Mineral Photographer Jeff Scovil Visits Museum for Mineral Glamor Shots

Famed mineral photographer Jeff Scovil dropped by the museum recently to shoot pictures of some of our top specimens, as well as “glamor shots” for regional collectors. The Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals is sponsoring six-pages featuring the best of the museum’s collection in a supplement to the The Mineralogical Record, to be published later this year. Many collectors in the area are participating in this project as well. Jeff recently set up a temporary studio at the Rice Museum to accommodate all the need for high-quality images for this project.

The title for the upcoming supplement is “Mineral Collectors of the Pacific Northwest.” The goal is to show off specimens from collectors in the northwest community and is open to public and private collections. Dr. Wendell E. Wilson, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief of The Mineralogical Record, said in a press release that the upcoming supplement will feature the best of collections of mineral enthusiasts living in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, British Columbia, the Yukon Territory and Alberta.

Jeff took over the curator’s storage area to set up his photography equipment.

The Mineralogical Record was founded in 1970 by John White, who was at that time a curator in the Mineral Sciences Department of the Smithsonian Institution. Today The Mineralogical Record continues to set the standard for quality content for the serious mineral collector. In 1982, The Mineralogical Record was honored with the naming of a new mineral species: minrecordite. In 1994, the publication won the prestigious Carnegie Mineralogical Award. It’s issues are collectibles in their own right, and are highly prized.

Based in Phoenix, Jeff has written numerous articles about his craft, and he published the definitive book on the subject: Photographing Minerals, Fossils, & Lapidary Minerals. His book shows amateur and professional photographers several techniques for getting the best possible images in both color and black & white. He explains the basic concepts, covers equipment and formats, and goes into detail about
photographing transparent and opaque materials, with advice on lighting techniques, filters, photomicrography, stereo-photography, fluorescence, location photography, and slide presentations.

According to his website, when Jeff got his first camera from his father at high school graduation, it was the beginning of a lifelong passion. Jeff grew up in Connecticut and had been collecting minerals and fossils since he was eight years old. He started college majoring in geology, but switched to anthropology and archaeology. After one field season on a dig in New Mexico he became the site’s laboratory photographer. Jeff studied what little there was published on archaeological photography; finding the literature minimal, he started researching scientific photography from other fields and applied what he learned to archaeological materials.

After three years in the photo studio at the dig, he renewed his passion for minerals with camera in hand. Initial image results were disappointing but Jeff kept at it and started gaining recognition for his work. He photographing other collector’s articles for the popular magazines in the hobby such as The Mineralogical Record and Rocks and Minerals.

The Alma Rose, Sweet Home mine, Alma, Park County, Colorado. On exhibit at the Rice Museum and photographed by Jeff Scovil in 2016

Jeff’s approach was summarized in an excellent Vimeo recording produced by Daniel Buckley for the Arizona Centennial’s virtual museum, arizonaexperience.org.  “The most important thing…is that a mineral is a geometric solid…. I’ve developed a technique where I photograph on a piece of non-glare glass suspended above the background so that I don’t get reflections. I can light from behind, from underneath, and through the glass. Crystal faces are frequently extremely lustrous, so you’re trying to avoid burned-out highlights. Then I have another light, which is for the background. I usually have a third light, which I call a ‘kicker.’ The more you diffuse [the background light], you’re going to have fewer problems with reflections on faces. This little kicker adds sparkle back in and increases the color saturation and gives the specimen lots more life than you would get otherwise. Once you light the crystal, the actual definition of the crystal faces and the other attributes of the specimen is done with a variety of small cards that range in specularity from completely matte to highly reflective. So trying to balance the lighting can really be a task.”

Jeff uses a variety of lights, backlights, filters and reflection surfaces to get the perfect shot.

Jake Slagle at Mineral Bliss sums up Jeff’s many credentials: “A recipient of the 2007 Carnegie Mineralogical Award, his work is everywhere in just about every issue of Rocks and Minerals, Mineralogical Record, and the mineral and lapidary magazines of France, Germany, Spain, Poland, and Russia, as well as in numerous books about minerals. The posters for most of the larger shows around the world (including eleven for the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show) bear his work, and he’s photographed the collections of scores of museums in the US and around the world.”

At Jeff’s website, you can see multiple examples of his fine work. You’ll find extreme closeups of malachite, agate, fluorite, and garnet, as well as stunning images of complete minerals, fossils, meteorites, lapidary, archaeological artifacts, and more.