What does a coin “in hand” look like?

Discussion in 'Coin Chat' started by Denis Richard, Jul 5, 2020.

  1. Denis Richard

    Denis Richard Active Member

    Everyone says they strive to capture the look of a coin as it appears “in hand”, but why? I understand the concept, but in practice it seems like bad idea. A coin is rarely represented accurately in your hand. It’s often under multiple light sources, with mixed color casts, and you must continually turn the coin at various angles to see around the glare and/or reflection. I have accumulated months of time comparing coins "in hand" to coin images on screen. Even equipped with a daylight balanced viewing lights and color calibrated systems, as I am, this really only helps me generalize the tonality and reflectivity of the coin. While this is a helpful guide in editing, it doesn’t accurately reflect the coin's true overall appearance. So, for me, if my coin images don’t look exactly like the coin sitting in my hand, I'm happy. They should look a heck of a lot better.

    Naturally, we all want to see what our coins actually look like, but that only happens under controlled light, reflection, contrast and color saturation, and that's almost never in the palm of my hand.

    To better illustrate my viewpoint, I have put together a few images below, taken within 10 minutes of each other, to show the differences. All the images are of the same coin, a 1797, 2 pence coin, commonly known as a Cartwheel. It’s a heavy coin with an interesting backstory. Check it out if you don’t already know about it.

    For reference, the first image is the coin scanned on an Epson scanner at 300 ppi. It’s scanned at real size. This scanner will scan bank notes with fantastic clarity and color, but for coins, the flat frontal light makes this about as sad an image as you can get.


    The next shot is the same coin in hand, under a daylight balanced, diffused light, shot with my iPhone. Glare and high contrast. Uneven saturation. Suppressed tonality. I can turn it in any direction and it looks the same. This is how this coin looks in hand. I don't want to use that as my bench mark.


    Below is the same coin photographed in studio. My lighting set up uses the same light as both side light for the texture, and front light for even illumination. Happily, it looks nothing like the coin in hand.


    I positioned the coin in my setup so the side light falls from the "sky" onto the face for highlights, relief and texture, and turned the glass plate a few degrees in the opposite direction to illuminate the coin itself. You can't do this "in hand". Now, this is what the coin looks like when you can see all of it at once. Some of you might be screaming this is Photoshopped!, but I've done nothing more than shine light in the right places when I took the shot. This is what it looks like, and if I were to try to tweak this image to look like the one in hand, I'm not doing this coin any justice.

    Finally, to make the image more presentable to me, I added a textured background and deep drop shadow to give it depth and dimension. You'll notice the colors in the coin below seem more intense here. It's the same coin image as above, but the larger crop, added dimension and complimentary background makes the coin stand out.

    May 14 2020-1.jpg

    So, is striving for the “in hand” look a good idea? Personally, I don’t think it usually is, but I’d like to hear from others. Let's dig down into this. What aspects of the "in hand" look do you try to capture? What does it mean to you?

    Post your “in hand” comparison shots and show me what you're thinking.
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  3. Beardigger

    Beardigger Well-Known Member

    I think what is meant by in hand is not a picture of it in a hand, but seeing it in person "in hand" . When I say I want to see a coin in hand, it is in MY hand where I can look at it closely or with a loupe. Some photos of coins can be very decieving
  4. The Eidolon

    The Eidolon Well-Known Member

    Does in hand need to mean a still image? I always imagined in hand to refer to
    holding something and seeing it live.

    If so, there is a fundamental difference between seeing a still image, however good,
    and seeing something live. Imagine looking at something behind a picket fence.
    With two eyes open, it is very easy to focus on an object in the background without
    any interference from the slats in the foreground. Close either eye and the slats
    get in the way and block half of what we are seeing.

