Photography Friday

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by IMP Shogun, Jul 2, 2021.

  1. IMP Shogun

    IMP Shogun Well-Known Member

    Happy Friday!

    The below denarius has really good surfaces, even if some of the legend got squished or clipped off the compact flan. This coin has an amazing luster and high relief. The high relief is a double edged sword because it's difficult to have a sharp photo of everything. It also makes me crazy adjusting settings to compensate.

    The below photo has been resized for the site, but it is shot at 1/60 and f/16 but then the ISO has to go out a lot in order to compensate and insanely this is 3200, whereas I normally try to make it 100-400. At 1/15 and f/9 the ISO can be set in my comfortable range of 100-400. Does anyone else find themselves having to get comfortable at insane settings? I normally try to do f/6 to f/8 and ISO 100 with the shutter speed slowing down a lot as the compensation and of course less depth of field. I can usually fix the brightness issues but I think it doesn't look good when the brightness of the original photo is off and fixed in post-production.

    This is starting to feel like golf for me where you can improve tremendously and knock off 15-20 strokes, but then getting that next 3 or 4 is difficult.

    Enough chatter, here's the payoff:

    17mm; 3.35g / RIC II 115 / struck ~110 A.D.

    What would be your ideal setting for aperture, shutter speed and ISO or is it a constant battle of trial and error like me (and different for just about every coin)? I tend to start at f/6 1/8 and ISO 100 and start pulling levers like an idiot until I give up and settle or actually like the finished product.
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  3. kirispupis

    kirispupis Supporter! Supporter

    Below are a few of my recent shots of a Lysimachos Tetradrachm and a Series 1 Karshapana from (supposedly) the time of Buddha.

    The setup isn't too complicated. I have a simple chemistry test tube holder with a Lego stand I built. I place black felt over everything but the stand for the background, then have a plate ($10 on Amazon) for the reflection. I use two wine bottles to hold the plate in place.

    For lighting, I have an MR-26EX attached to my camera (Canon R5). Depending on the coin, I sometimes change the balance between the heads.

    Settings are simple because the flash is doing the work - f/11 (typically the sharpest point for any lens), 1/250 (flash sync speed), and then an ISO to match the reflection of the coin - typically 200 to 800. Again, because I can rely on the flash to freeze the subject, the camera is hand held.

    You could argue that the Lysimachos tet should be brighter, though the coin is dark in those spots.

    lyso01.jpg lyso02.jpg karshapana.jpg

    For my non-coin photography, see here.
  4. IMP Shogun

    IMP Shogun Well-Known Member

    I would argue those pictures are amazing! I had seen the reflections but assumed it was post-production, nicely done.

    How are you able to focus the fast shutter speed? I'm sorry I'm just learning these things as my auto-focus broke and focusing has been another issue, but a worthy skill to develop. Even with autofocus I couldn't have it in hand.
  5. kirispupis

    kirispupis Supporter! Supporter

    It's not hard to focus whether using MF or AF. Just place the camera where you need and slowly move the camera up or down. If shooting in MF, set the focus first to the magnification you want for the coin. In macro photography, when you turn the focus ring, you're not really focusing. You're changing the magnification. You don't need to worry about shaking too much since the flash, not the shutter, is freezing the subject.
  6. IMP Shogun

    IMP Shogun Well-Known Member


    The above is the same coin utilizing the flash (f/11 ISO 400 1/200).

    Below is my same pic from the original post.


    I'm kinda digging the flash-method (looking at the coin files.....)
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2021
  7. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    My setup is many time simpler than that offered by
    kirispupis but works for me. Still, my setup is many time more complicated than is necessary to produce coin images suitable for use on Coin Talk. The question of what settings we use is completely dependent on the light that is falling on the coin. In the last 30 years or so I have made at least a hundred changes to the way I take coin pictures and the ones I do today are very slightly better than the ones I made in the first days especially if all you are going to do with them is show them here. We might see more differences if we are making 20x30" prints.

    In my opinion, the worst thing you can do when making a coin photo is to hold the camera in hand when shooting. I do not have a photo of my current set up or any from the last couple years (perhaps I should take one?) but I have a couple from a simple rig I made about 5 years ago for a friend. You do not need a thousand dollar tripod or copy stand. You need a way of holding the camera and the coin so they are the correct distance from each other. Scrap wood vibrates less than steel. This photo shows a (two different ones actually) geared macro focus rail that can make small adjustments but for our purposes you can put the camera directly on the wood and stack books (or bricks) under the coin to bring it within range. What that range is depends on your camera, lens or other accessories require. I like black backgrounds. The easy way to get black is not to let light hit your background material (preferably black). Here that is shown with a shade made from a tin can. Inverted black plastic flower pots are better as long as they have a hole in the bottom.

