Featured [Coin Photography] A Blacker Black

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by TIF, Oct 23, 2019.

  1. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Many of us on like black backgrounds for our coin images. Achieving a uniformly black background can be a challenge. Ideally, we would like for the background to be solid black without having to digitally edit the images.

    Shooting against a black background is best even if you plan to digitally paint the background black. If you shoot against anything with color, the color is reflected onto the edges of your coin and it is just about impossible to correct.

    Even though I painted my homemade copy stand and coin platform with matte black paint, there was still quite a bit of light reflected from the paint, made worse by the bright light shone upon the coin.

    I'd love to paint my copy stand and platform with Vantablack but it is not available to the public. There is one artist licensed to use Vantablack-- Anish Kapoor. Enter Stuart Semple, an artist with a grudge. Incensed that he could not use Vantablack, he set out to create a better black. It's in its third iteration now-- Black 3.0 acrylic paint. While it doesn't achieve the black hole-ish black of the carbon nanotube based Vantablack, it does prevent about 99% of light from being reflected. That's pretty darn black and very helpful for those of us who want black backgrounds for our coin photos!

    Here's my homemade copy stand, assembled from scrap wood plus an inexpensive clamp. The coin is held on the skinny dowel with a small ball of firm silicone putty similar to this. The putty keeps the coin from falling off the dowel and it allows me to tilt the coin a little bit if needed. It does not harm the coin although if a bronze coin has a delicate patina it could pull off loose flakes. I've used this putty to remove loose dust and stuff from coins prior to shooting. Isn't it annoying when you shoot what seems to be a perfect picture only to find bits of lint or dust on the coin when you check it more closely?


    This was made several years ago and I've been very happy with it but I still have to do considerable editing to get the background uniformly black. The stand and components were sprayed with a matte black paint but as you can see in the picture it still reflects quite a bit of light, and that makes for less-than-black backgrounds.

    Recently I bought a bottle of Black 3.0 and painted the shooting platform (just the separate little block of wood with the small dowel). The paint is quite thick and I only had a cheap and stiff paintbrush. The brush marks are visible in very strong light but the paint is matte enough that they aren't visible in the photos.

    For lighting I use an Ott lamp, 5000K color (very white). It's like shooting outside on an overcast day... but you don't have to wait for nature to provide the perfect light. The light is usually positioned between 10:00 and 2:00, a little off perpendicular (oblique). If a coin has a portrait I usually bring the light in a little more from the front of the face rather than from the back of the head.

    Here's the Ott lamp. The neck is flexible. I push the two light panels together.


    The camera is a Canon Powershot G16 in manual mode, manually white balanced, on a 2 second shutter delay to avoid motion blur. Settings are usually f8.0, shutter speed in the range of 1/20 to 1/30, ISO 80.

    Even though I manually white balance sometimes the color is off so I put a scrap of white paper in the shot so it can provide a reference for white balancing during editing, if needed. Because the light is positioned at the top of the coin, sometimes the bottom edge isn't well light. I hold a piece of plain paper near the bottom if needed to bounce some light onto the bottom edge. You'll see that paper in some of the uncropped shots below.

    Here's a shot of my Athens tet (size of image reduced but otherwise unedited), prior to using the new Black 3.0 paint. You can see that the background is not fully black. The color is off too, although that's probably not due to the less-than-black platform.


    Here's my Taras nomos reshot with the newly painted dowel platform. The image is unedited except to reduce size.


    You can appreciate the blacker black of the dowel platform against the copy stand.

    Below is the same image cropped but with no other editing. The background is almost fully black. Every pixel is not perfect #000000 black but it's so close that if I adjust the brightness maximally, none of the background pixels lighten.


    Here are prior images of the Taras as presented on CoinTalk last month:


    Here's the reshot reverse (with Black 3.0 painted shooting platform) compared to the old image:


    I wasn't unhappy with the old images but I think the new ones are better. It's not a perfect comparison test since there were probably subtle differences in lighting between the two shots.

    You might wonder why I go to great lengths to get a black background when I usually crop out the coin and plop it into a fancy template... It is much easier to extract the coin if the background is uniformly black. Editing time is markedly reduced.

    Comments and feedback welcome :).
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  3. pprp

    pprp Well-Known Member

    I think toning doesn't appear so pronounced with the new setup.
  4. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Well-Known Member

    Very cool set up @TIF . IMHO the newest pictures are the best. I use myself a piece of black velvet for my background. Doesn’t reflect the light but the dust tend to stick to it...
  5. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    That is true and is primarily a difference in angle of lighting. Getting toning and colors to "pop" is very dependent on the angle of lighting. Very slight changes make a huge difference in toning and colors. With some digital processing I could make the new image look more like the old one, if desired. The old images are a tad over-contrasted. The new ones are slightly under-contrasted... easily remedied.
  6. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    I generally shoot many versions of a given coin trying to get lighting just right. The old and new Taras examples are going to have some differences but the purpose of the comparison is more for the background than the quality of the coin image.
    Justin Lee likes this.
  7. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Well-Known Member