    Our eyes are very good at combining images to ignore any distractions, out-of-focus
    areas, reflections, and so on, while processing what we see over a brief interval of
    time. A still image can't do that. So I would argue that there's nothing
    fundamentally better about a photo of a coin in hand compared to a well-set-up
    photo against a flat surface. But there is an aspect of seeing a coin live which a
    photo can't compete with, even though a camera has other advantages in terms of
    resolution and focal distance.

    One trick I learned of is taking a photo of a coin at many different focal planes and
    combining them in software to get better depth of field than would be possible with
    a single image. Here's an example (photo taken by a friend, coin mine):
    Electrum Hekte Lesbos Mytilene 521-478 BC.jpeg
    This simulates part of the experience of seeing a coin live, as our eyes can flit over
    various details without being aware that not every part of the coin is in perfect focus
    in the center of our visual field at any one moment.
  5. charlie123

    charlie123 Well-Known Member

    "In hand" to me means the actual look of the coin with no additional lighting, nothing done to enhance the coin's appearance.

    Do your photographs make the coin look better? Yes, thanks to your skills as a photographer.

    Most want to buy the in person image of the coin, not the professional photo.
  6. Denis Richard

    Denis Richard Active Member

    I understand, and some images can be deceiving, but the point of the picture of the coin in my hand, and the thread, was to show that even under ideal viewing circumstances, like I was viewing the coin under, (and took the picture of) the coin's appearance still falls well short of its true appearance. The same would be true of anyone looking at that coin.
    Dynoking likes this.
  7. Collecting Nut

    Collecting Nut Borderline Hoarder

    In hand in not taking a photo with the coin in your hand. It means you can't capture the quality, color or details on the coin but when you are looking at it instead of a photo, it looks so much better. Thus, the coin is in hand. Get it?
  8. John Conduitt

    John Conduitt Well-Known Member

    Surely it's like the difference between going to the pyramids and seeing a photo of them. The photo will look better, with perfect blue sky, and no tourists or traffic in the background. It serves a purpose and might look good on the wall. Actually going to the pyramids, though, gives you a truer sense of what they are. You feel the history, you get perspective, you get to touch them. If I say they are 'better in person', I mean how they make you feel, flaws and all, even if they didn't look more perfect than in the photo.
    Two Dogs and Kentucky like this.
  9. ldhair

    ldhair Clean Supporter

    In hand means you are viewing the coin with your eyes, not in an image. You have shown us a really bad image and a good image.
    Two Dogs and philologus_1 like this.
  10. green18

    green18 Unknown member Sweet on Commemorative Coins Supporter

    'In Hand' is what I always strive for........nothing 'juiced' or manipulated. Something, that if I had to sell it, would convey an honest depiction of what I have to a buyer........

    DSC_6256.JPG DSC_6259.JPG
    john65999, capthank, Dynoking and 2 others like this.
  11. ldhair

    ldhair Clean Supporter

    The last image of the 1797 hides the polishing and all the hair lines. If I bought this coin only based on the last image, I would return the coin. It's not the true look. The background and all the advertising take away from the coin.
  12. ldhair

    ldhair Clean Supporter

    Yes. An honest depiction is what buyers want to see.
    Denis Richard likes this.
  13. Denis Richard

    Denis Richard Active Member

    There seems to be some misalignment with the point of this thread. It's about taking pictures of coins that actually look like the coin vs what most people see, or more importantly, can't see, when they view a coin "in hand", in average room light, with the various visual obstacles. If my opening failed to state it clearly, allow me to reiterate; the two are not the same. This is not about photographing what "buyers want to see", it's about capturing what the coin really looks like, for it's own sake. For those that say " an honest depiction is what buyers want to see" is true, I'm sure, but it's also somewhat ironic. My shots are actually the most honest depiction of the coin, but viewers can't possibly see it "in hand".
    Dynoking likes this.
  14. Lehigh96

    Lehigh96 Toning Enthusiast

    I think what you are missing is that coin collectors don’t view coins under ambient light with visual obstacles, they view them under a direct light source and they use both the naked eye and often a loupe as well. Your photos aren’t going to show them something they can’t see, they see it all. The “in hand” representation is about depicting accurately what a coin will look like under direct lighting. If you flood the coin with to much light in the photo or adjust the brightness too high in the post processing of the image, you run the risk of altering the image away from its “in hand” appearance. If you alter the color saturation in order to make toning look more vibrant, you run the risk of altering the image away from its “in hand” appearance. If you pump up the contrast to improve the look of the surfaces by hiding small marks and blemishes, you run the risk of altering the image away from its “in hand” appearance.

