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Found 2 results

  1. I originally posted this topic in April 2013, but the photos have since been mucked up by Photobucket. I am reposting the general content with some updates/modifications in hopes that some may find it helpful. Preface: I have been photographing my coins for nearly 12 years and I'd say 9.5 of those years I have been happy with those photos. At the beginning of 2011 I was fed up, and wanted to figure out how to get “professional quality” coin images, but I did not want to purchase a $1500 macro lens. After a lot of reading and mentorship (especially from @rmpsrpms) on a coin forum with its own “Coin Photography” sub-forum, I purchased a bellows and a couple enlarger lenses (about $90 and $40, respectively) and 3 little lamps from IKEA for $9.99 each (Jansjo lamps). I was seeing big strides in quality, and within 4 months of having this new set-up I was finally at a stage where I was happy with the images I was taking. One of the most frustrating and difficult components of coin photography for me (and I think for others) is lighting. In my many years of experimentation, I had been doing a lot of things that seemed “intuitive” but were actually the opposite of what I should have been doing. While there is no “magical” advice I can give, and there is no replacement for trial and error (i.e., thousands and thousands of practice coin shots), I hope this little bit of advice is at least helpful to a few. Before going further, I want to talk about diffusion (full diffusion) of light sources. When I say diffusion here, I mean fully diffused set-ups like milk jugs, light tents, or light boxes. Fully diffuse lighting destroys the positioning components of your lights (angle, clock position, and distance/size described below) - and makes your coin images look very flat and lifeless. Stay away from light tents, milk jugs, and light boxes. Some diffusion of individual light sources (i.e., making each light source look larger than it really is) can be quite useful for some small-footprint lights. That concept is related to the "distance/size" component discussed below. ------------------------------------------- Methods: The unique position of a light in space as compared to your coin can be uniquely defined using three ideas. The angle of the light(s) as compared to horizontal above your coin. The clock positions of the light(s) around your coin circumference. The perceived size of your light (a combination of distance of your light(s) above the coin and the actual size of your light(s)). FIRST, let's talk about the angle of your light sources. In the following schematic, I have defined the “angle of the lamp” with the pink arc on the left - it is defined as the angle from horizontal (90 degrees would be pointing straight down on a coin from above). One of the keys to decent coin images is to keep this angle of your light source as high as possible (as close to 90 degrees, and as close to your lens as you can get without throwing reflection on the slab or coin). As the angle of your light source decreases, the lower contrast your light appears on the coin surface. You can see in the following set of images how the angle changes the look of the coin photos. I have shown the left light source, right light source, and both together. This shows how the two light sources at the standard 10-2 positions work together to light the coin’s surface. Photographically, a lower angle of light source manifests as a decrease in contrast between high points and low points on the coin, and the overall image appears “flat” and somewhat lifeless. In terms of the levels histogram (pictured below), you can see that as the angle of the light source decreases, the histogram becomes more compact (lower contrast). In other words, the range between the lightest part of your image and the darkest part of your image (called contrast in photography) decreases. As the angle of your light source increases, the range of lightest and darkest part of the image is much wider. Also note that you can generally tell how a coin was lit (with regard to angle of lighting source) by the corresponding halo around the devices (low angle) versus the shadow around the devices (high angle). Summary: Lights at low angles make coins look flat and lifeless (low contrast) - high angles make coins look lustrous and the devices stand out (high contrast). SECOND, I want to touch on the number of light sources. In all of the images above, I have used lights at the “standard” positions of 10 and 2 (this notation refers to the “clock positions” and is typical among photographers). Two light sources may not always be sufficient to fully light the coin’s surface. The coin I have depicted is about the size of a USA half dollar. You will note that there is a bit of a dark area at the bottom of the coin. In reality, when I am photographing coins larger than about the size of a USA quarter dollar, I use three light sources at positions 9-12-3 or some other modified positions. Some modification of these lighting positions may be necessary for coins with particularly high relief or with designs with devices that may look best if lit from behind or below. Light positions is a somewhat subjective. You can use any positions for the lights that illuminate the coin's surfaces fully. Use common sense for things like lighting the face on a coin - lighting from below the chin simply looks odd. There is no magical positioning of lights that will fit all cases. Positions of 10-2 and 9-12-3 are only where I start, and I am constantly moving the light positions around to light a particular coin appropriately (I can see real-time what the lighting changes look like through the Live-View screen on the camera). Below I show a schematic of the 10-2 and 9-12-13 lighting positions for the same coin lit from a high angle with only 2 lights versus 3 lights. LASTLY, I want to briefly touch on the ideas of light distance and light size and their role in the perceived size of the light. This component is newly described here after comments of @rmpsrpms in my original post 7.5 years ago. In particular, he writes: A given source (eg Jansjo LED) will look "smaller" the farther you move the source away from the coin. At large distances, it will eventually look like a pinpoint source. This increases contrast and thus luster presentation. Moving a source closer to the coin makes it look "bigger" compared with the coin, and this spreads the light out more across the coin, reducing contrast. This is also what happens when you diffuse the source. This is indeed a very important idea. Because I use very small footprint Jansjo lights, I do use some diffusion of these lights at the source. The little diffusers I use are a modification of those described by @rmpsrpms on another coin forum. I construct them by rolling a piece of translucent plastic, and then crimping it and taping it on one end. This cone-like tube is then lined with black construction paper above and bright white paper below on the top side. This accomplishes the goal of creating a larger perceived size light source, but maintains separate light sources so it does not flatten the coin images. The take-away here is that the perceived size of the lights needs to be sufficient to properly light the coins surface. Too small of a light source will create hot spots or overly conspicuous luster bands (while leaving other parts of the coin in shadow). This diffusion is very different from what I called fully diffuse lighting like milk jugs or light tents. I hope these illustrations have helped describe how the lighting angle, number of lights, and the size/distance of your lights can affect the final image quality. I will just emphasize again, there is no substitute for practice. Over the past 12 years, I have taken tens of thousands of coin images, and variables like the metal content (silver, gold, brass, copper, etc.), the surface texture (matte, satin, lustrous, mirrored proof), and toning all modify the way I light a coin. Practice, practice, and practice some more. Happy collecting (and photographing)! -Brandon
  2. I have the somewhat humbling and even a bit humiliating experience of finding that I've accumulated a number of problem (mainly cleaned) coins over the years. This hapless discovery has occurred while getting a number of my coins graded that I've started to break out of my various type sets in preparation for eventual sale. For any number of reasons, I missed this over the years. But now that I have the pleasure of having a number of coins with Details grades, I'd like to get a decent look at the surfaces to see what I've missed. On certain coins, it has become extremely obvious (and embarrassingly so after the fact that I paid for the privilege of getting those Details grades) even without trying to get the coin in better lighting than I was already using. However, several coins are hiding their cleaning from my eyes and current lighting. I've found on the larger coins the cleaning is a bit easier to see, but on smaller coins like 3-centers it's a bit trickier. Unless the cleaning is harsh, I find I have to tilt the coin away from the light and basically get it in shadow to see that evidence, but again on smaller coins, it's very difficult to get the lighting right. What lighting and environment should one use to best see those light patches of cleaning/tooling lines on coins?