    Lighting and exposure are entirely up to you. You look through the camera and move things until you see what you like. That is a matter of opinion. You may not agree with mine. The image below shows the same coin shot in sun and shadow. The shutter speed was higher for the one in sun and may have been a whole second for the one in shade. The solid wood rack makes the difference of no importance. I usually use artificial light since that allows shooting at night. I do not like flash since it is harder to previsualize what you will get.
    0sunshade.jpg If you like one better, you might rotate the coin a very small amount and change your mind. ISO, aperture and shutter speed work together. If you raise one you lower another. I never shoot coins at high ISO. High ISO brings poor sharpness and tonality if you go too far. There might be a reason to shoot a flittering bird at 1/500th second at ISO 4000 but there is no reason to shoot a coin that agrees to lay there quietly at anything close to that number. This bird and most of my coins are shot at f/11. f/16 can start to lose resolution to an optical law called diffraction. Some lenses are better used at f/8. Some make little difference.

    I threatened to update my photo of my current rig but I have taken it apart to use the components for other subjects (bugs). Not buying coins has cut into my desires to shoot and reshoot. Many times I reshoot and get a 'different' photo that is not any 'better' just different. Coin photography can be fun.
    New is newer than old.

    Old (below) is more 'standard' but which is better? I sincerely doubt this coin has been photographed for the last time.

    Also, I really despise coin photos with reflections even though several of my better friends on Coin Talk use them skillfully. When I do it, I fear that the coin will be damaged beyond repair.

    svessien, sand, Curtisimo and 7 others like this.
  8. Ignoramus Maximus

    Ignoramus Maximus Nomen non est omen.

    Why not simply use a tripod?

    That way you can use a very long shutter speed with a small aperture for deeper focus (great for high-relief coins!). That way you don't have to use a high ISO (high ISO leads to graininess).
    Small caveat: it's a bit of a trade-off. Small aperture gives deeper, but less intense focus-depth. Large aperture gives intense, but shallower focus-depth
    Ideally, you would want to combine many pics with a large aperture (that is, small f-number with limited, but intense focus-depth) into one. Best of both worlds. There's software that can do this.
    Severus Alexander likes this.
  9. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    While I like the “old” better, the “new” seems to be more “truthful”…….unless I has excessive unsharp mask.
  10. IMP Shogun

    IMP Shogun Well-Known Member

    I do use a tripod. My problem is light consistency. I haven’t found the right source as my natural light technique of late doesn’t seem to be enough for the right settings (with the ISO having to be outside of the 400 or less range). Maybe I’ll go back to a combo of electric lights.
  11. IMP Shogun

    IMP Shogun Well-Known Member

    thanks Doug. I’m part looking for validation (I know I shouldn’t care but I get lost in my own work) that my pictures are in fact shareable and looking for tips.
  12. kirispupis

    kirispupis Supporter! Supporter

    Since this isn't a photography forum, I can understand that there are several basic photography concepts that aren't fully understood, so I'll illustrate them here and explain how they relate to coins.

    First of all, what shutter speed do you think I used for this photo?

    Many would be surprised to know I used 1/10th of a second. But how did I catch these drops in motion? The answer is the shutter speed really doesn't matter. These shots are taken in a relatively dark room, and then multiple flashes and strobes light it up. When you trigger a flash, it fires for a very short period of time. In fact, the further down you power it (say to 1/64 or 1/128), the shorter the duration, because all the flash is really doing at full power is providing light for a longer period. So, in this case the light is what is freezing the motion - not the shutter speed.

    Next question: when was this photo taken?

    This photo of a heron was actually shot very late in the day (8:30, which means I'd been up for hours). The sun was already high and was shining on this heron as it flew. There was a river bank right behind it, but due to some shade and distance, the background appears black.

