Featured Advanced Coin Photography

Discussion in 'Coin Chat' started by Denis Richard, Jul 3, 2020.

  1. rmpsrpms

    rmpsrpms Lincoln Maniac

    I use continuous lighting, so Av mode is possible/practical. I can adjust the power of the lights, but I never do, as it changes white balance.

    Why is adjusting light power important to you?
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  3. Denis Richard

    Denis Richard Well-Known Member

    It’s the only thing I adjust in my exposure settings. I shoot in manual mode and set my aperture to f14, ISO to 200 (native for Nikon) and my shutter to 1/200. These settings I never change.
    I adjust my lights power level for the final exposure. It’s very effective. But it’s not really an apples to apples comparison with your system as I’m using axial lighting with a modeling light.
  4. rmpsrpms

    rmpsrpms Lincoln Maniac

    Makes sense. I can take advantage of Aperture Priority mode to adjust shutter speed. How do you compensate for changes in color temperature vs light power? I'm not a flash guy, so I suppose there is something in the settings that must keep color temp more constant than I see with varying power on continuous lighting.
  5. Denis Richard

    Denis Richard Well-Known Member

    There are no colour changes with studio flash. They are designed for photographic use, whereas the lights you're using likely aren't. You can get color steady variable power continuous light LED lights.

    Based on what you've said, it seems to me your best route would be to use your lights at full power, set the colour temp for that, set your ISO to native, likely100, set your camera to manual and pick an aperture with adequate depth of field, then manually adjust your shutter speed you get the exposure you want. (with an eye to any other light sources in the room) I'm not an advocate of auto settings like aperture priority. That's fine in an outdoor grab shot situation, but there's never a reason for it in studio. The camera meter doesn't know what the correct exposure of your coin should be. It's guessing at best. Auto mode doesn't only set shutter speed, it will change ISO too, and you don't want to change that, especially with dark coins. If you then apply exposure compensation to adjust your image, you're not really using the Auto mode anyway, so skip the middle man and set the camera to manual. IMO, (not that you're asking for it) you need to handle the shutter speed and final exposure yourself by shooting and reviewing the image and histogram.

    Is your camera tethered to your computer? Can you see you shots as they happen?

    Last thing, if you have raw capability, why do you want to shoot an edit limiting jpg?
  6. rmpsrpms

    rmpsrpms Lincoln Maniac

    Several things to address here...

    Using Av mode, combined with exposure compensation, gives a very fast, correct, and consistent exposure, long as you are careful with where on the coin you meter. The camera auto mode will over-expose highlights in order to do its form of ETTR, but with exposure compensation this can be minimized or eliminated. My Canon camera tends to blow out highlights by ~2/3EV, so I set the compensation for -2/3EV and the brightest metered highlights are preserved. Note that metering is for luminance, so for copper it's also important to reduce saturation to avoid blowing out R channel. As you surmised, I set ISO to 100, so the auto mode only affects shutter speed. If I did manual exposure, I'd need to adjust every shot.

    I do see an advantage to a continuous adjustment capability for lighting, since the camera adjustment granularity is fairly large. If you can make adjustments in less than 1/3EV increments, you could get a more consistent top end. But how many shots do you have to make to optimize exposure?

    I do of course spend time critically-focusing each shot, and when I finish I move the metering window over the brightest highlights on the coin. This forces the auto mode to meter-down until those highlights fall below saturation, and I get a proper exposure, ie the exposure I'd get if I went through a full manual mode shoot and review, but much faster and less tedious.

    Regarding raw mode, what do you do with the raw image that is so important to you? My experience is that by carefully choosing how the development is done in-camera, I can get 90-95% of what I want from the out of camera image. If I need higher resolution, I will shoot raw but then immediately convert to TIFF, and do any postprocessing there.
  7. Insider

    Insider Talent on loan from...

  8. Insider

    Insider Talent on loan from...

    I'm just learning from the pros. Does your image have a little red shift?
  9. Denis Richard

    Denis Richard Well-Known Member

    I can adjust my lights in 1/10 stop increments. I've shot enough coins to pretty much know where to set the lights to start, within a 1/3 stop or so, for each coin. Generally, I need only a couple of shots to dial in the exact exposure. Importantly, I have my camera tethered to my computer, and I shoot through Lightroom, which applies my colour calibration settings for my lighting set up to every image as it's shot, and I can immediately review my histogram info too, on a colour calibrated monitor, so I can quickly nail down the exposure. Personally, I shoot in manual for many reasons, but with coin photography because I don't need to know, or care what my camera's meter reads. That may sound shocking. My camera's meter is irrelevant. I set my ISO to the best speed possible to give me the best image. I set my Aperture to f14 for the best clarity and depth of field. I set my shutter speed to the fastest sync possible to eliminate shake and movement. The only remaining exposure variable is the amount of light coming into the lens, and that's controlled by me, not the camera. At that point, the camera's meter is unnecessary. I adjust the light until the exposure is what I want to see, given my camera's ideal preset parameters.

