Lucky me, or: Why you shouldn't light a coin from below when taking pictures

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Orielensis, Sep 27, 2020.

  1. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    Here is my latest acquisition, a very desirable medieval bracteate. On the one hand and mostly because of the historical importance of this abbey, coins from Saint Gall are popular among medieval collectors. On the other hand, the tonsured and bearded bust of St. Gall is one of the earliest and arguably the finest portraits of a monk on medieval coins:

    MA – Deutschland etc., St. Gallen, Ulrich IV, Brakteat.png
    Abbey of Saint Gall, under Ulrich IV von Tegerfelden, AR bracteate, 1167-1199 AD. Obv: +MONETA•SANCTI•GALLI; bearded bust of St. Gall, with tonsure, facing. Rev: negative design (bracteate). 23mm, 0.46g. Ref: Berger 2568–9; HMZ 1-463; Slg. Bonhoff 1818; Slg. Wüthrich 273.

    Normally, this coin would have been out of my budget, especially with the competitive bidding we have seen in the last couple of months. But lucky for me, the auction house truly botched the photography job:
    Would you have bought the coin if you had only seen this picture? Yeah, me neither. I guess they accidentally photographed it upside down, so that the light came from below, leading to this rather suboptimal result. Fortunately, I remembered this exact coin from a previous auction and thus knew that it was actually nice. I snatched it comparatively cheap in the aftersale.

    Post you coins that are better than they looked in the seller's pictures!
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2020
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  3. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    Good catch @Orielensis! That is beautiful coin (at least in your photo - the seller’s would certainly make me pass over it)
  4. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    I would say that in this recent acquisition my photo better captured the color of the coin.



    Seller's photo:


    My skills are gradually improving...
  5. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    I'm confused. That large single photo does not strike me as all that bad IF it were a photo of the incuse reverse but, comparing the edges and centering, it is obviously the obverse and a classic example of ghoul lighting (named after kids at Halloween who hold flashlights under their chins). The human brain makes certain assumptions including one about the natural position of light is 'up' rather than down. Incuse reverse coins can look strange because, well, they are strange so that is OK. Congratulations on that very nice coin. Such things should belong to people smart enough to see hidden truth in spite of stupid photography.
  6. Shea19

    Shea19 Supporter! Supporter

    Very nice pickup, @Orielensis.

    On this A. Pius denarius, the lighting in the seller’s photo made it look like there was a black splotch on the emperor’s forehead. In hand (and in my photo), there’s no black mark at all. It was a very pleasant surprise when I opened up this package.


    Antoninus Pius, AR Denarius (19mm, 3.83 g). Rome mint. Struck AD 150-151. Laureate head right / Bonus Eventus, naked, standing left, holding patera and two grain ears. RIC III 196.
    CNG E-Auction 458, Ex Phil Peck (Morris) Collection.
  7. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    A lot of eBay auctions are poorly photographed, which is an advantage to a bidder, if you are willing to take a risk.

    Below is an unusual lot I got a while back a Commagene "scorpion" and an Otacilia Severa weirdo. The seller listed it not in ancent coins, but "Category: Antiques > Antiquities > Roman" The lot sold for $14.00 and I was very, very pleased.

    Seller's photo (no reverse view):
    Commagene - Antiochus IV Scorpion AE w Octacilla imitation $14 June 2019.jpg

    My photos ain't great, but this is more what they look like. Attributions below:

    Commagene & Ot Serv lot June 2019 (0).jpg

    Kingdom of Commagene Æ 28
    Antiochus IV Epiphanes
    (c. 54-65 A.D. - Beveled Edges)
    Samosata Mint

    ΒΑΣΙΛEYΣ MEΓ ANTIOXOC EΠI, diademed and draped bust right / KOMMAΓ-HNΩN around scorpion within laurel wreath, diadem above.
    RPC I 3854; Kovacs 254
    (12.48 grams / 28 mm)
    eBay June 2019 Lot @ $7.00

    Otacilia Severa Fourrée Ant.
    (wife of Philip I the Arab)
    (c. 245-247 A. D.)
    Carpic Campaign Aux. mint or Trajan Decius era imitation

    MARCIA OTACIL SEVERA AVG diad. dr. bust on crescent / IVNO CONSEAVΛT, Juno
    standing l. w. patera & sceptre.
    RIC 127 (imitation/variation)
    (3.91 grams / 20 mm)
    eBay June 2019 Lot @ $7.00

    Notes: "I have been shown two other specimens of this obverse with a blundered
    reverse legend. Both other specimens are fourees...As this obverse (sic) die has been used for reverses issued under Trajan Decius, it was probably struck during or after his reign."

