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Mineral PhotographyAdvice on Photographing Silver or other highly reflective/metalic subjects

25th Jun 2018 22:04 BSTAndrew Debnam

Hello, All I would appreciate advice or wisdom on how to photograph minerals like silver or similar metallic minerals with reflective surfaces. I have somewhat limited photographic skills and equipment but have been able to take some reasonable photos with the glaring exception noted above.

Here is a sample of a recent photo I "attempted" of a specimen from Cobalt Ontario. Any advice on background lighting etc. would be appreciated



26th Jun 2018 07:48 BSTHiro Inukai

Honestly, I don't see what's so wrong with the photo you attached. It looks nice to me! Are there any specific flaws you perceive that you would like to correct?

If I had any critique it would be that I'm not a fan of objects that appear to float in the frame, but that's personal preference. I have seen this style of specimen photography before and I absolutely understand why it is done; it just isn't my own style of presentation. Even though I extensively rely on image editing software, I believe in naturally created gradients or backgrounds. Doing it in real life takes more setup and planning, but the results are more convincing.

That said, the general principle to remember about photographing highly reflective objects is that the surface will tend to show the surrounding environment rather than its own geometry and topography. A shiny ball bearing looks round to us not merely from its apparent boundary, but by the way the reflected light distorts the shape of the objects in its reflection, and it is this visual cue that makes it appear spherical, rather than as a flat disk.

Consequently, when the goal is to reveal the surface relief of a reflective crystal, the way this is accomplished is to minimize as much as possible the complexity of the surrounding environment--so for example, place the object in a "dark tent." This could be many things; for example, a box lined with black felt; or it could be a black backdrop in a dark room without other objects nearby. The light source might be chosen in a way that emphasizes contrast, so perhaps a single point light source like a spotlight, which will cast sharp shadows and create specular highlights; or it could be a diffuse lightbox, which will reduce shadows. Experimentation will determine what kind of look works for you.

The worst thing to do for any mineral photography is to just hold it in your hand and use your cell phone camera to take a quick snapshot. This is very quick and dirty, sometimes necessary for reference purposes, but frequently results in inferior shots, especially in poor light. For reflective specimens, I have seen images in which the specimen is placed on or nearby another object, and the crystal reflects that object's color, shape, and detail, which becomes a distraction.

26th Jun 2018 13:04 BSTAndrew Debnam

Thanks for the feedback Hiro. Your comments on the light environment are helpful. The background was something I adopted for no particular reason than others did it. I would like to experiment with other backgrounds in the future that do look more natural. As far as my "sample"photo goes I guess it was more a case of how do to get the mineral in hand appear in a photo as close as possible as it does to my eyes. I do know nothing does a better job than the human eye and some minerals and colours are more problematic than others. On another note I bought some of the plastic you mentioned in another post.

26th Jun 2018 14:28 BSTOwen Lewis

Hi Andrew,

I agree with Hiro that your pic is really not too bad at all. If you want to experiment, the following are prime methods for achieving superior images.

In all close-up photography, the limits dictated by the laws of optics for sharpness at all points in a photograph of a strongly 3-D object are generally referred to as the depth of field problem. The photographer needs to arrange that all significant point in the image are recorded with the best possible sharpness. There are two ways to do this:

- Working with a single image, one will obtain the maximum depth of field by pre-setting the lens aperture to f8 or f11. For mineral photography always use one of these aperture settings and let the exposure time grow as necessary to get a nice bright but not over-exposed image. This may mean working with an exposure setting that is several seconds long. In turn, such long exposure times can deteriorate image sharpness by even very small vibrations shaking the camera. These vibrations must be minimised by using a sturdy and stable camera mount and (depending on one's living circumstances only making long exposure images when there is no one (you or anyone else) moving around. Traffic rumble from passing trucks can also cause camera shake but can be avoided by making images in the middle of the night. Significant improvement in overall image sharpness can be attained by such simple methods but there is a limit to the improvement to be gained and that improvement is still insufficient to produce equal sharpness at every point in a 2-D image of some sharply 3-D objects.

- In these days of digital photography, this last barrier can be removed by the use of image stacking software. This requires making a series of images, maybe 20 or 30, with minute re-focusing of the camera between each shot. This produces a series of images, in which just one shot in this series perfectly focuses every point from the nearest part of the specimen to the camera to the most distant from it. The data in all these image files is then combined by a special software program (like Helicon Focus) to produce a single image file in which all points in the image have the best possible sharpness. It can be quite a bore to do the maths correctly to determine the number of exposures that need to be made to produce the most effective stack set and also to manually re-focus between each shot. For those with cameras that can be controlled by software (e.g. the Canon EOS series), Helicon offers an auxillary routine called Remote. Using this, all the photographer has to do is focus perfectly the specimen point closest to the camera and then the specimen point furthest from it. The program then takes over, calculating the number of exposures that will be required and handling the re-focusing and shutter release for all the shots, before combining all the collected data into the final image file that is commonly referred to as a stacked image.

