How do I take better mineral photographs?

In anticipation of our site re-launch I researched mineral photography over several months. I think accurate, excellent pics are the most important aspect of successful mineral sites. I had several years of experience, but always struggled with getting accurate colors, and a pleasant contrast between the mineral subject and its background.
In my pursuit of better mineral photography, there have been several positive influences. The first was an afternoon spent with Jeff Scovil, watching him shoot minerals (and asking him a million questions) at the Denver show in his third floor room at Marty Zinn’s show at the Holiday Inn Central. Jeff has a complex high-end setup, but utilizes key techniques to create the best mineral pics in the world (I recommend reading his book on the subject). I collected more tips from a local photography store, most of these were things like “put the camera on a two second timer so the camera doesn’t shake (and blur the image) when you take the picture.” I also checked out >”> John Betts web site where he describes how he takes pictures of his minerals. Quite informative, I love how John offers so many interesting articles, and commentary about the mineral business and hobby.

I make a deliberate attempt in my photography to be as realistic as possible. With today’s digital cameras and photoshop, you can make a blue azurite look bright pink if you want. Digital photography involves juggling three major variables: the ISO film speed, the F-stop, and the shutter speed. This has always been a juggle for photographers. However, with digital cameras, these factors are fluid. In the old days, you were stuck with the ISO speed film you loaded. Now it’s possible to manipulate every aspect of the image. I think part of being a reputable mineral dealer is to stand behind the accuracy of your photos, not just the “wow factor,” that can be created by dressing up the image to look as good as possible. Afterall, my goal with customer response is: “it’s as good as the picture… or even better in person!”

I match the colors in the pics to the specimen, and avoid manipulating colors via Photoshop. Typically the only adjustment I make to the subject is auto contrast, this makes the darkest pixel black, and the lightest pixel white. I use a Canon Powershot SX10IS, utilize uniform lighting (5000 lumens cfl), a photographic tent, and a tripod. This approach creates a solid basis for high quality pics. I then use Photoshop Elements to “cut,” the image off of it’s background and onto a white or black background. I want my pics to be accurate, so customers are happy with what they receive. I display the piece as positively as possible with good lighting, however I add angles that may not be as glamorous, but help convey the appearance of the piece overall. There seems to be a balance between showmanship and a CSI clinical analysis. Let me know what you think!

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