Photography Friday

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

  1. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    The easy answer is to do a little resizing of the obverse but the 'right' answer is probably to reshoot the next time you are in the mood. 331A9135-Edit2.jpg
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  3. Sulla80

    Sulla80 Well-Known Member

    Thanks for starting the thread, some nice photos shared already. The golf analogy seems about right for me - I am no photography expert - consistently under 90 but par still seems a long way off. For coins, I like a tethered setup so that I can see the image and use a large screen for preview and better focus. I use Nikon with Camera Control Pro on a Window 10 PC. Getting the right lighting is where I have been playing the most recently. Lately I am using inexpensive LED light panels to indirectly light the coin. This is only 25% of the original so that size isn't ridiculous for web.
    Ptolemy II Philadelphos Ake-Ptolemais.jpg
    Any advice on lighting equipment and/or constructive comments on the photo above are welcome.
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  4. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander find me at NumisForums Supporter

    That's the kind I have. "For coins that respond to the concept" - indeed! I end up using it for maybe 2% of my AE shots, and only 15-20% of the time for silver.

    That's why I don't attach mine to the camera any more. I literally hand-hold it in position, at various heights, and angled how I like. I take a few shots and see what looks right. BTW I think your flash shots are really great! (Most of us are not about to invest a thousand bucks into a flash setup, though. If you're aware of a much cheaper version, I'd like to hear about it.)

    This is an incredible shot, @dougsmit!! Saved to my photo folder, I love it. :happy:
  5. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander find me at NumisForums Supporter

    Great coin, I love the toning! This is one that I would expect to respond well to a ring light (though I seem to be the only fan here) or a flash. This is the ring light I bought, for about 50 CAD. I expect there are better ones now. (It needs to be dimmable. I also include a bit of white card in the image so I can adjust the white balance in software; I usually use the ring light in combination with my standard lights, which are inexpensive LED panels like yours, so I can't just set the white balance to the ring light's 5600K.)
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  6. Denis Richard

    Denis Richard Well-Known Member

    I used dynamic axial lighting to shoot this Lysimachos tetradrachm. I still don't like shooting on a black background. It seems so counter productive. This is a diffused single flash image, with the light directed and trimmed by position of the glass plate. Both obverse and reverse images are composited on a graduated white background for the final presentation. The image has been reduced in size for web use.

  7. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member Supporter

    I know nothing about photography, and the extent of my photography equipment is a cell phone and a desk lamp. However, I've started playing around with taking some pictures lately for the purpose of documentation and selling of culls.

    I learned something interesting when I took pictures of the same Claudius As under the same light, but switched the backgrounds from a black shirt, to a grey shirt, to a white shirt. The thing that I learned was, "Holy crap, I guess there really is some skill and knowhow to this whole photography thing!" :jawdrop:


    I couldn't believe the difference that it made in the appearance of the coin. But, this does explain a few things, primarily that the auction houses have this whole coin photography thing figured out pretty well. I've come to expect it now, but for a long time when my coins would finally show up in the mail, I'd be thinking, "Well, I guess this is the same coin that they showed in the pictures, but in-hand, it's not really living up to my expectations." :rage:
  8. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    Your three photos show the reason it is best to shoot using manual camera settings. The automation in the camera does not know coin from background so makes a coin on white dark and one on dark light. If a background has a color tint, it changes the image to compensate. Whether you can do anything about this depends on what settings the camera allows and what it forces you to leave on auto.
  9. kirispupis

    kirispupis Supporter! Supporter

    I find that photos help most on the bronze coins. In fact, I now show photos of these coins more often than the actual coins!

    This Macedonian interregnum period coin is very dark (kind of like the period itself), and it can be difficult to see the gorgon without a magnifying glass. However, with an image it really shines.

    This Pyrrhos coin has a similar problem. I tell people "see the Pyrrhos logo in the center?" and they just say "uh huh" but I know they can't see it.

    Interestingly, this coin has the opposite problem. It looks stunning in hand, but in the photo you can see the pitting clearly. I don't mind and the auction house's photo also showed it. I'm far more interested in owning an item from history than in having the perfect coin.