Another point to watch is to avoid/minimise burn-out (loss of recorded detail in highlights) by using well diffused and multiple light sources and/or polarising the illuminating light.

26th Jun 2018 19:45 BSTAndrew Debnam

Thank you Owen for your advice. My wife would like a new camera for her birthday perhaps she would not mind sharing on occasion. Which Canon EOS series have the functionality you described.


26th Jun 2018 20:06 BSTAlfredo Petrov Manager

Personally I find the "floating" effect to be the most desirable for minerals, and you have achieved this, Andrew. Any objects visible in the frame apart from the mineral itself just distract me from studying the mineral. So my tastes are different from Hiro's, but then humanity would be boring if we all had the same tastes. ;))

26th Jun 2018 22:16 BSTReiner Mielke Expert

The photo looks fine to me just as it is.

26th Jun 2018 22:47 BSTOwen Lewis


Best check with the Canon website for an up to date listing of models and their features. My rig is several years old, using an EOS 600D body with an EFS f.2.8 65mm macro lens. Check also with Helicon to see what models their software is currently compatible with.

27th Jun 2018 00:02 BSTAndrew Debnam

Thanks Alfredo, Reiner and Owen.

27th Jun 2018 00:10 BSTMatt Courville

Hi Andrew, I've been using the very basic 'Photo' software that comes with Windows 10 on my laptop and with less than a minute and a few clicks I got your photos to look like this below. Mainly 'light' and 'clairity' were used. Personal preference, but I like how it turned out:


27th Jun 2018 00:23 BSTAndrew Debnam

Hey Matt, interesting -thanks. What is hard to capture to what my eye sees is an almost a sort of chatoyancy (perhaps not the correct term) the botryoidal Skutterudite exhibits. The smaller diamond shaped crystals are Arsenopyrite.

27th Jun 2018 00:53 BSTMatt Courville

This was done quite easily by dragging the settings bars right or left from zero. You have to judge the clarity setting as it can look over-sharp and fake looking at times if you go too far. This is a very nice piece!! So much action coming out of Cobalt these days.

27th Jun 2018 01:57 BSTAndrew Debnam

Cobalt is an interesting place no doubt. A great spot to visit for anyone interested in mining history.

27th Jun 2018 10:45 BSTKeith Compton Manager


For me I don't see anything wrong with your photo - other than perhaps the white corner in the bottom RHS. I would have extended the grey.

I'd be happy with photo none-the-less.

I think the best lighting is to use softbox lighting - that way you can even power it down.

There is a small article on lighting on the Mineralogical Record site that is of interest. As are other photography lighting messages on this site and of course Scovill's book on mineral photography which should be a must for any mineral photographer.


27th Jun 2018 13:20 BSTAndrew Debnam

cheers, thank you Keith

28th Jun 2018 04:02 BSTJim Gawura


As regards to a Canon camera. There are two features you should have. Silent Mode and Live View. Silent mode opens the first curtain shutter, thus reducing shake from the exposure. Live view locks the mirror up, again reducing camera induced shake. Silent Mode 1 will be your choice. The Canon EOS Utility software will enable you to use a computer to see the live view image on your monitor and control some functions of the camera. Mainly 5x and 10x image for fine focusing and remote shutter. Either USB or WIFI if the camera is so equipped for your computer connection. As far as the picture goes I believe background is a personal preference. Unless you are using stacking software and a rail, F8 or maybe F11 will give you the best depth of field. Usually 2 stops from wide open. I'm assuming you are using a camera and lens. I find that lighting makes a huge difference. Where the lights are placed, using a diffuser in front of the light source, or reflectors. Translucent paper works well as a diffuser and I use aluminum foil flattened and bent in half, like a street billboard, as a reflector. You just have to experiment and keep a record of what you have done for each shot.

Good hunting


28th Jun 2018 12:33 BSTHarold Moritz Expert

All good advice here. The photo is very good to begin with. In general, I will add that for metallic or very white objects use diffuse light and avoid bright reflections, but also you can underexpose the overall pic if necessary so that the bright parts are only slightly overexposed. Then use editing software to selectively adjust the light and dark parts of the image (in Photoshop - "shadow and highlight"). Mostly you will brighten the darker parts to compensate for their initial underexposure and also play with the contrast. As noted above, dont overdo or things start to look fake. But the takeaway is that a digital image still contains a ton of information in areas that look dark that you can adjust, but you cant do much editing to overexposed areas. So shoot the brighter parts and shop the darker parts.

28th Jun 2018 17:41 BSTAndrew Debnam

great advice Harold and Jim, Thanks all who have posted feedback as I have learned plenty from it. I should probably post the photo to my page.

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