Ever wondered how to get a really crisp image of coins? Maybe not, but if you’ve ever tried to photograph coins then you probably have asked this, because it is not easy to do. Many coins have a mix of smooth shiny surfaces and finely textured mat surfaces. The balancing act of creating detail with shadow and yet making the coins look bright and silvery, hmmmmm a real pain.
After quite a bit of trial an error this is the method I’ve found produces the best results for me. Check out these images (all shot with this technique): http://genetewksbury.com/albums/coins-collectibles/
- Use a glass table with Savage (brand name) semi-transparent plastic roll over the table. Just clamp it down flat on top of the glass (see 1st photo).
- Use a piece of thin lightweight glass (just pick one up from Home Depot).
- Glass needs to be placed at an approx 45 degree angle overtop of the coin (see 2nd photo).
- Use a boom and flexible arm to hold glass in position above the coin (see 2nd photo).
- Camera is placed on tripod directly above coin, shooting down through glass (see 2nd photo). This is best accomplished with a geared tripod head, but you can use a ball head if that’s what you have.
- Speedlight in stripe box approx 20 inches from coin.
- Speedlight ½ power connected to camera by wireless or wired.
- Stripe box should be sideways at the same height as the table. The light will pass horizontally across the table and coins.
- Another speed light is placed directly below the coins, shooting straight up to produce the white background (see 3rd photo) at 1/8-1/4 power. Use the 14mm plastic diffuser to spread light better. This speed light can be set as a slave so that it fires when the main speedlight fires.
The light is bounced off the tilted glass (see 2nd photo). The sideways direction of the light produces depth in the coin by making shadows. The bounced light from the glass gives shine to the flat areas as the light will bounce down from the glass and then back up straight into the camera lens.
By rotating the stripe box from “straight shot” at the coin to pointing at an angle to the coin (toward the photographer) will change the reflective qualities on the coin. I found that the more I feather the light toward myself the shinier and brighter the coin became. To produce a flatter “less white” look to silver shoot more directly at the tilted glass plate.
Notice the strip box is pointed horizontally along the table creating light that hits the coins (on the table) from an extreme angle. Having the strip box on a swivel allows you to move the box forward and backward (toward me and toward the background). This will give you varying lighting and thus different looks to the coins.
The light from the side hits the glass (at 45 degree angle) – most light passes through the glass but some bounces downward toward the coins. Notice I’m using an articulated arm with a grip on it to hold the glass in position. This is necessary since the slightest change in angle will drastically change the lighting on your coin. If you try and hand hold it you will not get consistent exposures.
To produce a strong rim light on the coins I have another speedlight firing from below and through the semi-transparent plastic diffusion material. This requires the use of a glass table in order to light from beneath.
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