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Coin Photography Tips

Learn how to photograph professional coin photos using key photography concepts and equipment

1. The Basics - Key elements in watch photography

Photographing coins can be an easy or hard job, depending on the tools you are using to photograph. As you might already know, coins have reflective high polish surfaces that can easily show reflections, shadows and hard spots in photographs when they aren't correctly illuminated and in an adequate setting. Therefore, understanding a coin's qualities and features will help you understand how various surrounding, illumination and reflections will affect the outcome of a photograph.


To begin with, we are going to talk about the basic elements of photography:

The key to high quality coin photos is using the right equipment, and having a basic understanding of how photography works. In our opinion, here are the six most important elements you should understand in coin photography:

 

  1. Continuous natural daylight lighting: To evenly reproduce the colors
  2. Diffused lighting: To eliminate shadows and hard spots
  3. White Balance: Setting up your camera's custom white balance
  4. Depth of Field & Focus: To get a sharp and clear image
  5. Shutter Speed/Exposure time: Understanding the correct time exposure
  6. Stable camera mounting: Using a tripod or other form of camera's mounting

1. Continuous Natural Daylight Lighting

Although not all coins are completely reflective, the coins that do contain reflective areas may be difficult to photograph because their shiny high-polished surface reflects, in many cases, up to 99% of the light it receives. If you use flash photography, you’ll usually end up with glares and hot spots. The key is to use continuous natural light which has the ability to evenly and accurately reproduce all the spectacular colors found in the different elements of coins. Therefore, for photographing coins we will be using fluorescent daylight light.


Remember: all of our photography lighting systems contain continuous fluorescent lighting in at least the bottom, right and left sides of the box. Other lighting systems, like the MK "The Box"™ also contain light on the back, top and doors. Other features include LED lighting, rotating platforms, halogen lighting and more.



2. Diffused Lighting

When illuminating coins, you have to make sure never to expose them to light directly, as direct light will be reflected on the coins, and will create hot spots and shadows. What you need to do is expose your coins through diffused lighting, which is light that has passed through some sort of light diffuser.


The diffuser should evenly spread the light, and eliminate all hot-spots, shadows and reflections. Remember, that all of our photography lighting systems already include natural daylight that is exposed through the boxes’ acrylic walls that act as light diffusers.


3. White Balance

A key element of successful product photography is white balance. You need to be able to program the white balance setting on your camera. Although many cameras will come with pre-program options or presets, you need at least one custom white balance option. This means that the camera can "read" and self-adjust itself to be able to take pictures under many light conditions. This feature is very important.


If your camera cannot perform this custom adjustment, it’s very likely that you’ll end up with badly colored product pictures, especially if you are trying to take pictures of products against a white background. You’ll likely end up with all kinds of color variations: yellow, blue, magenta, green etc.


Do not misunderstand the white balance feature to mean that the background is going to be always white. White balance means that the camera needs to adjust itself to the ambience light you are using, to give you accurate and true colors of the items being photograph.


Want to learn more? View our tutorial on Setting the Custom White Balance

4. Depth of Field & Focus

Setting the Depth-of-field in your camera is an important element in photographing coins. The first thing we need to do is to take advantage of the maximum depth-of-field that any camera has to offer. The camera should be set to manual mode so that the smallest aperture (biggest "F" stop number) setting can be selected. This will allow us to focus the entire coin (supposing that its a big coin) , rather than only parts of it.


The second thing we need to do is to focus the lens to get an image as clear as possible. Most digital cameras have an auto-focus option which can be used, please select this.


Want to learn more? View our tutorial on Setting the aperture and focus

5. Shutter Speed/Exposure Time

Cameras need to control the amount of light so that an image is not too bright (over exposed) or too dark (under exposed). Similar to our eyes, light enters through the lens and strikes the inside of the camera. Digital camera uses a charged coupling device (CCD) to capture the light of an image. Think of a CCD as 'film' in a conventional camera. Therefore, term exposure generally refers to a combination of aperture and shutter speed control to obtain the correct amount of light.

6. Stable Camera Mounting

When photographing coins, we recommend you to mount your camera to a stable surface (either a Tripod or our lighting systems' "L" bracket) in order to get the sharpest photographs possible. If you hold the camera with your hands, it is very likely that you will slightly move the camera while photographing (even if you don't notice - because we as humans can't perfectly hold it still) , and your photos will come out blurry.


