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Mineral PhotographyPhotography Help

5th Nov 2017 05:12 GMTJames Stroud

In the past my mineral photography pretty much consisted of using my cellphone, an external lens attachment, and usually holding the specimen under an LED light to get my pictures. I got some fairly good pictures, but nothing quite on the level of many of the photographs on here. I recently got a Nikon D7500 to use to photograph my minerals, along with a photo booth and some external lights. However, I don't think that the lens that I got is necessarily the best lens for mineral photography, it is simply the lens it came with. I was hoping someone could take the time to suggest a better lens and any other tips that may be needed for this new venture I am embarking on.

5th Nov 2017 05:47 GMTJames Stroud

-- moved topic --

5th Nov 2017 09:28 GMTColin Robinson

Probably the simplest and cheapest option would be to get a set of extension tubes which will allow you to get much closer to your specimen. They usually come in sets of three and can be used singly or together to gain magnification, effectively turning your lens into a macro one. If money is no object just go for a straight up macro lens of good quality.

5th Nov 2017 11:48 GMTHolger Klapproth

Hi James,

a lot of pictures are made using a stacking software - where several pictures with different focus planes are made and the software calculates one picture with extended focus out of these. Depending on how big your specimens are you may want to use a macro lens. That is a lens with special correction for close ups. The normal lenses are corrected for infinity focus and therefore their close up quality is less than good.

And then there is the trick to use your computer to have a big preview on your screen and change the camera setting accordingly.

I personally would advice on getting something like a 100 mm macro lens (or for Nikon it may be the 105mm). There are good models from the standard lens producers that are cheaper than the original ones. They also do the trick - and these macros are great to photograph flowers and insects and other small things. I just love my 100mm lens...

have fun photographing


5th Nov 2017 11:59 GMTKevin Hean

Hi James,

I agree 100% with Colin, using extension rings, you will be able to get a range of magnification factors, and this would enable you to determine what sort of magnifications best suit your type of photography, for example Cabinet size specimens or Thumb Nail.

I am not too familiar with Nikon lenses but I see they have a few dedicated Macro Lenses, the 60mm f2,3 might be a little too much magnification unless you are into Micro Mount. The 85mm f3,5 would be fine for most size specimens. Sigma make a 105mm f2,8, which would also be fine.

Remember that the further you are away from the specimen the more depth of field you will have but you start loosing detail and light, so its a bit of a balancing act. Take your Camera into the shop and take a few test pictures of a ruler, using the various Lenses at different distances etc, at the price of the lenses I am sure the shop owner will oblige.

5th Nov 2017 15:16 GMTHarold Moritz Expert

All good advice given above. Some more advice:

You are using a tripod, right? A good, sturdy tripod with a swivel ball head gives you plenty of freedom of movement for the camera.

The camera may have a setting that flips the mirror up and then waits a bit for the camera to settle down before taking the pic. Use this feature as you will mostly be using long exposures.

Use the sharpest f ratio of your lens, usually in the upper middle of the range (like f8 to f10) unless you need more depth of field. If using extension tubes, the sharpest f ratio shifts to lower values.

If stacking, the f ratio may not matter much cuz the software will sharpen the image, but I still default to f9 and down to f 4.5 if using 100 of extension.

If you see a mindat photo you like scroll down and look at the metadata to see how the image was captured and the field of view involved.

Stacking isnt necessary, but it gives better results for all specimens and all fields of view. Stacking rails and software are expensive, so I still change focus manually (carefully and tediously) and use the CombineZ freeware, until I get a rich benefactor who will shower money on me! :-) Or the stuff gets cheaper. Newer cameras have stacking software built in.

But my primary advice is lighting control. This is 90% of a decent photo. Use DIFFUSE lighting to avoid overexposed "hot" areas in the image, use reflectors to light up individual crystal faces to give more 3D to crystals (especially clear ones) or to throw light into recesses. Move the lights and reflectors around to avoid overly bright areas and deep shadows and get a pleasing balance. And set the color balance on the camera to your light source (all the lights should be the same type!) - use a gray card made for digital photography to set it, not a sheet of white paper.

Get CLOSE. For a full view of the specimen, fill the camera frame with it. For closeups, get as close as you can that will show the area of interest with minimal cropping.

Then there is editing. Crop out blank areas in full view images and unnecessary matrix in close-ups. This makes the subject stand out more and reduces file size and upload times. Shoot to avoid overexposing the bright parts of a specimen. Too much light cant be fixed well with software, but too little can be. You'd be surprised how much information is actually in what looks like a dark part of your image so adjust the highlights and shadows to balance the light in the image. Set the overall image levels so that there is no flat parts of the histogram at either end, this gives better contrast. Do not oversharpen!

Also very important...clean, clean, clean the specimens first. That thumbnail specimen in its perky box may look clean to the naked eye, but the camera sees EVERYTHING! If you dont clean you will do a bunch of work, get it up on the monitor and then go "yuck!" and have to do it all again.

Practice and have fun!

5th Nov 2017 16:53 GMTJohn Truax

Another inexpensive way to get photos of small specimens that fill the whole frame is an adapter to shoot with a lens mounted in reverse, or even a two lens set up with your kit lens mounted normally, and a second lens mounted in reverse.

Here is a helpful link:

This method can get you more magnification than most macro lenses.

5th Nov 2017 19:06 GMTRonald J. Pellar Expert

Some more advice:

Set the camera bit depth to highest value for the camera, e.g., 12 or 14 bit.

Use Camera RAW for output.

When saving photoshopped images that are "final", save as 16 bit TIFF with LZW compression (lossless).

Convert to JPEG for upload to MinDat.

Do not use LED lighting unless they are rated at 92 CRI of higher, otherwise use flash, tungsten, or tungsten-halogen.

All lenses will be diffraction limited at higher f/ no.s. The higher the f/ the larger the diffraction blur circle. At the low end for f/ the aberrations determine the blur circle size. Somewhere about 2x the lowest f/ is the optimum sharpness for a lens, e.g., an f/ 2.8 lens will have its sharpest images around f/6 to t/8. The factor of two is a "rule of thumb", but manufacturers data sheets can provide better guidance.

Nikon has the Micro-nikkor lenses in 60, 105 mm that are very good for macro work. Nikon also has the Camera Control Pro 2 to remotely control you camera from a computer.

Search past message threads in this forum for more detailed discussion of the topics mentioned above.

Hope this helps.
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