Quality Coin Photography Top Tips
The art of photography is something to master if you wish to capture and display the best of your coin collection online, on your sellers page, or on your hobby blog.
There are a few tips that are definitely worth knowing when it comes to photographing a coin in the best light. Capturing detail is key and creating a clear and illuminated image will give the viewer a true picture of the coin, accurately depicting all markings or defects.
Capturing a crisp image makes such a difference and it can be the deciding factor in selling a coin. If you are new to photography and coin photography specifically this guide should assist in giving you the tips and techniques used professionally to capture the perfect image.
It sounds obvious, but for a high quality image you should use high quality equipment. Some people are adamant that you can get away with using low spec cameras, lighting and stands, but I would argue that you get what you pay for in life and quality begets quality.
So here is what you will need if you want to create the best quality images of your top quality coins.
First of all a decent camera is a must, as this will ensure you are able to capture high quality images. You want a digital camera with auto, macro and aperture priority modes available as a pre set option. I enjoy using a full bodied DSLR camera (Canon 100d) but some modern digitals are up to the job and have great in built lenses.
Lens wise, a custom macro lense 30mm to 150mm is the best option, I use a 105mm f2.8 Canon fit Sigma DG Macro HSM lens and can recommend it. However a normal lens can also be used, an 18mm to 200mm zoom lens is recommended if using a regular zoom lens.
Lens extenders and a diopter lens can also be equipped if needed.
Tripods, camera mounts or copy stands are essential bits of kit! You may choose between them or combine them depending on your models and preferences. I find they all offer a similar end result, ensuring stability in capturing the images required. They give you greater control when adjusting the distance between the camera and the coin. In addition you also get precise control when it comes to pre setting the angle of the camera in relation to the coin, this can be useful for showing perspective and scale as well as highlighting the surface area.
At this point I feel it is relevant to make a particular note of mentioning copy stands. Copy stands are a great addition to your photography studio, they are designed specifically for the task of replicating images. Also if your using a bulky and therefore heavy DSLR with a macro lens, a copy stand will really help with camera shake from the mirror lifting up. Another plus is the camera will move up and down effortlessly by using the crank handle, a real plus.
Depending on the model you choose you can encompass all aspects of your coin photography environment in a good copy stand. They can provide an excellent camera mount, with adjustable height control and camera angle options, they can also come with inbuilt lighting and a stable table surface for coin placement. I personally use a Kaiser RS1, which is German built so it's as sturdy as it gets.
Alternatively a modular set up might be more appealing, this is your choice and all types of equipment if used correctly will yield great results.
Lighting is also another must and I personally recommend that you purchase a LED ring light for your camera which you can attach to the lens. These are specifically designed for macro photography and are a cheap but excellent addition to your kit. When operating the ring light you must adjust the settings accordingly to the environment. Remember to set it on light mode, not flash mode and make sure the intensity is not too high, otherwise you will cancel and bleach out parts of the coins detailing. Light intensity is something to be aware of no matter the source.
If you wish to use assistive lighting from an external source this is also equally effective if used correctly. I personally would recommend using LED light sources as the white light they emit is of a good quality, I use Taotronics lights for this purpose. Other bulb options are available and some are definitely up to the job, the only thing I would say is watch out for yellow spectrum lights and shadowing from external light sources.
You may wish to combine LED ring lighting with external assistive lights, this is absolutely fine and can yield fantastic results. See what works for you!
The background that the coin is placed on is equally important and it is recommended to place the coin on an illuminated flat panel. These panels are great in ensuring you get a perfect image without shadowing. If you do not wish to use the illuminated panels a white solid and stable surface will do. Card or paper is fine, the white background will ensure no distractions and will work with the lighting.
Taking the shot:
When setting up your coin photography area you want to keep it tidy and uncluttered. Give yourself a decent amount of space to work in.
If you wish you can keep this space permanently operational, ever ready for the task of coin photography.
I recommend taking the coin out of any packaging unless it is slabbed, plastic wallets and holders only interfere with the image. You will find they add reflection or you may pick up the textures on the surface of the plastic as well as that of the coin, this you do not want. If the coin is slabbed be sure to use manual focus to avoid focusing on the slab which had you used auto focus the camera will no doubt focus on to by some degree.
Place the coin in a central position on your illuminated panel or white surface. Proceed to set the tripod, mount or copy stand up, then attach the camera. You ideally want it set up so that the camera is either faceon to the coin or at a slight angle depending on the shot you wish to take. You want the coin to appear to sit horizontally in the viewfinder as you would naturally wish it to be displayed.
If using a copy stand adjustments will vary depending on the model of stand. The same rules apply throughout all types of equipment.
Adjust the distance of the camera and play with the zoom so you have clarity in the image, the coin is accurately in focus and framed well. You want the entire surface of the coin to be in shot so make sure you are not cropping any area!
Zoom in as close as possible and keep the coin central, you want the coin to fill up the frame.
If you are using an LED light ring, make sure the lighting is not reflected over the surface of the coin especially if you are using a slabbed coin. If you are using external lighting please check for shadowing, you do not want to see shadows!
Also check the light intensity!
Use the widest aperture setting (f stop) possible, this affects your lens. I use the aperture priority mode to achieve this as it sets the shutter speed to suit the aperture opening, therefore taking a bit of guess work out of it. Just to clarify the wider the aperture the more light you have entering the camera. This results in greater levels of light reaching the image sensor. Inversely the smaller the aperture the lesser the light reaching the sensor.
You will also have to experiment with the camera white balance settings to ensure you have the correct balance and colours in the final image. Some cameras will allow you to set a custom white balance this is very helpful and is achieved by taking a photo of a piece of white paper or 18% grey card and setting the custom white balance using the photo. Make sure the lights are on when you take the photo for setting the white balance though. This is a process you will have to play with to find the best results. Increase and decrease the white balance to see how this affects the photographs. After some experimentation you will get a feel for the correct levels.
When it comes to taking a photo always use the pre set timer option, 2 seconds should be plenty. This helps in making sure the image is stable and is not affected by wobble that might be caused by you pressing the shutter release button on your camera.
The last stage of photography entails the use of image editing software, although it must be said if you have followed the above steps the end result should be sufficient.
If you would like to edit your image it is optional. Some people like to go that extra mile.
If you choose to, I would advise that you do so minimally.
For instance it is possible that a certain amount of rotation might be needed to ensure the coin is displayed at the right angle to correct any error in placement. It is good to have consistency in placement so please feel free to level all of your coins, my advice is keep them horizontal.
It is also possible to enhance the final image so you have greater levels of vibrancy, I however think this is not needed as you are essentially doctoring the photo, although this is my preference and the choice is ultimately yours.
But it can be desired and this is easily achieved by increasing colour saturation or using more advanced editing techniques depending on the editing software you choose. You can also preset your camera settings to vivid HDR mode which achieves a similar result.
You may also wish to alter white balance levels, this is to bring the picture of the coin as close to the true likeness of the real coin as is possible, but yet again only if it is needed.
Other options are playing with the sharpness or softness of the image or filling in the edge of the coin to create a smoother appearance, but this is not essential.
I hope this guide helps! Obviously it requires a certain amount of equipment and time but I believe the results are worth it! Enjoy and have fun taking photos!