - 45 degrees. You can easily change the background color to complement the specimen you are photographing by using different colored papers under and vertically along the back area (still under the glass), with a soft, diffused area of light on the paper. Varying the light intensity on the paper and where the lighter area appears in back of the specimen through the lens can make wonderful photos. My husband has been using this method for many years.
Ronald J. Pellar June 17, 2015 11:26PM
Using an adjustable polarizing filter on the lens can eliminate or reduce the reflection off of a glass base. Just another "creative" dimension that you can use if desired..
Keith Compton June 18, 2015 01:04AM
Hi Matt

The glass is simply raised (positioned) above the background colour (paper or cloth).

Best glass is non-reflective glass - available from any picture framer or glass supply house.

It is simply a way of removing, or at least reducing, reflections and glare near the base of the specimen.
The only downside of glass is that it does scratch so you may want to attach "tiny" bits of tac to the base of the specimen where contact is made with the glass to help avoid direct contact with the glass. Of course this must be "invisible" from the front view.

Suggest that you have a look at Scovil's book on mineral photography for more hints and tips.

Kelly Nash June 18, 2015 01:16AM
As noted, some glass can provide a good background. Frosted glass can cut the glare back and can be painted black on the back side. I have tried this with plexiglass, but that can be a magnet for dust. I use translucent white plexiglass for dark minerals, That works well. Putting the glass several inches above another background is a little too time- and space-consuming for what I have available. I also have used just black paper or even the back cover of a black book for small specimens.
Martin Rich June 18, 2015 03:07AM
As Ed and Amir told a glass plate (I do not use plexiglass, because it scatched very easy) is a very usefull base for photographing minerals with different background colours. It's only a question of taste if you like a mirroring on the base of the specimen. One can create this mirroring with PS or Gimp, but this looks allmost artificial. The mirroring depends only from the angel between glass and camera, so you can do photographs with or without mirroring with the same setup! The most important and in my opinion the difficultest thing in photographing minerals is the illumination and the point of few of the specimen.

Some examples:

Double mirroring depends of the glass plate (not very aesthetic):

I made a special preparation of the glass, I have only a single mirroring:

The background of all my photos here on mindat is natural, only some photos have a generated background with Gimp.


"Komme gleich" ("I'll be right there") - Godot
Henri Koskinen June 18, 2015 06:47AM
Glass plates can be used to create soft reflections. Second surface mirrors create stronger reflections with many secondary reflections also. These can be manipulated by changing the angle between the line of view from the camera and the mirror surface.

Another very effective way to manipulate these reflections is to use a polarizing filter. In the above set of seed photos I used a linear polarizer in the first photo to kill all secondary reflections. This gives also control of the bacground.

Matt Courville June 18, 2015 12:19PM
Thanks to everyone who gave some insight. I can't promise that I will apply every technique on my next photographs, but I truly appreciate how I don't have to read an entire book to get some practical info that I can return to every time I wish to improve a bit more.

Zbynek Burival October 20, 2015 11:36AM
There are various use of glass background. The great overview is in this article on mindat

I also use it for creating solid black background without any gradient or reflections, which is otherwise very difficult to create. But you have to use circular polarizer filter, it doesnt work without it. Here is my way to do it

There are various types of glass with sand blated surface, etched surface, matte glass etc. - I still use only common flat glossy glass plate. If I need black glass, I simply use a glossy black color spray on one side of the glass.
Matt Courville October 20, 2015 03:55PM
Thank you very much Zbynek. This is great information that I hope others peaking at this post will appreciate also.
Tim Jokela Jr October 25, 2015 09:04PM
I kind of hate reflections at the bottom of a picture.

I also love mug shots.

To my mind, it's a question of simply, quickly, and accurately portraying a mineral specimen, rather than producing a pretty photograph.
James Ali January 14, 2016 07:52PM
James Ali January 14, 2016 08:14PM
Hi Matt,

In regard to your question.
I, as a commercial / editorial, in product / tabletop photographer for several decades, in Chicago, can tell you without a doubt, shooting on glass (on occasions) is a very nice way to light minerals or most any smaller products. (Particularly anything with reflective qualities.)
The reason being is if you're looking for the lighting to continue down the entire length of the subject matter, diffusion material can be taped onto the underneath side of the glass table, (as close to the subject matter as possible). Then, another light head can be directed into that diffusion material, allowing continues lighting, along the subject matter's length.
However, the lens angle has its limitations if you're trying to minimize the product's reflection into the glass, particularly since most minerals look their best when shot "straight-on".
So, unfortunately, it's a trade off.
A polarizing filter can completely eliminate that reflection (within a certain lens angle). But, when shooting straight-on, you'll need to photoshop the background.
Hope this helps.

Good Luck,
P.S I don't mind reveling this information to you as I'm no longer shooting in the competitive market and only shooting for my own Rock Shop. Sorry to those that wished I hadn't given out this knowledge.
Matt Courville January 15, 2016 02:10PM
Thanks James:)-D
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