    You do need to adjust every shot. Every coin is different. With your method you're still metering and adjusting every shot, you're just letting the camera's auto mode make exposure decisions for you, and manually correcting the cameras inaccuracies.

    Here's ten reasons why I would recommend you shoot RAW.

    1. When you shoot in RAW you record all of the data from the sensor. This gives the highest quality files. Look at it this way: all cameras technically shoot RAW. The difference when you shoot in JPEG format is that the camera does its own processing to convert the RAW information into a JPEG. You get what it thinks is right. However, your camera doesn't really know what you want, nor is it as powerful as your brain and computer. When you shoot RAW, you have access to all the data so you can make processing decisions on how the image should really look, and you will produce much better results.

    2. JPEG records 256 levels of brightness and RAW records between 4,096 to 16,384 levels. This prevents posterization, which is the banding that you often see in graduated color areas.

    3. You can easily correct dramatically over and under exposed images. This gives you a lot of exposure latitude if you need it, but it's not an excuse to make poor exposure decisions.

    4. When you shoot JPEG the white balance is applied to the image. With RAW the white balance is still recorded, but because you have all the data, it’s completely adjustable. You mentioned you're concerned about colour shift with your lights when you turn them up? Not a problem if you shoot in RAW. Twiddle with the lights to your hearts content and correct it in RAW. You will want to tweak this more often than you’d think.

    5. When you shoot RAW you have access to sharpening and noise reduction algorithms that are more powerful than those found in your camera. Very important for quality coin photography. When and where you apply sharpening is equally important.

    6. When you make adjustments to a RAW file, you’re not actually doing anything to the original data. JPEG files lose quality every time you open them, make adjustments, and save again. So, if you’re making edits to JPEGs you always have to be duplicating the image and saving out a new version if you don’t want to lose file quality. No such problem with RAW files. Editing is non destructive.

    7. Because of the finer gradation of tones and colours you’ll get better prints from RAW files. This may or may not be an issue for you, but if you have customers, it probably is.

    8. There are different colour spaces that work best for different situations, and when you shoot RAW you can export a single image in multiple spaces. Again, this may or may not be an issue for you, but if you have customers, it probably is.

    9. It’s easier to work through large batches of images when you’re using a workflow centric program like Lightroom or Photoshop. I use a lot of PS actions for coin image processing and I have a thread here on Coin Talk where I discuss them.

    10. It’s the Pro option. Professionals only shoot in RAW for all of the reasons above, and more. Not just coin photographers. All photographers.

    By shooting RAW you take control of your image processing. This is something you should want.
    AuldFartte and Tamaracian like this.
  10. rmpsrpms

    rmpsrpms Lincoln Maniac

    I'll address the points of interest inline below. Sorry for the long post.

    I mostly shoot Cents at m~0.7:1. At f14 I'd be at EA24 (!!). Even if I was shooting Dollars at 0.35:1, I'd be at EA19. My camera sensor has 4.3um pixels, so starts to show diffraction limitation at EA6.7, and is deep into diffraction at EA14. At EA24 I'd only be using 11% of my camera sensor's capability (!!). I can understand using f14 for depth of field, but you must realize you are losing a tremendous amount of information (resolution) shooting at such a small aperture. If you are using a 50MP sensor, you're only actually using perhaps 5MP.

    What I meant is that I would need to make exposure adjustments for each shot, and I'd need to take multiple shots before dialing-in to the correct exposure. With Av mode, I only need to take one shot, and the exposure is correct within 1/3EV every time.

    Yes, the higher bit depth is an advantage. This is why, for critical images, I shoot raw and convert to tiff, which preserves all the dynamic range of the raw file. But most of the images I shoot don't need that level of color accuracy.

    Once a digital image is under or over exposed, the information in that area of the image is forever lost. Some programs are able to "recover" the information algorithmically, but the info is not real.

    You can adjust white balance in jpgs as well. I do it all the time.

    Ageed, I would never trust the camera to do sharpening. Because I do a lot of focus stacking, I follow a very specific sharpening regimen.

    Modern editors don't make changes to the original image file (no matter what the format) so that it can be kept as a reference in case different editing choices need to be made.

    Can software print directly from a raw file? I guess a program could apply whatever adjustments you make and create an output file to print. I do like to keep a record of the files I print, and you can't really do this with a raw file, so I use tiff.

