Ammonite photography or Views of a Fossil

For the book I´m of course looking for some of the best Yorkshire lias ammonite specimen there are !
Of the approximately 220+ species known (and this is still somewhat of a moving target, i.e. I´m still finding new ones  in literature that I have not considered yet, but I might also have to get rid of some from my list since they’re only synonyms)  I boldly (actually, that´s pretty much verified) estimate that I have about 50 % in my collection (and this in itself is a moving target as well : as I´m looking through my collection and researching the species I regularly find species I never knew I had !) . Now some of these are close to perfect specimen that probably need no other one to complement them for the book. Others are just fragments, badly preserved, too small, too large, you name it,  where I´m looking for other collectors to possibly fill the gap and allow me to photograph their prized specimen.
But this might not always be possible, for example when you don´t trust me to give your ammonite back after borrowing, you might fear it gets lost on the way, you´re living too far away (or I for that matter…), our schedules are impossible to get to overlap, you´re not eager to show me your whole breathtaking collection, you want serious money for allowing me to photograph your specimen or whatever other reason you can think of – but you might yourself be very capable of photographing an ammonite and willing to e-mail me the results.
So what I´m I looking for in terms of photos ?
  •  They should be tack sharp and normally exposed
  •  As many mega pixels as possible, minimum 6
  •  The ammonite should almost fill the frame
  •  Please use a light (preferably white) solid neutral background, no patterns in the background  please
  •  Use smooth even lighting, preferably one light from upper left, another one from lower right to lighten up the shadows
  •  Do not use flash unless with a soft box
  •  Do not use sunlight unless you use a reflector to lighten up the shadows
  • Do not use any software to modify, e.g. filter, sharpen etc the picture, I will do this for you.
  •  I can work with jpeg, tiff, dng, nikon raw (nef) picture formats
  • Do let me know what type of light you used, and which camera/lens combination you used
  • Please do not use anything like ammonium chloride to whiten your fossils, I´m looking for the “natural” look.
What I will do with the picture is this :
  •  Correct any potential color cast, lens distortion
  •  Slightly sharpen the picture
  •  Modify contrast, tone, color as necessary
  •  Isolate the ammonite from the background
  •  Give it a dropshadow to avoid the “cut out” look
What views am I looking for ?
A picture says more than a thousand words, so here it is :
Amaltheus subnodosus : Side view, keel view, aperture view (from left)

Amaltheus subnodosus : Side view, keel view, aperture view (from left)

I realize that depending on how the ammonite is prepped, an aperture view might not always be possible.
Side view and keel view are nevertheless essential : You cannot safely identify an ammonite if you only see the side view.
Other rules ?
  • Yorkshire ammonites only
  • I will accept Holderness coast and Cleveland 🙂
What will you get for your efforts ?
  • If I do use the picture of your ammonite in the book (regardless if I photographed it or you did) you will get a sincere “thankyou” and – of course – your very own copy of the book, with or without my autograph 🙂
  • In the description I will of course mention the collection the ammonite comes from, or not if you prefer.

A as in Amauroceras or A hopeless case ?

You have to start somewhere so why not begin with A ?

This middle lias (spinatum zone) nodule was found in the shingle on July 17, 2011 around Castle Chamber. The nodule was split in the middle and revealed the typical mix for such a nodule: Plenty of bivalves, a fragmentary, larger Pleuroceras, a smaller Pleuroceras (possibly apyrenum ?) and – looking at it again – a larger Amauroceras, broken straight down the middle, a relatively clean break as well. Larger Amauroceras aren´t all that common, so the nodule was bagged.

I did not look at it again until after May 2012, since it was neither amongst the perceived “highlights” of that holidays´collecting nor did it look easy to prep with the large complex surfaces of the nodule halves that would have to be glued together to make it safe to prep. I did not want to risk damaging the whorls while prepping around it with a pen and I do not have a large stonesaw available. A hopeless case, doomed to end up on the eternal prep backlog ?

So when I looked at it again in May 2012, I put the two halves of the nodule back again to see how they fit – and found they fit so well that I could not break them apart again ! Making a virtue out of necessity, I closed the remaining gap a bit further by gently hammering the two halves together with a hammer and letting a lot of low viscosity super glue run into the crack…

About a week later, I started to prep the ammonite and could soon expose the outer whorl of that 6 cm / 2.5″ Amauroceras lenticulare. I was amazed that you almost have to know where the crack was to see it…

Amauroceras belong to the Amaltheidae family of middle liassic ammonites. There are 2 species to be found on the Yorkshire coast :

  • Amauroceras ferrugineum, a smaller, relatively common species and
  • Amauroceras lenticulare, a larger species.

Apart from the obvious difference in size they differ in …. well I don’t really know that !
Anyone having broken apart a large, well-preserved A. lenticulare to see what the inner whorl looks like ? I haven´t !!!
Looking at the sutures of A. ferrugineum and A lenticulare at approximately same size on page 83 of the Lias SCHLEGELMILCH, they do look different in that A. ferrugineum has a more complex one, while A. lenticulare´s suture is more simple, less “fractal”. But still, you would need to break up your A. lenticulare specimen to find out, those sutures were taken at 7.5 to 8 mm ! In a way, the suture of A. ferrugineum does look more “adult” at this small stage, could this be a sign for a “dwarf” variation ?

The large Amauroceras lenticulare is rarely found in a condition appealing to the collector; the larger shells apparently were quite fragile
and often are only preserved as partials or badly crushed. Furthermore, their thin discus shaped shells are hard to recognize, this may lead to a certain
collection bias so that the smaller Amauroceras ferrugineum appears to be much less rare – not sure if they really are.


The journey begins here…

Actually, it began in 1989 when we first visited the Yorkshire coast in the UK to collect fossils. We´ve been back every year at least once since. The collection has grown, mostly ammonites but also crinoids, starfish, bivalves, brachiopods and even some marine reptile bone material.  As of today, it contains roughly 2500 specimen ranging from the lowest to the highest Lias (a time in the Earth´s Jurassic period about 200-175 million years old).

But this blog is mostly about the ammonites and the idea to build a documentation about finding, preparing and identifying them with the clear goal to publish this in book form at some point…
This idea started some years ago amongst members of the UKFOSSILS forum (, kindly provided by the UKGE Geologists Equipment store (
An early expression of this idea can be seen in the members identification database, which was meant to provide a mechanism to “crowd source” pictures and identifications from various collections. While this worked fine in the beginning, the “crowd sourcing” aspect slowly got lost, with various members leaving the forum for different reasons and my identifications for liassic ammonites being the only ones left…

For personal reasons I had to abandon execution of this project for a while, mostly due to lack of time, but now the time seems right to restart it, this time with myself in complete control of all aspects of the project.

This blog will provide a diary of this project,  from finding ammonites, preparing them, identifying them and the process of documentation & writing the book…