Many biominerals contain micro- or nanocrystalline mineral components, organized accurately into architectures that confer the material with improved mechanical performance at the macroscopic scale. We present here an effect which enables us to observe the relative orientation of individual crystals at the submicron scale. We call it polarization-dependent imaging contrast (PIC), as it is an imaging development of the well-known x-ray linear dichroism. Most importantly, PIC is obtained in situ, in biominerals. We present here PIC in the prismatic and nacreous layers of Haliotis rufescens (red abalone), confirm it in geologic calcite and aragonite, and corroborate the experimental data with theoretical simulated spectra. PIC reveals different and unexpected aspects of nacre architecture that have inspired theoretical models for nacre formation.