Pleuroceras spinatum: Jurassic Period (lower Jurassic, upper Pliensbachian)


“I have been taking pictures since I was a kid, starting with a Kodak Brownie around 1965.”
– Constance Johansen

© Constance Johansen, RBP, FBCA

What was your concept when creating this image?

I wanted to show the beauty of the fossil and retain the scientific information. I thought a gold colored ammonite was unusual and could photograph well, as long as the highlights were not blown out.

Tell us something about the creative process you use when coming up with a photographic solution to a problem/assignment.

I knew I did not want to shoot it copy stand style because I did not want it to look flat, because it's not flat. It has quite a bit of depth. I moved the specimen around until the composition was pleasing.

What technical issues did you have, or have to work out, to create this image?

Depth of field could be an issue because the specimen is not flat. I also wanted to use the industry standard lighting method of using one light in the NW position, with a fill opposite. The lighting I chose is based on the RHOI (Revealing Hominid Origins Initiative) at University of California, Berkeley. I previously met with Dr. Stephen Godfrey (paleontologist) at the Calvert Marine Museum to confirm that the lighting was best practice in the industry. I also wanted to make sure that the texture of the specimen was evident so the light was placed in the NW position but a little low so it would be a oblique enough to show texture. I used a piece of foil opposite the light for fill. Accepted practice calls for a fill opposite the main light. Another light would have been too much, and not shown the texture I wanted.

Tell us something about the subject of this photograph.

This is a pyritized ammonite fossil. The gold color occurs when the ammonite material is replaced with pyrite, or iron disulfide, more commonly known as "fools gold". The same event that wiped out dinosaurs was the end of this species as well.

What elements are important to you when you judge or critique your work or the work of other professional photographers?

Sharpness, composition, texture, does it tell a story or say something, or have scientific merit or data.

Tell us something about yourself. What is your photographic background?

I graduated from the Bellevue Community College BioMedical Photography Program in 1982, earned the RBP in 1994. Many years later while working for the government I earned a Bachelors Degree in Digital Design and Interactive Media. I have been taking pictures since I was a kid, starting with a Kodak Brownie around 1965.

Who are some of your favorite photographers?

Ansel Adams, John Sexton, Annie Leibowitz, Leon LeBeau, Vivian Maier

What photographers inspire or influence you?

John Sexton, Jim Wetzel, Jamie Hayden, Adam Cooper, Danielle Edwards, Norm Barker, David Bishop

Do you have any advice for photographers interested in a photography career in biomedical/life sciences?

Make sure you love science or medicine and photography, you will need both.

How has your membership in the BCA helped you?

Networking and encouragement from friends and members has helped me become a better photographer and helped me advance my career.

Read more about Constance Johansen in the winter 2020 issue of the BCA News.