    This Philip II lifetime is obviously crystallized (though I didn't know at first and had to ask on this forum). However, personally I love the look of it. Both the coin and the photo look beautiful, but I think the photo makes it look even better.
  10. Kaleun96

    Kaleun96 Well-Known Member

    Lots of good comments and suggestions in here, I agree with much that has been said! I'll share a few of my own thoughts, I don't think they're contrary to anything that has been said but just reflect some of my experiences. If you're not into this stuff, feel free to skip as this might get long.

    Flash vs Continuous:
    I've gone back and forth on this one several times. I find continuous easier to control, predict, and more consistent (within a coin and between coins). Continuous can be easier and cheaper and is definitely the first option for non-photographers. Downsides are that you typically need "more" light, by that I mean a small flash can easily outperform a massive light bought from IKEA, for several reasons. Also, as mentioned, continuous doesn't do a good job at "freezing" the subject. Flash is great for this but very easily produces blown-out highlights in particular high spots on the coin that are extremely difficult to remove without great diffusion and arrangement of the light and subject.

    Something I've noticed with flash is that it seems to often resolve detail on the surface much better than continuous. This isn't a matter of correct exposure or vibration/blur, at least as far as I can tell, but a coin shot with continuous vs flash tends to look much better when pixel-peeping. I shoot with the below setup so can pretty confidently rule out vibrations that would be noticeable in this magnification range.

    What it may be is the angles I use for continuous lighting and the effect it produces. More on this next.

    (Pseudo) Axial Illumination and Ring Lights
    I liked the general effect Axial Illumination provides but had trouble with sharpness so I turned to what has been called Pseudo-Axial Illumination. Essentially you have the light source in axial alignment with the lens so it is directed down exactly vertically, perpendicular to the coin's surface. This tends to brighten the coin's surface, helping separate the devices from the field, while also removing troublesome shadows but providing contrast due to the geometry.

    As I understand it, light is hitting the coin nearly straight-on and because the light reflected back will be a function of how flat the surface it hits is, this means that curved surfaces will appear darker than flat surfaces. When done right, this tends to perfectly illuminate the devices such as portraits or legends but leave a dark outline around the edges. The very edges of a portrait or legend will reflect almost no light and thus produce this "outline", while even slightly curved surfaces will still reflect enough light to appear bright.

    I used this method for a solid year with a ring light (continuous, not flash). Only one ring light worked great for me, the Laowa 25mm Ring Light, because it has a very small diameter but very powerful LEDs and limited diffusion, it can produce this pseudo-axial effect. It works well on most coins but I recently have started moving away from it due to the aforementioned issues with surface detail. I think due to how the light interacts with the surface at a near perpendicular angle, it obscures fine detail on the surface and can make them a bit plain looking.

    I'm now experimenting using a ring light but powered by a flash instead and so far am getting good results. To do this I 3D designed and printed an adapter to attach to the front of my lens for my flash that reflects the light around a cylinder and directs it down on to the subject. This gives me a similar effect to with the continuous light but that detail and sharpness I prefer from the flash.
    20210731_124210 (2).jpg

    Focus Stacking vs Single Images
    I've focused stacked for a long time and much prefer the flexibility and detail it gives me at the expense of the time and effort. Focus stacking means I can shoot at 1/250s, f5.6, and ISO 50 without worrying about depth of field or not being able to tilt the coin or have trouble with high-relief coins.

    I have my own automatic focus stacking rig so I typically take 50-80 photos per side of a coin moving the camera 0.0625mm per photo and can do so in just a few minutes without any intervention on my part (once I've dialled in the start and end positions). Software to combine the images takes another ~10min per side of the coin and then I spend some more time editing the photos to completely remove backgrounds etc.

    I do this mainly for myself since most places I share the photos online can't always take advantage of the increased detail a focus stacked image provides but I now have my own website to host them so I can share them more easily at a decent resolution.

    That being said, if you don't want the hassle I wouldn't recommend it. I've spent hundreds on my current rig and many more hours programming the controller and designing things. You can get a commercial controller and stacking rig that is ready-to-go but it's not for those who wish to spend less time behind a camera rather than more.

    All being said, I don't think there's a right way and a wrong way, rather some principles and general tips to keep in mind and then a lot comes down to what you prefer. I could be happy with a continuous or flash setup, focus-stacked or make do with single-shot, tilting a coin or not tilting it, a white background or black, a ring light or high-angle light, etc. I could make any of those work well enough but because I like this stuff I like to aim for those small improvements that cost much more in time and money than the basic things that get you 95% of the way there.

