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Zone Plate Images

by Flo Deems
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Everyone who is interested in crystals has probably seen photographs of them. Those photos were made with ordinary lenses. The images here were made with a Nikon D80 digital camera with no lens! Instead I used a turret type lensless barrel, made by Finney Field Cameras *, that has a rotating plate on the front. This plate contains 3 pinholes of different sizes plus a zone plate opening. The turret has the Nikon adapter for fitting it onto a Nikon camera body.

A zone plate is a small piece of transparent film upon which are a series of concentric black rings with transparent spaces between them. You can read more about zone plates and how they work in Finney's book, Pinhole Images.

The unique characteristics of a zone plate image are:

  1. Every object in the field of view has the same amount of very soft focus (instead of sharp or normal soft focus).
  2. Highlights will often be blown out and show a rainbow ring around the highlighted area.

  3. Color shifts can occur.
  4. Objects will also have an aura of light around their edges.

I made all these images on April 27, 2008, which was Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. Each year on the last Sunday in April, pinhole and zone plate photography enthusiasts from around the world take their equipment and find interesting subjects to shoot. Afterwards, each person chooses one image to post on the website's Gallery.

Since the weather on April 27 in my area was socked in with heavy clouds, I chose to shoot indoors. I placed some clear plastic bags for a background near a window. After placing the crystals on the bags and putting the camera on a tripod, I used a small Maglite flashlight/torch to "paint" with light on the crystals.

Camera settings: ISO 1000; the zone plate aperture equivalent of f/65; shutter speeds of 1/2 to 4 seconds.

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Since Tiger's Eye is opaque, I shone the Maglite above it and slightly to the side. Fluorite occurs as either octagons or cubes. The polished Fluorite was leaned up against the Maglite, since Fluorite is usually varying degrees of transparency. The Fluorite octagons had Maglite shining on and through them at various angles.

Tiger eye heart

Fluorite Octagon 1

Fluorite Octagon 2

Fluorite Octagon 3

Fluorite octagon 4

Fluorite octagon 5

Fluorite octagon 6

Fluorite polished

The cross sections of Apophyllite crystals are square, which is how you can tell them from the 6-sided quartz crystals. If you point an Apophyllite crystal directly at you and also shine a light into it, the reflection is so bright that it can temporarily blind you. Moonstone has striations that catch and reflect light coming from a particular angle, like Tiger's Eye, but is various shades of gray. Unlike other varieties of crystalized quartz, Rose Quartz is rarely found as separate crystals. So it is usually carved into shapes and polished.

Apophyllite cluster 1

Apophyllite cluster 2

Moonstone "mouse"

Rose Quartz "dolphins"

Since none of the images of the Calcite cluster turned out satisfactorily, I combined two of them in Photoshop CS3. Then I played with a few blend modes.

Calcite original 1

Calcite original 2

Blend "Lighter Color" plus High Pass filter

Blend "Pin Light"

Blend "Difference"

Post processing for all except the Calcite images consisted of cropping and slight levels adjustments to lighten the crystals and darken the backgrounds some.

I hope you have enjoyed your visual journey through a different kind of photography.

* Apparently the Finney company is no longer in business. If you Google "Finney Field Cameras," you'll find lots of offerings on ebay.

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