    I still don't understand why. I've tried again and again to get something from raw processing, but it always falls short. For most of my work, publishing on the web, doing studies, etc, raw (or tiff) processing is just too slow, and this is not even considering the extra work of manual exposure. For critical work I save raw then convert to tiff for processing. Can you explain any reasons why raw processing would be better than tiff?
  11. Denis Richard

    Denis Richard Well-Known Member

    It's evident we use very different techniques and equipment, and likely have different expectations for our images as well. Yours works for you, and mine works for me, and there seems to be less overlap between the two than I'd hoped for. I don't know what your professional background is; I come from 25 years of photography, with the last 10 years of studio based commercial photography. I am a full time professional numismatic photographer. This is where my suggestions are rooted. From your comments and website, you sound like your background and coin photography goals are more research and scientific based, which is great, but it's becoming clear my experience doesn't help, or necessarily even apply to your work and equipment. While this exchange has been very interesting and informative for me, I feel like this is becoming an apples to grapefruit discussion. I don't use your set up, so I can't fully appreciate and benefit from your experience.
    Insider and expat like this.
  12. Razz

    Razz Critical Thinker

    Awesome discussion guys! A lot of high level information here. I tend to agree with the point #3 about using programs to "touch up" photos with lost details or otherwise, especially in regards to numismatic items. Mr. Richard your photos of coins are fantastic and artistically wonderful. In my opinion, getting the photo of the coin to look as close a possible to the coin in hand in the same light is the goal from a numismatist documentation standpoint. Although there is nothing wrong with having a beautifully renditioned photo of a coin as a piece of art in itself, the coin itself is the art.
    ldhair and expat like this.
  13. rmpsrpms

    rmpsrpms Lincoln Maniac

    I was saddened to read this post, as it's sort of a "let's agree to disagree". I wonder how many folks on this forum actually shoot coins like I do, with similar equipment, versus like you do? I've sold dozens of coin photo systems to folks on this forum, and am sure they are using similar lighting and exposure techniques to mine.

    My coin photography experience and efforts are rooted in die variety research and imaging, so it's understandable that for full-coin imaging I emphasize resolution and detail. The thought of shooting at f14 is anathema to those goals.

    I had hoped to learn more about why the pros use raw processing. From what I can tell, it's because "everyone does it", though I suppose since most cameras only offer jpg or raw output, the choice for highest quality is forced. Specifically though, I'd love to see an example of a truly overexposed image that can be recovered with raw processing. I understand how this can be done with film, but not with digital. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how to show this online since raw format images can't be presented, only broadly supported formats such as jpg, tiff, etc. Do you think you can figure out a way to show this?
  14. rmpsrpms

    rmpsrpms Lincoln Maniac

    It's a good discussion indeed! I also agree that @Denis Richard's photos are excellent artistic renderings, but I do have a concern regarding the use of axial-style lighting for "mainstream" numismatic photography. Almost all professional numismatic photographers shoot for luster, since that is the characteristic that most defines the grade of higher-end coins. Since light hits the coin in a "flood" fashion from axial techniques, no luster is developed. This can be seen in most or all of @Denis Richard's photos in this thread. Contrast this with the photos on the first page from @jtlee321, which show strong luster due to the lower-angle lighting, and you can see what I'm talking about. Many coin photogs shoot for luster to the point of blowing out highlights in the lustrous areas, and these photogs are often lauded for their work. Indeed it is difficult to light a coin to show luster without over-exposure, and even @jtlee321's photos show a small amount of over-exposure, but that's the price to be paid to conform to the expectations of many clients.

    A smaller group of numismatic photographers shoot for color. I'm generally in this camp when I shoot my own coins, since I am a nut for toners. Indeed the various axial techniques are excellent for bringing out the "deep" colors on a wide range of toned coins, and this is the reason I have a box full of failed attempts at creating axial lighting systems. Unfortunately, I can't seem to give up resolution and sharpness, which through-the-glass axial systems generally must accept due to the aberrations caused by the thickness of the glass.

    Certainly axial is a technique that gives a unique "museum" type of look to the coin, and there are many applications for it (including for toners), but don't expect to get any luster or fine detail when using it.
    jtlee321 likes this.
  15. jtlee321

    jtlee321 Well-Known Member

    I would have to agree with @rmpsrpms when it comes to axial vs. standard lighting. The artistic look works great if you are using the image as a stock photo of a bullion piece. I have a client that I shoot for and it is the axial "hybrid" that they seem to prefer from me. The axial "hybrid" is my preferred method of shooting proof coins or toners. I never shoot axial only, I find it leaves the coin dead looking. I will use axial in conjunction with additional lights to bring out the luster and give the coin life.