2. Photographing coins with an illuminated white platform

In order to correctly photograph coins, and get a perfectly white background on your pictures, you need to use an illuminated white platform with diffused natural daylight. If you don't use an illuminated platform, and choose to simply place your coins on a white background, you will most likely find that your coins will have shadows, and will not look in their natural colors. Learn more about continuous natural daylight


"An illuminated white platform will allow you to have a completely white background on your photographs while avoiding shadows"


For this example, we have used the MK Photo-eBox lighting system, which contains an illuminated white platform lit by fluorescent natural daylight. This photography lighting system, also contains light on its right, left and back sides.


Coin photographed inside the Photo-eBox's white illuminated platform

Note: Photographs have only had their brightness and contrast adjusted.The white backgrounds you see, are original and have not been edited with software.

Coin photographed with MK Photo-eBox Lighting System


More coins photographed inside the

Photo-eBox's and Gem-eBox's white illuminated platform

Note: Photographs have only had their brightness and contrast adjusted.The white backgrounds you see, are original and have not been edited with software.

Coin Photo 1
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Coin Photo 2
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Coin Photography using a Light Box
Coin Photography using a Light Box
These coins were photographed inside a Photo-eBox using a Canon A650 Digital Camera
   
Coin Photo 3
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Coin Photo 4
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Coin Photography using a Light Box
Coin Photography using a Light Box
This coin was photographed inside a Gem-eBox using additional LED Natural Daylight from the Mini-Lite 350-2 with a Canon S3IS Digital Camera
This coin was photographed
inside a Gem-ebox with a Canon S3IS.
   
Coin Photo 5
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Coin Photo 6
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Coin Photography using a Light Box
Coin Photography using a Light Box
This coin was photographed inside a Gem-eBox lighting system with a Canon S3IS Camera.
This coin was photographed inside a Gem-eBox using additional LED Natural Daylight from the Mini-Lite 350-2 with a Canon S3IS Digital Camera
   
Coin Photo 7
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Coin Photo 8
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Coin Photography using a Light Box
Coin Photography using a Light Box
This coin was photographed inside a Gem-eBox using additional LED Natural Daylight from the Mini-Lite 350-2 with a Canon A650 Camera.
This photo was shot inside a
Photo-ebox with a Canon A650 Camera
   
Straight down photograph of coin
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Photograph of coin at an angle
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Coin Photography using a Light Box
Coin Photography using a Light Box
This coin was photographed directly from the
top of the Photo-eBox lighting system with a Canon A650 digital camera.
This coin was photographed from the front side of the Photo-eBox using a tripod, which is why you can see the coin pictured at an angle.


3. Using Holding Wax for positioning coins vertically

Want something to hold your coins vertically & that doesn't appear in your photo?

The accessory you need is "Positioning holding wax". This specially manufactured wax allows you to position your coins in an upright vertical position or at various angles. The wax is hard and resistant, yet flexible enough for you to handle it and mold it to your needs.


Using positioning holding wax in coin photography: Read Step by Step Tutorial on using holding wax


Note: Coins were photographed inside the MK Photo-eBox II ™ with a Canon Powershot A650. Photos have had their brightness & contrast adjusted - then cropped.

Coin Photography using holding wax

This coin was photographed inside a Photo-eBox II lighting system using a

black reflective acrylic, positioning holding wax, and a Canon A650 digital camera


Steps for positioning a coin vertically using special holding wax

Please read and view the following steps that explain you how to place a coin on a vertical position for artistic photographic purposes

Step 1: Grab a small piece of holding wax
(1-3 mm) from the corner of the square
Step 2: Mold the small piece of wax with your hand and make it into an oval shape
Coin Photography - Holding a coin using holding wax
Coin Photography - Holding a coin using holding wax

 

 

 
Step 2: Gently place the oval shaped wax
on the bottom of the coin. Don't apply too much pressure.
Step 4: Grab the coin, with the wax piece facing down towards the surface, and gently place the coin on the surface of black acrylic or base of the box.
Coin Photography - Holding a coin using holding wax
Coin Photography - Holding a coin using holding wax

4. LED natural daylight used for coin photography

Photographing coins is generally done through the use of fluorescent lighting alone, and this has allowed coin collectors to have images that correctly represent their coin's details and colors. Although fluorescent lighting provides you with sufficient illumination for your coin photographs, we have experimented with a new type of illumination that is used alongside the fluorescent light.


This new illumination is White Natural Daylight LEDs. (light emitting diodes), which produces lighting that matches the full spectrum of the sun. As a result, you can display your coins with maximum radiant potential.


