In the Mind’s Eye

In the Mind’s Eye

Robert and I just returned from Tucson, where Stonetrust participated in the Fine Mineral Show at the Westward Look Resort and the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show at the Tucson Convention Center.

As always, it was great being out of the Northeast for three weeks in Jan./Feb. Even though Mother Nature was kind to most of us who live in Connecticut, over this winter it was great to shrug off the coats and slip into a pair of sandals. (I won’t focus on the fact that for the first three days we were in Tucson it was warmer in Connecticut than in Tucson.)

I’ll write a little about our 2016 experience a little later. For now, I want to share a brief educational essay about mineral photography.

My good friend, Joaquim Callén, is a master at mineral photography. He and his wife, Eloisa Artola, publish Mineral UP, a magazine that serves the mineral hobby. Many of you know Joaquim or have seen photos of him taking photos with his diminutive “lighted mineral stage.” Joaquim was one of the photographers tapped by Dave Waisman to participate in the Sunday evening program of the Fine Mineral Show at the Westward Look Resort. Two other photographers, Tom Spann and Mark Mauthner, also spoke.

I was moved by the sensibilities of Joaquin’s presentation and his simplistic instructions on how to take a fine photo of a mineral specimen. I have listened to many masters of photography about the process and the mechanics of photography, but I have never heard a photographer share, step-by-step, how to take a fine photo of a mineral specimen using emotion. Having witnessed him taking many photos over the years, I realized that he successfully uses his ethereal process.

I cannot promise that after reading his words you will be able to grab your camera and a favorite mineral specimen and be able to duplicate his success. But I can, with confidence, say that his strategy works. Of course, he has been capturing great images of photos for over 30 years.

Without more bloviating, below I present the text of Joaquim Callén’s Westward Look 2016 presentation.


"Hello, I'm very happy to be here with you.

First, I'd like to ask your pardon for my limited knowledge of English. Dave [Waisman] offered me the possibility of this speech about photography, and I did not refuse, even knowing that, for me, it would be very difficult.

My son speaks English very well. He lives in Hawaii with his American wife. He said to me, "Dad, you are crazy. Your English is terrible. Actually, you don't really speak English. I said, yes, I know. But a friend said me [sic], ‘Don't worry, Joaquim, after all, you will be with friends!’

I love to speak about minerals and photography. Even in English!

Some people ask me how to take photos of minerals. People are very interested in mineral photography. It is a complement to collecting minerals.

Digital photography opens the door to an activity. Very fun, easy, and cheap, too. Nowadays cameras, and even some cellular phones, are capable of taking photos of very high quality. People say to me: ‘Joaquim, how do you make a photo?’ Well, it is very easy.

First, you have to choose a suitable specimen. If the piece is from your collection, you made the choice previously. But maybe that choice was not made with a photographic point of view. Probably the choice was made using other parameters, like size, color, and even price.

If you want to make a good photo, the mineral choice has to include your consideration of the photograph.

In fact, that is also very easy. When you visit a dealer's booth, some pieces in the showcases stand out from the others. Often you detect immediately the “piece.” It is waiting for you. It says: ‘Hello, I'm here. I'm calling you. Look at me...’ so I take the piece and I observe it briefly to check its photographical possibilities.

It is very important to know where you want to go. Before you take the shot you have to see the picture in your mind. It is not good to take a lot of shots hoping that one of them will be a great photo. That way is very good in photo press and wedding photo [sic], even in photography of animals or macrophotography of insects, but in mineral photography is very slow and boring.

So you must visualize the picture before you take it. This is the first thing. After you see the photo in your mind you will know how to achieve the goal.

I take the piece in my hand. I put it under the light; I observe the piece, form, position of crystals, defects, transparency, bright, matrix...other crystals and relationship with other minerals in the piece... I even turn around the piece to observe the back side. It is important to evaluate the matrix, to make it as secure and solid so that you can place the piece safety on the set.

Only a few seconds are necessary to catch all the properties of the piece and its photographic possibilities, and to confirm that I am correct. Now is the moment to put the piece on the stage and under the lights. This is the magical moment.

I move away from the camera and the tripod. In this phase I don't need it. The light interacts with the specimen. I move the lights: main light, second light, reflected lights, effect lights...

I explore the transparency, the density of color, the translucence, the brightness, the texture.

The position of the specimen is very important. If there is a main crystal, it must be in a crystallographic position. I have to show it in a position so that the observer understands and recognizes the crystal.

People see the minerals with two eyes (normally, of course). So we see the objects in three dimensions. The camera has only one eye. It can only see the world in two dimensions. Objects are always flat for the camera, and that makes it difficult to capture the reality. Three dimensions are very important to understand crystals. So, you must use the light to simulate the illusion of the three dimensions in the minds of those viewing your photos.

Well, that is all I need to say, now is the moment to look at pictures.”

Joaquin then showed a slideshow of many of his beautiful mineral photographs. You will see many of them on this website. They often have a dark and haunting look, and they are always beautiful.