Austin Fossil Specimens: Cretaceous Period

My 9 year old has a developing interest in fossil hunting. It started a few years back when his grandfather, a former elementary school teacher, took him on fossil hunting trips around Austin.

Now I’ve developed an interest in specimen photography. Honestly? I am terrible at fossil hunting. Is this a fossil? (No, mom. It’s a rock. Put it down.) But is THIS a fossil? (Yes, but we already have a bunch of those. Put it down.) IS THIS A FOSSIL????

I’ll just stick to photography.

I experimented with using a black background, white background, and then making an in situ re-creation.

1. For the black background, I have 4 angles of the Exogyra ponderosa fossil.

2. I used a whitish background for my son’s science project.

3. For the in situ re-creations, I used “crafting” sand from JoAnn Fabrics. When I needed a taller background, I used limestone I picked up at the fossil sites.


4.  Issues/Problems/Concerns

  • BLACK BACKGROUND: As always, use clean black velvet. I was being lazy about that. WELL WELL WELL. Guess who had to spend way too much time with the clone tool? Stitch in time, people.
  • LIGHTING: I took these in daylight in the west side of my house. I turned on all the kitchen lights and used only one continuous light. I wanted drama/interest. I decided to enhance the shadows because so many specimens in books and online did not provide sufficient detail so that my kid could identify his fossils. Words are not nearly as helpful as a picture which captures the fossil’s significant details.
  • UNDEREXPOSE: My camera’s automatic exposure settings caused problems with the specimens (flattened the items/loss of detail). Underexpose slightly from what your meter says. You want to grab the shadows to keep the detail.  Then increase exposure a bit in post-process. If you blow out the highlights by overexposing, you will lose the tiny details which make a useful specimen. Increasing “clarity” in PS will just make a digitized mess of things and won’t get the depth back.
  • LENS: Yes, I took these on my kit lens for my entry-level Nikon DSLR. I haven’t bought a macro lens of any kind. For my purposes (blogging), I can crop and not worry about the final product having sufficient pixels. If you actually want to print these and have adequate detail, seek out a macro lens so you can get closer.
  • APERTURE: Depended. Just like focal length. Use your best judgment.
  • SPECIMEN MEASUREMENTS: I used a tape measure for my kid’s project. If you were going to assemble a large number of small specimen photos, I would not recommend that. Just give the measurements in a caption.
  • SPELLING: FRIIIIICCCKKKK. So many errors along the way. If I were to make a book, I would require an editor.
  • EXOGYRA ARIETINA v. ILYMATOGYRA ARIETINA: I see both online. It seems like books prefer the Ilymatogyra genus. Fossil taxonomy: I am no expert. Just interested in the pics. Again, I would require an editor for a book.