By using LED lighting, we were able to add another dimension to the look of coins, by creating a more three-dimensional look on them, while making the coins look more brilliant, shiny and special. Although photographing coins with LED lighting is not a standard in coin photography, we'll let you decide which photos look best; The ones with or without additional LED lighting.


Photograph of a coin with fluorescent lighting and additional LED lighting

Coin Photographed with LED Lighting

Coin photographs with and without LED lighting

Please look at the pair of photos that are presented with and without additional LED lighting.
Coins were photographed inside a Photo-eBox lighting system. Note: Photos were only adjusted for brightness and contrast. Nothing else

Coin With LED Lighting
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Coin with No LED Lighting
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Coin Photography using a Light Box
Coin Photography using a Light Box
Coin With LED Lighting
Click image to enlarge
Coin with No LED Lighting
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Coin Photography using a Light Box
Coin Photography using a Light Box
Coin With LED Lighting
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Coin with No LED Lighting
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Coin Photography using a Light Box
Coin Photography using a Light Box
Coin With LED Lighting
Click image to enlarge
Coin with No LED Lighting
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Coin Photography using a Light Box
Coin Photography using a Light Box

5. Reflections in coins - How to create them or avoid them


Reflections in coins menu:

I - Understanding Shadows and Reflections

When photographing coins, there are certain shadows and reflections that might be necessary to create a three-dimensional look, or that you may simply need in order to create texture on your coins. Yet, there are other reflections and shadows that are unnecessary and that you want to avoid in order to have a photograph that presents your coins in the best way possible.


The first thing you need to understand about reflections and shadows is how they are produced and why they appear or exist. Though it may seem obvious, shadows are created when an object is exposed to direct lighting (which can come from light in a room, the sun, or through the use of a regular lamp); while reflections are created in any object that is composed of high-polish reflective materials such as metals, plastics or glass.


II - Shadows and reflections in coins

Most coins in new condition tend to have partial highly reflective surfaces. For this reason, when photographing them, you must remember that all of the surroundings of your photography location will reflect on the coin. Therefore, photographing them correctly (by avoiding shadows and reflections) may be a hard challenge in the absence of the necessary tools. Learn more about the basics of coin photography.


In order to efficiently and correctly photograph coins you'll need to use a product photography lighting system, such as the Photo-eBox™ used in this tutorial, that will provide you with fluorescent natural daylight, wrap-around lighting technology, a shadow-free & glare-free environment and completely illuminated white surroundings for perfect white backgrounds in your photographs.




III - Creating reflections in coins

Photo 1
White reflection
Photo 2
Camera Reflection
Photo 3
Black Reflection
Coin Photography - reflections in coins
Coin Photography - reflections in coins
Coin Photography - reflections in coins
This photo shows how the coin's reflective area appears in the same color as the rest of the coin, as it is simply reflecting the white walls of the Photo-eBox™ lighting system

This photo shows how the coin's high-polish area reflects the camera lens. It does not present the coin in a proper and professional manner.

This photo shows how the coin's reflective area appears darker than the rest of the coin, by simply reflecting the black velvet added inside the Photo-eBox™ lighting system
View how it was photographed   View how it was photographed

Note: All the following photographs were only adjusted for brightness and contrast, they were all shot using a Photo-eBox™ lighting system and a Canon A650 camera.

How surroundings affect reflections in coins

Once you are using an enclosed product photography lighting studio, and place a coin inside (while the systems is turned on), you will notice that the white walls will reflect on the coin's polished areas. Yet, this coin may look too plain, and does not provide a good illustration of the coin's design, because its high-polish surface is reflecting the white walls of the Photo-eBox (see Photo 1 and View how it was shot ).


Necessary reflections to correctly illustrate a coin's design

In order to properly illustrate the coin's design, and avoid the problem of the white wall's reflection on the coin, we'll need to add an additional element to the photography setting. In this case, we have added a piece of black velvet inside the Photo-eBox lighting system. (see Photo 3 and View how it was shot )


To illustrate what we are talking about, we have provided you with a visual explanation of how the surroundings of your coins will affect the outcome of your photograph.

Setting used to obtain Photo #1

Coin Photography Setup inside a Light Box

This is the inside right-back corner of the Photo-eBox lighting system

Setting used to obtain Photo #3

Coin Photography Setup inside a Light Box

This is the inside corner of the Photo-eBox lighting system along with a black velvet

Camera's Position for Coin Photography - Example One

Camera's Position for Photo 2 Camera's Position for Photo 1 & 3
Coin Photography setup using a Light Box Coin Photography setup using a Light Box
This is the angle at which the camera was positioned for shooting Photo #2. The coin was positioned right below the camera lens, which is why it created a reflection on the coin. At this angle, the camera does not reflect on the coin, but instead allows the right wall of the Photo-eBox to reflect on the coin. The coin was positioned closer to the right side of the box for Photo 1 and 3.

