Lights, Camera, Action!

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jgenn

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Most of the action is in re-positioning the lights.

Today I took one of my best coin photographs.

I've been working on improving my photography skills and I've re-imaged much of my collection over the last two years. My setup is fairly modest; an inexpensive copy stand and refurbished Canon SL1 DSLR, with macro capable lens, that I got for a super low price last Black Friday. Frankly, I'm not sure I see much improvement over my previous camera, a Canon G9, since I mainly photograph large sized coins. Both have the essential features; macro focus and white balance control.

The key to better coin photography, however, is proper lighting. You could say that each coin requires a specific setup of lamps and I find that to be mostly true with the variety of older world crowns that I collect. Two types that I find especially difficult to photograph are the darkly toned coins with muted luster and the highly lustrous, low mint state, ones with many surface imperfections. Small changes to angles can help minimize how distracting scratches and other surface dings will appear, so I take many shots with slight lighting alterations or coin rotation.

Photographing encapsulated coins presents additional challenges. Scratches and abrasions on the slabs can be managed with lighting angles or polishing the plastic but the big problem for certain situations is the reflection of the light source off the surface of the slab. This limits your options for getting your lamps close to the coin and at a highly perpendicular angle.

I posted a journal about this thaler before, shortly after I acquired it. Since then, I got the coin re-holdered for free, due to the incorrect label, so that took care of the many scratches on the original slab. But this is a very darkly toned subject with rich colors that are difficult to bring out. After dozens of shoots with different types of lamps and arrangements I finally captured both the colorful toning and design definition in the way that I wanted. I lit the sides with two OttLite tube lamps at nearly perpendicular angles to bring out the color. Then a bright CFL positioned at 12 O'clock at a 45 degree angle gives the steed a daylight-like direction for highlights and shadow, as well as definition for the other design elements. I only gave the image a small bump in contrast and saturation -- not very much was needed.

I know many of today's collectors go wild for colorfully toned coins. When it comes to older worlds crowns, however, I'm lucky to fine nice, problem-free examples so I can't be too choosy. If it came down to the option for a new crown to add to my collection or a colorful example of a coin I already have, I would probably choose the one I don't have. Still, I'm proud to show off an example of a happy accident of what we would now consider improper storage in a sulfur laden paper envelope.

~jack

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