    "According to Curtis Clay, these coins could have been minted during Carpic Campaign (AD 245-247) by auxiliary mint of the mint of Rome." (RIC 127)

    For the most part, badly photographed eBay coins turn out to be much nicer in hand. However, I recently bought (on eBay) a poorly-photographed Alexander-type drachm that turned out to be a fake. Which is to say risks are involved.
  8. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    Marsyas Mike:
    What a steal!!!
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  9. gsimonel

    gsimonel Well-Known Member

    Actually, anyone who has ever bought a coin from me could probably contribute to this thread.
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  10. Mr.Q

    Mr.Q Well-Known Member

    Enjoyed the pic's and the History lesson thanks everyone.
    Orielensis likes this.
  11. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    It is each buyer's job to learn to 'read' coin photos. This one was shot with light coming straight down from the camera which bounced the light to the side where there was a steep difference between the high and low spots on the surface. This made dark 'shadows' on the forehead, back of head and under the chin. I suspect that this photographer added a bit of light at the top to make the image look more natural and erase the dark area on the top of the head. Some larger sellers have fancy camera rigs that automate (ie, allow use by someone who does not know why they are lit this way) photography of hundreds of coins. A small change in the fill light angle might have brightened the forehead and left the shadow under chin and truncation of the neck which might have looks better but, looking at all my denarii of the period, I see many with forehead darkness that I was too lazy to correct.

    Moving the light just a bit to the right or changing the coin angle slightly could have brightened the forehead below.

    Is this better? Big sellers do not have time to fuss with every image so we need to 'diagnose' what we see and modify what we expect.
  12. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Supporter! Supporter

    Photography is definitely an art rather than a science. Here's my favorite example of a coin that is far better in-hand than in the seller's pictures (which I bought off of eBay from what must have been a scan while the coin was slabbed):

    Orig_zpsdc2588ea.jpg VespasianBoscoreale.jpg

    Photography can also be handled a bit deceptively to hide faults. Photoshopping to remove scratches/marks is obviously fraud but it's possible to choose a slightly more flattering angle at times.

    For this Nero aureus, I chose to shoot it with more light shining on the portrait. This makes what is a noticeable mark on the neckline far less visible. It's still present in the picture but because light isn't shining on it directly, it isn't as noticeable as it could be at a different angle:

  13. Pishpash

    Pishpash Well-Known Member

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  14. Denis Richard

    Denis Richard Well-Known Member

    Scanning a coin has to be the worst way to capture a coin image. I guess if you have no other way of doing it, it is a least an image, but that is all it is.

    Regarding the coin photography "science vs art" question, in my opinion, coin photography is more science than art. I think there are more technical considerations when shooting a coin, that are not subject to artistic interpretation, then the other way around. Adjustments to levels and saturation should not be guided by personal preference, but to match the coin on front of you.

    Of course, there are personal artistic influences when deciding how to present a coin, such as choice of background colors, shadows, textures, etc, but the coin image itself should never be subject to such considerations.

    This is a basic coin shot. Science.


    This is dressing it up for presentation. Art.

    Feb 12 2020-2.jpg
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  15. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    There is only a fight between science and art when people fail to understand the 10,000 ways they are linked. Scientists who abhor art tend to fail to advance their field. Artists who do not understand science watch their masterpieces fade from view. Occasionally we have people who find a balance between truth and beauty in a special way. I am neither a scientist nor an artist. I just believe it is more fun to know than not to know.

    A scan using a flatbed scanner is not the same as the finest photo but beats the heck out of having no image and being unable to share them online.
    Obviously the poster has never seen the pencil rubbings of Dattari-Savio, aluminum foil pressings or the output of first generation digital units (old cell phones in particular). I agree that no one should be using a scanner today if they have upgrade options but the image below is what it is. I have seen worse.
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  16. Sulla80

    Sulla80 Well-Known Member

    Congrats on an excellent coin - I certainly couldn't have guessed from the seller's photo. As I work on my photography skills, decent equipment certainly makes a difference, but lighting and focus seem to me to be bigger factors. Both of these photos are mine - which coin would you buy first?
    Plautilla V2.jpg
    Plautilla V1.jpg Plautilla, wife of Caracalla, 202-205 AD, AR denarius, struck 204 AD
    Obv: PLAVTILLA AVGUSTA, bust of Plautilla, hair firmly waved and drawn down on neck, draped, right
    Rev: VENVS ICTRIX, Venus, naked to waist, standing left, holding apple in extended right hand and palm in left hand, resting left elbow on shield; at feet, left, Cupid holding his head in his hands a helmet
    Ref: RIC IV 369 (Caracalla)

    From the overlap of science and art, a neurobiology illustration of Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934), Nobel Prize in 1906 in Physiology or Medicine with Camillo Golgi:
    Dianne Timblin, Neuroscience as Neuroart, American Scientist, January 26, 2018
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2020
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