Camera's Position for Photo 1 & 3
Coin Photography setup using a Light Box
Another look at the setting for shooting Photo 1 & 3


IV - Avoiding reflections in coins

Avoiding reflections in coins without tilting the camera For this example, we have positioned the Canon A650 digital camera on the "L" bracket of the Photo-eBox lighting system looking completely straight down towards the bottom side of the box. (To see how the camera was attached please view "Camera's Position for Photo 2" located above).


As we have mentioned above, a coin's face contains parts that are highly reflective and that can easily create unwanted reflections on your photographs. Therefore, you need to pay close attention on where and how you position your coin when photographing it. The following photos are examples of coins photographed with and without the reflection of the camera's lens on it.


Note: Photographs have only had their brightness and contrast adjusted.The white backgrounds you see, are original and have not been edited with software.


Coin Photo 2.1
Coin without a dark reflection
Coin Photo 2.2
Coin with a dark reflection
Coin Photography Tips Coin Photography Tips

This coin does not contain dark reflections,
due to the fact that it was not located exactly below the camera. Instead, it was moved slightly out of the camera's central focus, and now reflects the white top of the Photo-eBox it was inside of.

View how this coin was photographed

This coin does contain dark reflections, due to the fact that it was located exactly below the camera. The central black reflection you see pictured is the top opening of the Photo-eBox, while the rest of the white reflection is simply the rest of the Photo-eBox's white top.
View how this coin was photographed


Coin placement used to obtain Photo 2.2
Coin Photography Tips
This photo shows the camera's reflection on the coin being photographed.
This is caused by the fact that the coin has reflective properties, and was placed exactly below the camera. To avoid this, the coin needs to be placed slightly off the blue area, which is the center focus of the camera. See photo below

Coin placement used to obtain Photo 2.1

Coin Photography Tips
This photo shows how to avoid the reflection of the camera in the coin, by simply moving the coin slightly out of the camera's center focus (blue area)



V - Avoiding unnecessary reflections, while keeping the necessary ones

The necessary reflections in coins

There are very few instances where you'll want to completely avoid all types of reflections in your coins. If you do, you'll end up having photos that have no texture, and show almost no dimension at all. Our goal in photographing coins is to have the best possible representation of our coins illustrated on a photograph, therefore, we'll want to create photos that also show the texture and dimension of a coin's face.


Creating those small but necessary reflections in coins

The following coins where photographed from the top of the Photo-eBox lighting system, with the coins moved slightly out of the camera's center focus (blue area from example 2 shown above- View). In each pair of coins, one was photographed with the door of the Photo-eBox open, while the other one with the door (and it's opening) completely closed. (Refer to the Photo-ebox diagram below)


By leaving the door open, we have allowed the reflections of the outside of the Photo-eBox to create several black reflections on the coin's face. By creating these small reflections we have now added dimension to the coin and have made it look more real.

Photo taken with the
Photo-eBox's door OPEN

Click image to enlarge

Photo taken with the
Photo-eBox's door
CLOSED

Click image to enlarge

Coin Photography Tips Coin Photography Tips

 

Photo taken with the
Photo-eBox's door OPEN

Click image to enlarge

Photo taken with the
Photo-eBox's door
CLOSED

Click image to enlarge

Coin Photography Tips Coin Photography Tips

Visual Guide for understanding the Photo-eBox lighting systems
Coin Photography Tips

6. Tools & Accessories used in coin photography

Lighting Systems used:

Gem-eBox™
Photo-eBox™ & Photo-eBox II™
Photo-eBox PLUS
Photo-eBox
   
LED Lighting used: Cameras Used:
Mini-Lite 350-2
Mini-Lite 350-2 LED lights
View product info
Canon A650 IS
Canon S5 IS
Canon A650 IS
Canon S5 IS
View product info
View product info
   

Note: The Canon A650 IS and Canon S5 IS with the necessary accessories may be purchased along with an MK lighting systems as a package. View Packages

Please view a lighting system's product info to view package specials that include a photography lighting system, a camera and essential photography accessories

   
Accessories used:  
Box of Holding Wax
Black and white Acrylics
Holding Wax
View product info
Black and White Acrylics
View product info