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As a detectorist I find many old coins and as a seller of collectibles, including coins on Ebay I was looking for a way to photograph coins like a pro. In my quest I learned about axial lighting.
Scroll down for links to articles and tutorials
on axial lighting systems.
Axial lighting provides a light that appears to come through the lens of the camera. Axial lighting gives superb results when photographing coins which cannot be achieved by other lighting methods. Other methods can be used successfully, but professional coin photographers prefer axial lighting.
To help others I have noted several important tips that I have learned over time which I now utilize with every coin I photograph. Scroll down on the next column >>>
Tutorial on axial lighting setup by UK based photographer Dougie Smith
Advanced Coin Photography | Dynamic Axial Lighting — HipShot Photography
A simple home made example by Jim Salvas
Axial Lighting by Blue Planet Photo Studio
Gale Spring Scientific Photography
Other lighting methods for photographing coins.
Photographing slabbed coins, certified coins in plastic holders presents unique problems with reflections from the plastic holder. One solution presented by an unknown coin blogger, is to use a reflective silver automobile sun screen. Surround the stage with the reflector, aim the lights into the reflector and arrange everything for optimal lighting of the coin and holder. Additionally the coin and label can be cropped out for presentation.
Video on Macro Coin Photography: A design that allows infinite light angle adjustments using flexible light panels, for difficult coins or slabbed coins which favors speed and quality for processing a large number of coins.
Coin Photography Systems: Offering 11 different copy stand systems in any number of configurations of camera, macro lens, bellows, etc. These systems can get complex and expensive, but accomplish what they are designed for, macro coin photography.
Tutorial & Lighting Tips for Photographing Coins by 1001 Best Photography Tips
Lighting Methods for Copy and Evidence Close-up Photography by Steven Staggs © 2014 from the book Crime Scene and Evidence Photography, 2nd Edition
Another group of tutorials by Doug Smith from his website forumancientcoins in which he uses other methods than axial lighting.
There are no axial lighting kits available for purchase. At this point in time it is a do it youself project. However, I am working on an axial lighting kit that that can be used by anyone needing to photograph coins that will give professional results. I don't have the physical space or advanced tools like a copy stand, large format camera, professional lighting or macro lenses to accomplish the task. So my goal is to design a system that will work for anyone, using inexpensive home made lighting and most any digital camera while shooting hand held. Stay tuned...
My first try with a crude axial light setup just to see what kind of results could be achieved by a novice with minimal resources.Shot with a Pentax K-50, 5mp, 35mm lens, hand held and severely cropped, yet the result was very good.
TIPS: For those shooting coins in jpg, handheld, with minimal post processing.
I have a few crucial tips to share for photographing coins or any similar items to get the best images available with your camera Even if you only have a point and shoot digital camera, utilize the following tips that are apply to you. These methods will help to get the most accurate representation of your coin or items in your photos.
1: If you have a camera that allows for custom "White Balance" then adjust accordingly. White balance is critical to get the best color from your camera. If your camera does not allow custom white balance, then choose the light source you are using in your camera settings, Tungsten (Incandescent), Daylight, Shade (Indirect Sun through a window), etc. For Non-Axial I use two short table lamps with 100 or 150 watt bulbs and white cardboard as reflectors behind and or above. So expensive lighting systems are not always necessary. If you are using tungsten lighting, then make sure to not allow other light sources to interfere, like flourescent lights from the next room, or light from a window. Turn off the flourescent lights and pull the shade to block the daylight. These things will throw off your white balance.
2: Most cameras also allow a choice for different "Image Profiles" like Neutral, Standard, Vivid and so on. Choose the profile that produces the most natural result so you don't get a flat looking image or an unrealistic over saturated image.
3: Use the camera view screen, not the viewfinder, this will allow you to hold the camera much steadier and to frame the image properly. I purchased an inexpensive Bubble Level that I place on the view screen which allows me to level the camera over the coin or object. When photographing a 10 x 12 flat area such as a magazine ad or page with text I found the center to be sharp, and one side or other to be out of focus. This can happen when the sensor is not level with the area you are photographing. So a $2 bubble level fully resolves that issue.
4: Unless you are shooting in Auto Mode, choose a sufficient shutter speed to compensate for camera shake with the corresponding aperture to give the best depth of field and even using an ISO of 800 will still give great results and image quality. For Non-Axial shots when I use a 150 watt to the left and a 100 watt to the right my settings are usually 1/125 shutter, f 4.0 aperture and 800 ISO. For further accuracy I use an 18% grey card to verify exposure. If you are able to do this it will eliminate the frustration of under or overexposed images, especially when changing from a white, medium or black background which whill throw off the camera's exposure.
The following is for those shooting coins in RAW, hand held or using tripod / copy stand with additional post processing.
5: Once you have the correct white balance, exposure, in camera color profile, the camera sensor is level and eliminate camera shake with a sufficient shutter speed you will be getting the best image available for your camera and situation. For most practical coin photography this is more than sufficient. However, when color accuracy matters, shoot RAW and use the X-rite Passport Color Checker with Adobe Lightroom. See my Post Processing page for details and use of the Passport Color Checker.