    Don’t take what I just wrote as a condemnation or criticism. Your photographic skills are phenomenal and my guess is that your images rarely need any thing more than very minor adjustments in the post processing phase, but that isn’t true of all numismatic photographers. If you want an example of someone who presents their coin images in the best possible light that often doesn’t match the “in hand” appearance of the coin, we need look no further than PCGS TruViews. They are pretty, but they don’t accurately represent the actual appearance of the coin.

    The difference that you are having trouble with is that you aren’t buying or selling coins like the rest of us, you are selling coin photography. If you client is a magazine, the in hand appearance is meaningless, it just needs to be as visually impressive and appealing as possible. But imagine your client was a coin dealer who contracted you to photograph his online inventory (eg CRO with Mark Goodman). In that case, matching your photographs with the “in hand” appearance would be paramount.

    TONYBRONX Well-Known Member

    It's like that old joke by Crazy Guginhiem! : What would you catch if you put a picture of a piece of cheese in a mouse trap?:
    Denis Richard and green18 like this.
  16. Denis Richard

    Denis Richard Active Member

    The third image is what any customer would receive, on a background color of their choice, of course, so thankfully you wouldn't need to return it. The last image, as I noted, was just to make it more presentable / polished for me.
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2020
  17. ldhair

    ldhair Clean Supporter

    You missed what I said. Lets just look at image 2 and 3. Image 3 is hiding all the scratches, hairlines and polishing that is clearly shown in image 2. That is the problem. Most any collector will see this as being dishonest and will not be happy with the coin or the seller.
    The seller would want to show both images in the listing. That would give the buyer a better understanding of the true look of the surfaces. Hiding problems is easy to do but it don't fly in this hobby.
    philologus_1 likes this.
  18. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    What does in hand mean ?

    My opinion, that pretty much nails it in 3 words ;) I like it ! :)

    What it basically means is you have to be able to see both the good and bad. And that's where a lot of coin pics fall short, and in both directions. A lot of folks try to take and use the most flattering pics of coin they can get. Some others try to show all its bad points. Neither one is good because neither one shows you the whole picture, the true picture - an honest depiction.

    Now granted, that can be difficult to do at times, but I believe it is what we should all strive for.
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2020
  19. green18

    green18 Unknown member Sweet on Commemorative Coins Supporter

    Oldhoopster and charlie123 like this.
  20. John Conduitt

    John Conduitt Well-Known Member

    I think the problem is that the term 'in hand' only exists because you can't photograph a coin to make it look exactly as it does when you have it in your possession. When a dealer says 'it looks better in hand', what they mean is, 'I've tried to photograph this coin but I can't do it justice.'

    What can't they photograph? Some coins just look and feel better in 'real life', because of the way they react to variable light. The photo you have of the coin in your hand and the close up are both fair representations of the coin, but as with all photos, both miss details and don't convey how it looks in a different light.

    The question of an 'honest depiction' is very subjective. (I'm not talking about Photoshopping out scratches - just any reasonable attempt to photograph the coin). How can anyone say they have a photo that is 'honest', when it's only a photo? Really the only way to close the gap between the photo and 'in hand' is to take several photos in the hope they cover everything important. Or, as some auction sites do, show videos of the coin 'in hand'. But even then, you will never have a 'true' image.
    Denis Richard likes this.
  21. It means a bird in hand is worth two in a bush
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