    So, applying these concepts to coins means that setups don't need to be complicated.
    • You don't need a tripod or anything equivalent, because the flash is what's preventing blur. Of course, you do want to set your shutter speed near to the flash sync speed of your camera (typically 1/200 or 1/250) so less background appears.
    • You can achieve that black background by distancing your coin from the background. This is easily achievable with a simple stand - and mine is made of two Lego pieces.
    • You can make the background darker by using a fabric that doesn't reflect, such as velvet. White backgrounds are easier, since any camera store should have some pure white paper.
    In terms of reflections, I believe there is the misunderstanding that I'm actually putting the coin on its edge, which is absolutely not the case. My coins are always laying down, and I just place the reflective sheet snug next to the coin. If by some chance the coin does fall, it will only travel a few inches to the velvet. My entire setup is also on the carpeted floor, to reduce potential energy. :) Personally, I like the reflections, though I understand it's a personal choice.

    In terms of aperture, I've done a bit of focus stacking but I haven't really found it necessary for coins. Even my Alexander Tet looks fine at f/11.

    Since I don't have a permanent spot for my setup, it takes me all of a minute or two to get it ready. The setup may sound complicated but it's actually very simple.

    Here's another shot of a Karshapana, supposedly right after Asoka.
  13. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    I agree that f/11 covers most when you are shooting flat on rather than tilting to show edges.

    You also might improve the situation by shooting from a bit farther back and cropping rather than filling the frame. With 45 megapixels, you can afford to crop a lot. The worst I had was an Aegina obol that was almost as thick as it was in diameter. I did a short stack on it. Cropping from farther back would have worked as well.

    I'm assuming 8:30 AM which is late in the morning for this sort of thing. Late in the day is when you go home and process.

    BTW, I had a few coin portraits lock in on the human eye focus. Does the R5 recognize animal eyes on a coin? That would be hilarious.

    Certainly flash freezes the subject but it will not correct your moving a fraction of a millimeter closer or farther changing the plane of focus. The Canon MT-26EX-RT certainly would seem to be a great thing for bug chasing but it costs more than my camera body so I will not being trading in my old equipment.
  14. IMP Shogun

    IMP Shogun Well-Known Member

    Appreciate the pointers, it's confusing looking this stuff up and took me quite some time to even become aware of the three Norns (ISO, F/ and the fraction that when it's smaller it's more...)

    I'm going to go with the flash method simply because I think it'll disturb my family less as I can do it at night - I do think the way I take pics it comes out better to my eye. It seems to be a bit less post-photo work as well, I like that. Might lead to shakier photos when the wine starts flowing but, I think that might be ok even it happens!

    Thanks again for the pointers.

    Valens siliqua RIC IX 9b; Lyons 17 struck ~364-367 Lugdunum 17mm 2.08g
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  15. kirispupis

    kirispupis Supporter! Supporter

    Yes. Very true. If you want to do that, then a macro rail is useful. I have a Really Right Stuff dual-rail that I use for nature abstracts, but I've never used it for coins.

    Most of the shots I posted are crops. I do shoot a bit further back in order to avoid clipping the coin.

    True, but for a wildlife photographer who gets out there at 5 AM, 8:30 is practically the middle of the day. :) Once that sun is up and strong, it's usually game over.

    I believe it actually does. :) I recently photographed a Vespasian Judea Capta, and I thought I remember that occurring - but I'll have to double check.

    Very true, but I'm used to that since I photograph insects a lot and most of my macro lenses are manual focus. It's all in breathing and steady movements.

    This weekend I should have a new challenge in an Alexander III hemi-obol that's sitting in my mailbox as I type. It will easily be the smallest coin I've photographed, and I'll probably use my MP-E 65 (usually reserved for insects), so I can shoot above 1x.

    I was thinking about that recently. The flash is pricy, but at the time I was photographing the below coin (posted multiple times - can't help it - it's one of my favorites) and realized that this coin was probably worth more than the flash. :)

    ptolemy1.jpg ptolemy2.jpg
  16. kirispupis

    kirispupis Supporter! Supporter

    So here's the new coin. This is the first one where image stacking would have helped due to the narrow depth of field of the MP-E 65. I should have also toned the flash down.

    331A0037-Edit.jpg 331A0041-Edit.jpg

    Head of Heracles right wearing a lion skin
    Club, bow and quiver. Monogram to right
    Price 3729

    Babylon mint 317-311 BC
    Most sites attribute this to being struck by Peithon, so I'll go with it.
  17. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander find me at NumisForums Supporter

    First, a disclaimer: I am no photography expert!

