Sunday, November 2, 2014

Nova Scotian Agate as Art


Nova Scotian Agate



Photographs by Chris Sheppard 

Mother and Child
Cape Blomidon, Nova Scotia

It wasn't very long ago that I felt I had the equipment and the experience I needed to go back to the Fundy Rocks collection and begin serious work photographing the gems and minerals I had collected as a dedicated Rockhound exploring the shores around Scots Bay, Cape Split and Cape Blomidon in Nova Scotia. When I wasn't out photographing the landscapes and seascapes I could focus my attention on beautiful rocks.

Ells Brook Agate Detail
Scots Bay, Nova Scotia

To my delight and amazement these full specimen photographs, often accompanied by an anecdote from our many Rockhound adventures have been enjoyed and shared all over the world via various rockhounding and agate collecting groups and those whose interest wasn't in collecting rocks but simply appreciated their natural beauty.

Golden Flame Agate
Minas Channel shoreline, Cape Split, Nova Scotia

My renewed interest in the rocks allowed me to revisit a Fundy Rocks project called Nova Scotia agate as Art. A few years ago I began experimenting with lighting and with the macro settings on a simple compact camera I started to zoom in on the details of my favorite larger specimens and play around with "extracting" small sections of the agates. I was surprised by the results. Some of these new agate images seemed to possess a quality that immediately transcended documentation of a particular rock formation or an amazing find (Rockhounding is a treasure hunt after all) and become pure artistic expressions. Arrangements of form and colour transformed into something very powerful to me. Agate as Art.
Eye of the Storm
Amethyst Cove, Nova Scotia

As a direct result of my extensive exploration on shores shaped by the relentless power of the World's highest tides in all seasons, weather and light I began the journey of learning the craft and art of landscape photography. My study of photography led me back to art and the history of painting. Some of the works I was enjoying again such as the abstract paintings of Wassily Kandinsky and Jackson Pollock and the work of Gerhard Richter reminded me of the agate details I had been experimenting with a couple of years earlier.

Lobster Hole, Cape Split, Nova Scotia

I now saw each cut specimen in the Fundy Rocks collection as a potential macro photography subject to study with my lens. Each piece a complete, often chaotic canvas. My challenge is to find the essence of the subject for my composition by removing the extraneous and highlighting the most powerful details capturing the magnificent colours, inclusions, shapes and patterns inherent in Nature's artistry. It is thrilling to find a beautiful agate in the rough and discover what lies beneath the surface then turn it into a stunning photographic image or print. I am aware of this way of exploring and seeing my subject becoming more influential to my landscape and nature photography. My most enduring and satisfying photographs tend to be those where I am able to capture the essence of a scene by finding and isolating details and sharing my vision most effectively. Going back to the rocks gave a creative boost to my landscape photography.
Conifer Fossil Detail
Ross Creek, Nova Scotia

When I photograph a detail of the agate I can choose which direction is up or down, left or right and decide what features of the agate I want to include in the image to express the feelings evoked by the specimen. I love agates and let my enthusiasm and excitement influence my approach to photographing them. It is combining two very satisfying hobbies. Rockhounding and photography!

Minas Channel shoreline, Cape Split, Nova Scotia

 I will typically take dozens of shots and decide which most effectively captures the visual design of the particular agate. Imagination is important as well. In many of the images I will see a design, form or pattern that represents something else altogether. It might be surreal, abstract or remind me of something real or imagined. I enjoy finding different things in the images and keep coming back to them to ponder, interpret and study.

Playing Beneath an Amethyst Sky
Cape Blomidon, Nova Scotia

I'll often try a few different variations and look at them back to back to see which one gives me the most powerful (subjective) response and has the most dynamic visual design. The slightest change in the position of the camera could alter the feel of the piece. In the case of these agates the goal is to try to isolate the section of the piece that tells the most interesting visual story.

Amethyst Cove, Nova Scotia

My photographic detail studies are important to me as a means of visual expression and a direction to point my lens creatively and I take great pleasure sharing them.

Luminous Agate
Cape Blomidon, Nova Scotia

Technical Notes

Without exception these mineral detail photographs were made with a Nikkor 40mm micro lens using my 24.2 MP Nikon DSLR attached to a Manfrotto tripod system. Specimens were housed in a diffused full spectrum light box. All of the photographs were “cropped” and framed in camera often using a vari-angle Live View to fine tune composition. The unpolished surfaces of some specimens were given a thin coat of mineral oil. Using mirror lock-up and a cable shutter to avoid minute camera shake I shoot a RAW image that holds all of the information captured in 14 – bit channels per colour. I use Adobe RGB colour space and process my RAW files using Adobe Camera RAW and convert them into jpegs using Photoshop Elements (A popular editing software). All photographers have to convert and process RAW images based on their own personal taste and preferences. RAW processing gives you complete creative control including custom white balance. I personally try to achieve the incredible colours you would see if the specimen was wet with salt water on a cloudy day!

Fortification Climb
Amethyst Cove, Nova Scotia

Because of the sensitivity of the macro photography I may on occasion need to digitally remove a fine piece of lint or dust invisible to my eye at the time of exposure or soften a scratch left from the diamond blade used to cut the agate in postproduction. All of these agates were cut using a diamond slab saw that may leave scuffs and scratches that can distract from the image as a whole, especially when they are blown up for printing. Some of the agates have never been polished so a thin layer of mineral oil is applied to replicate a polish. Even without a polish the cut agate has a highly reflective surface when wet and shows every imperfection. The fractures occur naturally and become part of the composition.

I hope you have enjoyed this gallery of Nova Scotia agate as Art. Here is how to find out more about Fundy Rocks:

Chris Sheppard Photography

Paddy's Island Moonrise by Chris Sheppard 
Here are two links to my photostreams of high resolution images from the Annapolis Valley, Cape Split, Cape Blomidon and beyond on Flickr and 500px. All of these images are available as high quality prints in many different sizes and formats. All of the printing is done locally. Shipping is available. Rock specimens may also be available to purchase. Contact Fundy Rocks at for more details. Follow the links here:
All images ©Chris Sheppard. Please do not use, copy or reproduce without permission. 

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