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Mineral Photographyeasy tips for photographing minerals with med.-grade camera

26th May 2015 20:33 BSTMatt Courville

I was hoping for some very basic, point-form tips for photographing minerals. Many of the previous post go into camera details, but I'm hoping for something to improve my technique more than anything. With 3 different grades of Canon cameras, my skills are still hit and miss it seems, and I'm even worse at photographing my Roman coins to post online.

I suppose my biggest concern is to avoid that dull and/or fuzzy look to my photographs due to the lighting. Outside pictures seem to glare, yet indoor ones seems to have lighting issues; even with more than one light source.

Any set-ups or tricks would be fantastic. Thanks, Matt

26th May 2015 20:36 BSTJeff Weissman Expert

Matt - good steady lighting, with diffusion (a white cloth between light and subject is simple, or get some photography-grade diffusion material from an on-line source) and make a frame to hold it), and a tripod for the camera, and you should see immediate improvements, regardless of specimen size.

This is essentially what I do for specimens from 10 cm to 1 mm, although I now use studio lights for the larger specimens, and either dedicated macro-flash or fiber-optic illuminator for the smaller specimens, with the light always diffused.

And practice, of course

27th May 2015 14:35 BSTMatt Courville

Thanks so much Jeff. The diffusion technique seems like it would be very effective.

2nd Jun 2015 02:04 BSTOwen Melfyn Lewis

Experiment with lighting your pieces at extreme grazing angles. This can reveal detail that remains unseen using more conventional lighting.

To reveal fine detail, you also need to be able to work at x10 - x30 optical magnification. Avoid digital zooming like the plague. This is no more than image cropping carried out in the camera rather than by post-camera processing.

5th Jun 2015 14:46 BSTMatt Courville

Perhaps I should mention my biggest issue for photographing minerals. Indoor photos always look too dark and blurry, but whether increasing indoor light or outdoor sun, there seems to be bright glare issues. A quick look at some of my photos will hopefully give the predictable sigh of 'I see what's wrong' . Do people create/purchase light boxes and diffusers as a standard tool?

I could be simply inefficient at tackling the proper settings as well, but am open to anything but purchasing a new camera;)


5th Jun 2015 14:59 BSTJeff Weissman Expert

A sturdy tripod to fix the blurring, camera on aperture-priority mode to fix the exposure issue, and some diffusion material (sheet of white paper can work) with strong lighting are your friends here. Persistence and trying different options will eventually pay-off. You can also check "Cowboy Studios" website for some inexpensive light-tents and other devices to help in these issues.

5th Jun 2015 15:00 BSTOwen Melfyn Lewis

I'll bet you have difficulty due to camera shake and also perhaps the selection of the right focussing method. Can't say more without knowing the camera(s) you use.

- Want to list the models?

- What type of camera support do you use? Is it sturdy?

- Do you operate the shutter release manually or with a remote release. If the latter, what type.

7th Jun 2015 15:09 BSTMatt Courville

Oddly enough, I had posted a response yesterday, but it has disappeared. The best household camera that I can use is the Canon Powershot SX1IS with a 20x optical zoom. I will have to buy a tripod, but was a bit confused because I was always moving the camera around a couldn't see how a tripod could do this. I've been told that there are ones with adjustable/bendable legs, which might be good. Perhaps in the right set-up the camera should be still, and the set-up changes instead?

I've been trying some pre-sets and only used advanced features in a salt mine, which with the 'holding your breath' technique, was about 20% successful. I'm trying to apply the combinations of ISO and aperature under AV mode, but really its a bit of guessing and macro just complicates it more.

I will also try to make a black-interior light box. If anyone feels like sharing their most common set-up settings that would be great. Say for example: ISO 80, aperature f/2.8, and macro with a tripod.

Thanks, Matt

7th Jun 2015 18:04 BSTOwen Melfyn Lewis

Matt Courville Wrote:


> Oddly enough, I had posted a response yesterday,

> but it has disappeared.

That happens. More often than it should. Usually (for me at any rate) its usually 'operator finger-trouble'.

> The best household camera

> that I can use is the Canon Powershot SX1IS with a

> 20x optical zoom.

OK, you should be able to achieve a fair amount with that. These days, camera makers get their money by automating the picture making process as far as possible. That's fine for no-brainer party and holiday snaps. For macro-work? Forget it. Use manual control and simple pre-sets and nothing else. This means that *you* make the decisions and the camera doesn't. This also means that you have to know what you are doing (but you don't sound like a complete novice).

1. ISO setting. The theory is that the lower your ISO setting the better (less noisy) your pics will be.You need to experiment, making a series of shots of the same simple subject (some b/w print?), to find, with your camera, at what ISO setting the image quality starts to deteriorate. Then set always to use the highest ISO setting you can below the 'deterioration' point. Many say set to 200 and let it go at that. I find I can use the 400 setting and 800 is not a disaster. What will work for you depends on *your* camera.

2. Auto focus. Disengage if you can and use manual focus, selecting carefully the point in each image that you want to be critically sharp.

3. Light metering. Do *not* use any field of view averaging meter setting. Use spot metering and get the meter setting from the highest point of light return from the subject (otherwise you will get 'burn-out').

4. Set for AV priority. To get the greatest depth of field without image deterioration from diffraction, Stick with f/8 or f/11 for everything - unless you have an overriding need for something else (e.g. you want to reduce the depth of field). Make a few test shots to find out with your camera whether to use f/8 of f/11.

5. AV priority as above means regular use of low shutter speeds (1/25sec - c.4secs). In turn, this means that that you *must* use a tripod or vertical camera stand. You must also use a remote shutter release or, failing that, a timed shutter release. Use the 10sec setting with your camera and not the 2 sec. Sit *still* and don't even breathe whilst waiting for both the shutter to open and close completely.

> I will have to buy a tripod,

Or a vertical stand - or both. Which you need depends on the size of your subject more than anything else. I work near-exclusively with thumb-nail and micromounts and for those I find a vertical stand the better solution (see pic below).

> ... Perhaps in the right set-up the camera

> should be still, and the set-up changes instead?

Yes. If you use a vertical stand, it's the only option anyway.

> I will also try to make a black-interior light

> box.

*If* you want to use a light box/tent (I don't) it needs have a white interior. You are looking to diffuse your lighting. This should not be confused with background selection - which you will very often want to be black.

Enough for now. There's enough here you keep you busy for several days :-) Have fun.

7th Jun 2015 18:57 BSTMatt Courville

Thanks so much Owen. You've given a lot of details. I will likely order/purchase a light-box and tripod soon, and will then truly begin to experiment.

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