Numismatic and History Discussions > Coin Photography, Conservation and Storage

Photographing scyphate (cupped) coins - Methods and setups

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Ron C2:
I find that for the scyphates, there is no substitute for a good tungsten-based TTL ring flash designed for archival macro-photography.  The light boxes, point light sources, twin or tripple gun setups, etc. work great on the flatter coins and can be positioned around to emphasize relief detail - but on a scyphate, that rarely works out as planned - particularly shooting into the concave surface (as you noticed). 

This is the setup I'm currently using for these shots. 



Everything I hate about a ring flash (and there is a lot to hate), turns into an advantage when shooting a coin with a lot of depth of field. 

My biggest complaint about ring flashes is that they are at their best when photographing something flat with high contract.  If you shoot a "flat" coin with a ring flash, it exposes everything head-on and there are few areas of shaddow.  So it washes out the relief details that side-lighting can help accentuate.  I find every flat coin shot with a good ring flash actually looks like a weak strike of a worn die.  If you have one, try it, and you'll see what I mean.  I find the effect very pronounced on bright silver coins - it can turn an Extra-Fine specimen to an aVF without much effort - seriously.

Now when we use the same flash on a scyphate, those disadvantages become advantages.  The flan is not flat, so you are hitting the raised detail a bit from the side, but you are also still getting the "flattening" effect of a ring flash.  It shoots straight down onto the coin, so the middle of the coin will be completely lit - especially if you shoot in TTL Aperture priority.  Relief details are preserved, but with good exposure at depth. 

The main issue I still have is that the outer edge on the convex side of the coins can still be a bit under-exposed.  If you shoot in manual and play with the settings you can minimize the effect somewhat.  I need to play with some slave flashes to improve side-lighting though I think on the convex surfaces of my shots.

Anaximander:
I gave it a go, photographing my scyphate coin with a ring light. While I am not ready for prime time with this technique, I see the point of using a ring light for these challenging coins.

I photographed an AE Trachy, Latin imitative coin using three techniques: Axial, Direct, and Ring. Without further processing, none of them is outstanding.  Sample pics attached.

My using a gray or a white background made no difference. Axial uses an 18% gray background (because I can), but I was compelled to use a white background for the Direct and Ring techniques, as I had to change how to elevate the coin above the background. 

Axial photography is my mainstay and where I'm most comfortable.  If I were to move to using a ring light, I would want to upgrade from my current LED ring light.  As you can guess, different lights have different color characteristics, or "temperature" and my current ring light skews to cooler colors. Several months of effort to get an Olympus brand ring light came to naught (and I really was hoping for the newer model).

Ron C2:
I do find the inexpensive LED ring lights to not really work all that well.  I have one, and I never use it anymore.  The Olympus RF-11 I have is superb though.

Jay GT4:
Excellent write up Ron.  I don't have any cup cons but I agree with what you say about ring lights.  So easy to wash out a coin and make it look lifeless.  I think most auction houses use this technique to get a consistant look but I'm always surprised by how much nicer the coins look when they arrive.  You learn to develop an eye for what the coin will really look like in hand from these types of photos.

I'm using a Sony a5000 with a Sony 3.5/30 macro.  I always shoot coins in Manual or aperature priority and I have my camera mounted on a home made copy stand.  My camera doesn't have an auto stack feature but I use PS CS6 which has the ability to digitally stack.  Just means I'd have to manually take a picture at different focal lengths.  I've been meaning to give that a try but never seem to have enough time. 

Ron C2:
Jay, I think you would probably find that 30mm to be less than ideal if you shoot any scyphates in the future, though if you figure out exposure and focus stacking, it would likely work. 

For coin photography in general, you might want to consider a longer macro lens.  The A5000 is an ASP-C sensor mirrorless camera, and the lens focal conversion factor is 1.5, so your lens is a 45mm full frame equivalent.  That actually does not give you very much working distance, and your depth of field and available lighting options would greatly improve with a longer lens. 

The 50/2.8 (better) or 90/2.8G (best) in e-mount would both be excellent choices in the Sony lineup. Sadly, yes, they are pricey.

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