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The Agony and Delight of Axial Photography



Over the last few weeks, I haven’t had much time to write blogs. This is because I’ve been working on my photography skills and, in particular, axial photography. I have learned a lot, and now I have several excellent examples of coins photographed using axial photography.

The first thing I did was to craft a holder for my glass reflector. Then I reinforced the edges of the glass with electrical tape to prevent the glass from accidentally shattering. For the holder, I used a cardboard box top sliced at 45 degrees towards the light source to hold the glass pane. The holder cost me nothing to make. However, it did cost my wife a glass pane from one of her pictures.

Next, I made a diffuser for my light source cut from the side of a plastic milk jug. To prevent side light from illuminating the coin, I used a single-use pair of sunglasses from my eye doctor when she opened my iris. Conveniently, the sunglasses roll up like a tube. Finally, I used a lens hood I already owned to prevent side lighting from interfering with the camera lens. Folks, this is an excellent example of professional photography on the cheap!

My set-up picture shows a portion of the light shine through the glass onto the back of the holder. The images of the camera’s viewfinder show the reflected light from the glass illuminating the surface of the coins. Since there is less light to work with, the film speed is ISO 400. The aperture is f4, and the shutter speed is 1/125. If this is done correctly, the area of the picture around the coin will be mostly dark. All you want to see in the viewfinder is the coin!

Since plastic holders have reflective properties of their own, they can be challenging to work with. Therefore, axial photography works best on raw coins. Notice the haze and a hot spot in the viewfinder picture showing a 2011 French proof coin mounted in an NGC holder. This is light reflected from the surface of the holder interfering with light reflected from the coin. The 2004 and 2017 raw quarters only show light reflected from the quarters. Incidentally, the quarters are from my change dish.

I have spent a lot of time learning to edit the photographs of certified coins to remove the interference from unwanted light. To reduce the effect of unwanted light, I have found the milk jug diffuser to be helpful. However, the quarters needed very few edits because of limited or no interference from unwanted light. I am also posting a raw 1856 Belgian 5 centime coin commemorating the 25th-anniversary reign of Leopold I, King of the Belgians. The coin is struck in bronze to illustrate the use of axial photography on heavily toned bronze coins.

I hope this blog sheds a little light on axial photography. I always say that the proof is in the pudding. For your viewing pleasure, I am posting several pictures using axial photography.

The 2011 French 10 euro proof coin commemorates the author of Les Miserables, Victor Hugo. The reverse inscription is roughly translated, “Cossette looked up, she saw the man coming to her with this doll as she saw the sun coming.”

The reverse of this coin was incredibly hard to photograph because of its surface characteristics. The obverse, however, makes for a pleasing picture. Notice the mirror fields on axial photographs resemble the in-the-hand look of proof coins. Photos of proof mirrors typically show black when taken by direct light. The reverse of this coin has a frosty flat field showing black contrasted by the mirror of Victor Hugo’s image etched into the design.

Other pieces for your viewing pleasure are a 1937 Spanish peseta and a 2019 Great Britain five-pound coin featuring Una and the Lion. Enjoy, Gary.










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Recommended Comments

photographing the coins well is something I will need to figure out some day, especially slabbed ones.  I appreciate you putting pictures of the actual setup and then these diagrams.  I've always noticed coins looked best to me when on my desk, at night, and only lit by the computer monitor.

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Your coins came out very good. I bought Mark Goodman's book some time ago but really have not got around to buying the camera and other equipment .....but I do have a really nice camera stand that my friend gave me...we use it to photograph fossils for publication   Now I just need to get the other stuff...hopefully in the near future.   

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Very nice lighting!

I have taken a less laborious approach.  I take my camera and mount it on my father's (now passed) 50 year old photo copy stand.  This places the film/digital image plain of the camera parallel to the coin (the camera is mounted facing straight down.)  I surround the copy stand, camera, holder and coin with a automobile sun screen (reflective silver foil bubble type) and aim my lights at the sun screen.  This is just another way of getting indirect lighting.  I crop the coins in photoshop in the shape of a circle to remove the holder or background.  Then I crop the label.  I use the power point slide program to arrange the coin (obverse and reverse) and the label with any other items (green bean or comments...)




1923 Peace Extra Hair 2.jpg

1920-S Stabding Liberty 25c JPEG.jpg

Cheereos Dollar.jpg

Gobrecht JPEG.jpg

Gobrecht die state JPEG.jpg

1923 Peace S$1 JPEG.jpg


Thank you for looking,



Edited by JTO
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