    As @rmpsrpms mentioned, when shooting for luster, you most likely will have blown out highlights. By definition, those highlights are spectral highlights, very bright, very small points of reflected light. A traditional camera does not have the dynamic range to capture the information in those highlights without making the rest of the coins appear very underexposed. In the end, it becomes a game of doing the best you can and sacrifice those blown highlights to show off the rest of the coin, the best you can.
  16. Todd Williams

    Todd Williams Making Grandad proud

    Hi Ya'll. I'm new at this having just inherited my grandad's coin collection. Links below. I really want to photograph the US Type Set with Gold and the 1909 S-VDB. I am prepared to make modest investments in my set up to get these coins photographed and posted here on Coin Talk for advice on candidates for grading.

    No one works for free but at the same time, I was wondering if someone might find it fun to help me figure out how to get this done. I've got a Canon Rebel DSLR with an 18-55mm lens and a 55-250mm lens. Tripod. External flash with Shoe Cord. No macros. I've seen a number of videos about how to create a simple setup but I'm not a photographer and it's all mumbo jumbo at this stage for me. I watched Bill Larson's video on YouTube and couldn't get my gear working right.

    If anyone's interested in a couple of Zoom sessions to get me going (much less something in person near Dallas, Texas) then please PM me. You'll get photog credit with every coin I post on CT.

    Just need mentoring ahead of the Houston Coin Show at the end of January where I plan to get some of these coins graded. I have no idea whether this comes off as a pure mooch thing or an interesting collaboration for fun but thought I'd try here either way.

    Lincoln Cents: https://photos.app.goo.gl/BSyZnadnoUUsaRn86
    US Type Set w Gold: https://photos.app.goo.gl/HxkJZiZxDGnqC34z9
  17. brg5658

    brg5658 Supporter! Supporter

    Correct. You don't have to tip a coin if you know how to adjust the lights. Keeping a coin's surface completely parallel to the camera sensor will get you the highest quality, sharpest detailed photos. There is no debate here about tilting coins Skip.

    No, my image is what the coin looks like in hand, and the color is properly adjusted. Could be that your old eyes or crappy computer equipment makes it look otherwise. :p


    @Insider : Skip, you really should stay in your lane. Because you (obviously) know nothing about coin photography, I fail to see why you have to interject your sarcasm and nonsense here. I had you on ignore for a month - looks like you need a further time-out since you're still harassing me (and others). You are quite possibly the most childish 75-year-old I have ever encountered. :rolleyes:
  18. Insider

    Insider Talent on loan from...

    brg5658, posted: "Skip, you really should stay in your lane. Because you (obviously) know nothing about coin photography, I fail to see why you have to interject your sarcasm and nonsense here. I had you on ignore for a month - looks like you need a further time-out since you're still harassing me (and others). You are quite possibly the most childish 75-year-old I have ever encountered."

    When I ask a question of a peer, I expect an answer. When I'm asked a question, I do my best to answer :)oops: Except in one case yesterday from @Lehigh96.:hilarious::hilarious:) I don't tolerate weasel answers. I also don't like to be questioned UNLESS someone does not understand something or wants more info. Posting that the "tip" I suggested was nonsense WHEN I QUOTED THE SAME "TIP" taken from a photography book that YOU recommended crosses the line.

    I'll remind all reading this that YOU challenged me :bucktooth: to post an image. I took images of four $10 gold coins in order to give all you "EX-PERT" photographers who disagreed with an innocent suggestion I made a three-part test using four coins to tell the difference between a coin that was tipped and rotated in the light and one left flat. I also wanted folks to pick the image they liked the best. Good thing you DUCKED! The graders at work could see there was a difference in the images but could not tell tipped or flat! There are no second chances - consider me to still be on ignore. :muted:

    Look for my "out-of-the-lane" column on this subject one day. :D
    MIGuy likes this.
  19. brg5658

    brg5658 Supporter! Supporter

    Yawn. :troll:

    I never saw your "three-part test" - probably because you were (and are soon to return to being) on ignore. I think you might be surprised how many people here ignore you because of your constant know-it-all replies in areas where you are completely clueless. o_O

    Some of us are self-aware enough to know when we can contribute meaningful information to a particular topic. Others, like you, seem to assume they can contribute to every topic, even those for which they have no experience or knowledge. The only person in this thread who is a self-proclaimed "expert" is you. I guess in the area of numismatics all that is needed is a "fiat" declaration, and voila, you're now a numismatist. :rolleyes:
    jafo50 likes this.
  20. Denis Richard

    Denis Richard Well-Known Member

    I don't see this as an "agree to disagree" because I don't disagree with anything you're saying. I just came to understand we have different end uses and visual expectations for our images and it seemed that never the twain shall meet, nor should they. I assume the techniques you employ are well suited to achieve your goals for you, as are mine for me. You don't approach photography the same way I do, but you're also not trying to create the same kind of images I am. Photography is like music; you're playing jazz and I'm playing Top 40. Same notes; different techniques.
    Todd Williams, expat and RonSanderson like this.
  21. Insider

    Insider Talent on loan from...

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