Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sitting in with the Master

The above image relates to what proved to be the highlight of my month-long excursion to Tucson last February where among other things, Mineral Bliss was launched. I took the picture during the hour I spent hanging out one-on-one with Jeff Scovil in his temporary studio at Inn Suites Hotel. While the idea of starting up Mineral Bliss had been on my mind, it was here that I made the decision to actually move forward. An experience like this was too great to pass by.

Though not one to pass judgment, I doubt that many in mineralogical circles would dispute the contention that Jeff Scovil is the world's premier photographer of minerals. He is certainly the best known and most acclaimed. 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. He also authored the book Photographing Minerals, Fossils, and Lapidary Materials. You can purchase it at his web site .

I got into his studio shortly after wandering into a room adjoining it where a sign read "Scovil Photography: Come in,." After expressing my interest in mineral photography to one of Jeff's associates, he escorted me into the studio to watch the master at work and fire away with as many questions as my heart desired. Not only did Jeff happily respond to all of them, he enthusiastically elaborated on his answers in a manner that encouraged further discourse of a no holds barred nature.

Not that he should have reason to be concerned about competition from an amateur whose parameters were still pretty much limited to the confines of a "Studio in a Box" kit purchased on eBay. While eager to learn as much as possible, my immediate goal was to be able write this feature with a degree of literacy regarding his equipment and the myriad ways that he manipulates light to balance reflection with detail. At this point, it became clear to me that such descriptions are better left to photographers and those who write regularly on the subject.

Simply put, he worked with strobe lighting and used reflectors and props of endless sizes shapes and materials. Having made the transition from film to digital only a couple of years ago, he relied on a large computer monitor to check his work. His credo is "get it right in the camera." When the tiniest speck of dust appeared in an image on that computer screen, he returned to the work table, manually removed the dust, and shot again.

While photography combines art, science, and skill, becoming a great photographer of minerals must surely require an additional ingredient, namely a sensibility relating to their uniqueness and detail. By the time I left, it seemed clear to me that Jeff Scovil's mind-boggling level of experience with photographing minerals has served to elevate that sensibility to the point that it could be the essence of his prowess.

Of all that we discussed, what most surprised me were the fees that Jeff charges, be it for producing images of one or more minerals on CD at a show for a collector, or for a day's work. A Scovil Photography image is almost certain to elevate the cache and potential price of just about any specimen, all the more should the picture end up being published somewhere. Compared to other kinds of photographic services for which I'm familiar with the fees, Scovil Photography's prices were a true bargain.

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent insight into the working habits of a truly talent man - thank you for sharing it with us!

    Robyn Hawk