    Excellent results with a great set-up ;).
    TIF likes this.
  8. Ryro

    Ryro Trying to remove supporter status Supporter

    Excellent set up! I’ll be taking this knowledge and putting it to use on my set up... though I’ll need to be picking up a real camera and stop using my phone one of these days.
    Thanks for sharing the smarts and beautiful coins as a bonus:pompous::wideyed:
    TIF likes this.
  9. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    I'm going the opposite direction :D. I started with a DSLR and macro lens, then moved to the PowerShot, and I'm thinking about using a cell phone. My iPhone is a few generations old and having trouble... debating whether to get the latest iPhone. Its camera(s) might be as good as the PowerShot.
  10. Nicholas Molinari

    Nicholas Molinari Well-Known Member

    I agree--there's a little more life in the earlier version.
    TIF likes this.
  11. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    That's impressively black! Can't wait to see Black 4.0. :p

    On a serious note, since some of the difference in how the coin presents in the two pictures comes down to lighting, it'd be interesting to see if there's actually any discernible difference if you do a proper smackdown (ie., use the exact same lighting setup to compare between pictures taken with the Black 3.0 background and without).
    Pellinore, Paul M., TIF and 1 other person like this.
  12. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    That is a neat little set up @TIF. I need something better than coin in hand, standing in the backyard, shooting pictures with my iphone :p

    You should get your hands on some Vantablack to make sure it is perfect next time ;)
    Paul M. and Stevearino like this.
  13. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    I’ll try to do a more controlled experiment this weekend.
    Paul M. likes this.
  14. daveydempsey

    daveydempsey Well-Known Member

    I use a piece of black velvet from a ladies dress, cost me £1 at a charity shop.
    Its non reflective and actually absorbs light.

    1916 Australia.jpg
    Pellinore, chrsmat71, Paul M. and 5 others like this.
  15. Stevearino

    Stevearino Well-Known Member

    My comments TIF: holey moley. Impressive and simple. No one can be "perfect" but you sure are approaching a high level of perfection. Thanks for the visuals and the detailed explanation of trials and errors.

    TIF likes this.
  16. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Thanks Tif for sharing your set-up. Very impressive.
    TIF likes this.
  17. Robidoux Pass

    Robidoux Pass Well-Known Member

    Wow! It's contributions like this @TIF that make me appreciate Coin Talk. I'm currently developing my photo setup. This thread gave me some great ideas.

    And some outstanding photography to try to emulate.
    TIF and Stevearino like this.
  18. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Supporter! Supporter

    That can be an incredible time saver! Looking forward to trying it out myself (and, because I'm curious, testing the infrared uptake of this deeper black).
    Paul M. and TIF like this.
  19. Carausius

    Carausius Brother, can you spare a sestertius?

    My old eyes see no difference in the black backgrounds of the old Taras vs new Taras pics! The photo of the repainted stand looked much blacker, but the backgrounds in the photos seem the same. Just me?
    Paul M. likes this.
  20. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    While I refuse to follow the trend, I do see an advantage to tiny cameras and phones. You can get away with smaller and weaker stands. dSLR's with moving mirrors do introduce vibrations requiring beefy supports. Mine is wood with triangular supports and no spindly adjustments between camera and stand. Adjustments are made by moving the coin rather than the camera. Part of me wants to buy one of the full frame mirrorless Canon cameras that can use my lenses but I don't shoot enough to justify the cost until something happens to my old 5DmkII. Today, if my camera were to fail, I would buy a Canon RP which is vastly too much camera for 99% of people who take pictures. I don't buy mint state coins or camera equivalents of uncleaned late Romans.

    I have said many times and continue to believe that the best way to make something black is to stop light from falling on it. I do this with a stack of black plastic disposable flower pots that shade the ordinary black background at the bottom of a tall support so it is very out of focus. Painting the insides of this with 3.0 might make it possible to use a smaller and less complex shadow cone. I place on the top one of several holes to match the coin being photographed. The white paper ring reflects a very little light onto the edge of the coin but this sometimes make it look less than fully natural so I only use it for some coins.
    When used, this rig leaves the coin in the center surrounded by a very black ring and an image of the paper reflector and top plastic in the corners that must be cropped out when the two sides are assembled. This is reduced to 1/10th the original size for posting here but is otherwise as shot.

    Then I crop and combine on a blank black field. At this point, minor adjustments of color, contrast or density can be made as necessary to make the photo a good representation of the coin. This is also where you could add fake reflections (which I dislike immensely), text or whatever you please. I crop to a 2:3 proportion so I can have 4x6" (or 20x30") prints made without cropping. I then make a reduction to 1080 pixels tall for posting online and throw away the raw files and intermediate 16 bit TIF's (Tagged Image File) images used in the process.
  21. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Supporter! Supporter

    Nice set up and fantastic results @TIF

    I'm not at home right now, hence don't have pictures of my setup with me to show. My setup is somewhat similar as yours, with two differences : a black box is arranged around the coin, opened at the top to avoid light to go directly to the bottom (where the actual background is) and a piece of black velvet instead of the black paint you use at the bottom, I feel it absorbs the light in a better way.

    I'm quite happy with the result since I use it, at least "background wise". I still have problems with the light though...


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