    Some photos to leave you with, these were shot with the Laowa LED ring light and focused stacked:
    And here's a bit of a zoom-in on that previous coin (a hemidrachm).
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2021
  11. Kaleun96

    Kaleun96 Well-Known Member

    Excellent photo Denis! Can't recall if I've asked you before, I'm unsure because I've definitely read your posts multiple times when it comes to axial lighting setups, but do you notice a significant decrease in sharpness with axial illumination?

    I've tried all sorts of different things: continuous lighting (Godox SL-60W), flash (Godox TT350), blocking all external and non-axial sources of light (best to my ability), preventing reflections from the light bouncing back and going up into the lens, thin glass, thick glass, borosilicate glass, optical-grade beamsplitter glass (0.7mm thick), perfect 45 degree glass angle vs slightly off 45 degrees etc but I could never live with the reduction in sharpness.

    For context, I always focus stack (and thus pixel-peep) so perhaps the loss in sharpness is not so bad with single images at f/11-f/16, but once I know what sharpness I can get it's difficult to justify living with anything less.

    My best guess is I'm getting ghosting and that is reducing sharpness. I've been able to take photos through the glass at 45 degrees without axial light and the sharpness seems better. Some I've talked to in the macro photography community have had similar experiences with axial illumination over the years and also given up so I'm starting to wonder if decreased sharpness is just the price you pay.

    I have a comparison of three methods here, not perfect by any means but enough to illustrate my observations above:

    Left: Axial illumination with Godox SL-60W continuous LED light
    Middle: Glass pane still in front of lens at 45 degrees but the coin is lit non-axially, i.e. does not reflect or refract off the glass, still using the Godox SL-60W
    Right: Laowa LED ring light "pseudo-axial"

    I think the middle photo still shows a decrease in sharpness but without the weird sparkling of the light on the surface as in the axial photo (left). It's not focused as perfectly compared to the other two so less of the image is in-focus.
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  12. Denis Richard

    Denis Richard Well-Known Member

    I'm glad you liked the shots. Thank you. I shoot many images with and without axial lighting, using a Nikon D810 and a Nikkor 105 Macro lens.
    I can't say if those shot through the glass are less sharp than those shot without the glass, likely they are. For me, attaining ultimate sharpness is less important than producing images with sharpness exceeding the professional web and print based applications I need to use them for. My axial lighting has no difficulty meeting those needs.
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  13. Sulla80

    Sulla80 Well-Known Member

    Here's my latest experiment in lighting, encouraged by the thread to give ring lighting another try. I took a coin that I find difficult to reproduce in a photo what I see in hand. Here was the result with my standard setup:
    Valerian CGIHP.jpg
    #1 My view: the coin is muddy, details don't show, the coloring off, it looks too dark, in general I don't like it.

    So I tried the ring light, and inexpensive Digital Nc 48 Macro LED Ring Light & Ring Flash. At first I used the default transparent diffuser.
    Val Harsh White.jpg
    #2 My view: it looks harshly lit, shiney in ways that the coin isn't in hand, but I do see detail sharply defined that was missing in photo #1.

    Next I tried the "oyster white" diffuser:
    Val SoftWhite.jpg
    #3 My view: not bad - but something bothers me - still seems a bit "harshly lit" for lack of vocabulary to describe.

    Final shot #4 with a subtle tilt on the coin & I like it...not the most beautiful coin, but it looks quite a bit like the coin that I have in hand, something I was having trouble reproducing.
    Val Just right.jpg

    Overall I decided not to remove the ring light from my setup - I'll need some more experiments to get to know how to use it. Here's another coin in my "challenging" category that did OK but I don't like the harsh reflections - especially on the obverse. Kyrene Harsh.jpg

    Overall, I like the brightness from the ring light which lets me reduce shutter speed and increase aperture - and I will play a bit more. It came with two colored filters (blue and yellow) that I found useless.

    Advice, comments and other ideas for doing better with bronze coins are very much appreciated.
  14. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander find me at NumisForums Supporter

    I know what you mean by the “harsh lighting” effect with the ring light. I’ve found that using oblique lighting along with the ring light can achieve the right balance. (I also include some white card in the shot so I can correct the white balance - hard for me to manage with 2 different lights- in software.)
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