    Your new flash photos look great normal size, but I see quite a lot of colour noise when I blow them up. If that matters to you, you might want to consider an alternative to flash: a ring light. Here are two shots, first without the ring, and then with:

    aurelius no ring.jpg
    aurelius ring.jpg

    As you can see, the ring light gets some of the liveliness that the flash achieves, without too much glare. It doesn't even need to be attached to the camera, you can hand-hold it in position, and even angle it to get your preferred look. Personally I've found this much easier to use than flash! Super cheap too - a battery powered LED ring lights cost very little on Amazon.

    For silver I usually try it both with and without the ring light and choose whichever one I think looks better. I find the ring rarely helps with AE.

    I agree with Doug that a homemade wooden copy stand is an excellent idea. (That's what I've got.) I normally shoot everything at f/13 which gives me enough depth of field. With the copy stand, ISO is always 100. (It's important to release the shutter remotely. I just use my computer for this via the Canon software.)
    Curtisimo, Sulla80 and Bing like this.
  18. IMP Shogun

    IMP Shogun Well-Known Member

    Here's with my usual lamp, loses all luster but certainly very sharp:


    I'm going to try some bronze coins, thanks for sticking with a noob.
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2021
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  19. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander find me at NumisForums Supporter

    I'm just saying that the effect you're looking for may be more due to the distance between the light and the lens than the light itself. Both the flash and the ring light (which goes around the lens) are very close to the lens, which I think allows the camera to capture more reflectivity and lustre.
    Sulla80 and IMP Shogun like this.
  20. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    I would encourage you to try the Focus bracketing on the R5 (R6 and RP also) but it does not work with flash and it requires a lens with auto focus so the 65 is out. At the moment I have only a dozen coins at home so I was limited on what to try but found a couple that gave reasonable results with the flash and more that just did not work since my flashes lack modelling lights and little angle differences can make a big difference.

    I have a long standing love/hate with ring lights. First, there are many very different beasts that call themselves 'ringlights'. The common and cheap ones tend to be many tiny LED's arranged in a ring and work well for coins that respond to the concept. Many so called rings are actually a circular frame with just two lights (right and left) not at all adjustable. The twin lights like the Canon MT-26EX-RT allow adjustment of angles and intensity which is fine but just two lights with no controls has never worked for me. I have an antique (2008) Sigma 'ring' flash like this. It makes well exposed and sharp photos with no personality. Some people look beautiful in their Passport photos; others not so much. I have coins that look good whatever I do when photographing. I should buy more coins like that.

    The image below illustrates why I do not like flash for coins. The four images (two of each side) were taken with the same 'ring' flash (actually two flashes mounted in a ring holder). The images differ because of a very small rotation of the ring that changed where the glares would fall. This could have been made softer with more diffusion but I prefer to be able to see the effect I am to get before I shoot. Here are a couple choices but there are thousands of other minute angle changes. I see great differences in these and want to be able to preview each angle change. 'Better' flashes may have modelling lights that allow preview of what to expect but my experience is that they do not position the modelling bulb in exactly the same place as the flash tube so there still is some difference. I am back to continuous lights for coins.

    Insects, however, need the action stopping feature of a flash. This is especially true when the insect is sitting on a flower/leaf that is blowing in the wind. One answer would be to pick the flower and bring it inside for a studio shot. I might do that for a sunflower but I am not bringing an Assassin Bug (juvenile Wheel Bug) inside.....period! I wish I could have done a focus stack to get more universal focus but things in nature move. Would I prefer a bit more 'natural' look to the lighting here? Certainly. I'm just glad I was able to record this Japanese Beetle being invited for lunch (and not join him on the menu).
  21. kirispupis

    kirispupis Supporter! Supporter

    I'm also not a fan of ring lights. The big disadvantage is you have no flexibility with the light. With a twin light flash I can move the heads around the lens, change the power of each head, and alter the angle of the flash against the coin.

    Below is a retry of my new coin where I played with the angle of the heads. The reality is this coin's in tough condition and due to its tiny size, even small reflections are noticeable.


    Here's a different coin (Ptolemy II Philadelphos) I picked up recently. This is my first attempt combining the two shots on one. The coin's already in my album so I don't want to reshoot it, but I just need to be more consistent with the size of the coin and the reflection. The simple solution is to just switch the lens to manual focus, since then the reproduction ration is guaranteed to be the same.

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