I’m so glad you’re reading this. When you are looking at mineral photographs on this and any website, you need to look as critically as you can. Understanding the approach, equipment and technique used is really the only way to appreciate exactly what you are looking at when you view the mineral specimens on our website.
Mineral specimens in photographs on a computer monitor can appear more spectacular than in person.
So, all mineral photographs on this website are taken with two goals in mind:
(1) Accurate Representation and
(2) Aesthetic Presentation
Both of these approaches are discussed below. I do my best to make our minerals look as great as they are while staying true to the specimens themselves. All of this directly impacts the photographic representation of any mineral you purchase from McDougall Minerals, so thank you for coming to this page and please read on.
I have learned from the master – Jeff Scovil has patiently taught me how to take mineral photographs. If there is a Yoda of mineral photography, it’s Jeff. (To be fair, Jeff is neither as old nor as short as Yoda.) I am sure Jeff will cringe if he sees bad technique anywhere on this site, so please obviously attribute all that is not Jeff-worthy to me. Jeff has generously shared a lot of knowledge and great innovative ideas with me – one reason his photographs continue to blow us all away is that he is always coming up with new and better approaches. If you are ever looking to have any mineral specimens professionally photographed, Jeff does a great job and I can’t recommend him highly enough.
Why Photos on Different Websites are not the Same
Every photographer uses a different setup and a different approach, which means one can end up with wildly different images of exactly the same mineral specimen. Most often, there is absolutely no intention to deceive – a photograph simply results from the choices the photographer made, including lighting sources, reflectors, backgrounds, exposure times and processing settings including brightness, contrast and saturation. Computer monitor colour representation is a significant issue (both on your own computer and the photographer’s monitor as well – see more below).
Unfortunately, sometimes internet photographs of mineral specimens are intentionally colour-saturated and otherwise are intended to make the specimen look better than it can possibly look naturally. In addition, sometimes mineral specimens are photographed so that a damaged portion of the specimen is conveniently out of focus, even while everything else from that same angle is sharp and easy to see. Or there may be major backlighting to make a translucent specimen look impressive in a way it will not in person, unless that same backlighting is applied in the display case too.
If you are going to appreciate, and particularly buy minerals on the internet, you need to become an expert and be able to discern about the different factors that may have contributed to each mineral photograph. It’s easy once you know what to look for.
Factors Causing Mineral Appearances to Differ
Light sources can vary substantially! The colour temperature of light illuminating a specimen can make a huge difference to the appearance of the specimen. The same mineral can look entirely different under, for example, incandescent, fluorescent tube lighting or daylight lighting. Some minerals actually appear entirely different colours under different light sources. But usually the end result is simply that a specimen looks great in one kind of light and washed out and inferior in another. This is all the result of the fact we are dealing with various different compounds comprising the crystal lattices in minerals, and many react differently to light, reflecting and refracting particular wavelengths in various proportions.
Incandescent lighting can be terrible for purples and blues, but is kind to warmer colours.
Fluorescent lighting can be deadly for warm colours – reds and reddish colours in particular – but can be complimentary to cold greens, blues and purples. “Cool white" LED can kill warm colours too, particularly pinks and oranges, but again can really compliment some greens, blues and purples. In general, the goal of accurate mineral photography is to approximate daylight colour (colour temperature of approximately 5000˚K) and compliment the specimens to the extent the colour of natural daylight does.
When it comes to colour, other perception issues can be created by the surroundings when the mineral specimen is photographed. For example, coloured or overly bright reflectors may cause crystal face reflections, giving rise to colours or appearances that are completely foreign to the specimen itself. Backgrounds and backlighting that may not actually visually have an effect on the lighting of the specimen itself can nonetheless also strongly impact your impression of a specimen.
Why the Same Photo Viewed on Different Computer Monitors may not Look the Same
Amazingly, monitors are all calibrated differently. Many monitors are set to make displays look dynamic, punchy and spectacular, but that may mean colours appear saturated or contrast is pushed too far. In addition, many monitors display things quite differently depending on simply the viewing angle (this has driven me crazy on some notebook computers over the years!).
There are steps you can take to accurately calibrate your monitor. It’s worth it! But if you don’t want to do that now, at least be aware of your monitor’s biases until you do.
If you’ve seen specimens of a particular mineral from a particular locality in person at a show, and then you see a wildly more colourful one from the same find in a photograph on a website, the colour saturation in the photograph or the monitor is very likely responsible.
So here is what is involved in the mineral photographs on the website.
All of the mineral photographs are taken in our mineral photography studio. Our studio equipment includes a Speedotron 2403cx 3-channel power pack, Speedotron flash heads, and a Nikon DSLR with a macro lens.
(1) Accurate Representation
I do my very best to accurately represent the mineral specimens in my photographs.
The colour temperature of professional flash heads is approximately daylight colour-balanced.
The photographs are taken with either two or three flash heads. Each flash head is diffused using either a soft box or a grid. Reflectors are placed to control reflections, illuminating the specimen adequately to visually convey three dimensions and crystal faces that might otherwise be hard to discern.
The camera is tethered to a MacBook Pro. The monitor of the MacBook Pro is independently calibrated using a Datacolour Spyder4Pro.
The resulting photographs give most minerals the appearance they have under natural daylight on a clear day (in the shade). The photographs have optimal lighting/reflections to illuminate, showing crystal faces and the three dimensions, and also minimizing dark shadows.
This daylight representation is a higher colour temperature and therefore has a “cooler” look than the colour of certain 50W halogen bulbs commonly used by many collectors in home display cabinets. I like these bulbs and use them myself when displaying minerals. However, they are not perfect – they definitely tend to the warm colour side and in the case of certain specimens they can be surprisingly different from daylight. I like the warm lighting as a look, but it certainly does impact mineral specimen appearance.
(2) Aesthetic Representation
I work hard to make the minerals on this website look their best! This is not an attempt to make them look better than they are. Most important, I don’t do it to sell you something you will like on the screen but not when it arrives – of course that’s the last thing I want to happen. Rather, I do it because I love the minerals and I love photographing them to look as good as they can. And, just as we all place a mineral specimen at the optimal display angle with the optimal stand and the optimal lighting in our display cases, I do what I can with these photographs, while balancing all of the accuracy considerations discussed above.
Please note that if I am concerned about the accuracy of an appearance of a mineral photograph, I will highlight anything unusual in my description with the specimen, so for example if it has been strongly backlit, you will know from the description, but here are particular things you should consider when evaluating what has been done in these (and all) website photographs:
- Is there backlighting?
- Is your impression of the mineral being determined by the colour of the background?
- Does the computer monitor you’re using have any biases?
- Does this specimen look at least generally consistent with comparable specimens you’ve seen in person?
Hopefully with a bit of practice, you’ll become great at evaluating the minerals you see on websites!
For more specific guidelines and critical questions to ask yourself when buying a specimen from us, please read Guidelines for Buying Our Minerals.