My Current Coin Photo Rig

If you prefer to see the simplified rig, click here.

  • A - Canon DSLR camera body
  • B - 100mm f/4 Canon macro lens
  • C - Stand from old Durst M600 enlarger (1960's model)
  • D - Compact fluorescent twist lights in gooseneck fixtures
  • E - Ring fluorescent desk lamp with paper diffuser to reduce brightness
  • F - Coin support and shading (more details below)
  • G - Kenko brand Canon mount extension tube (optional)

    The coin support is a steel rod topped with a 3/8" dowel piece which can be changed out with other sizes to accomodate other size coins. The base has four 2"x2" handles which allow easy adjustment and rotation of the coin. These same boards can support a paper reflector to add a little edge light to the bottom edge of the coin. Black craft foam shades the black bottom piece requiring less postprocessing to blacken the background.
  • While my rig may seem a bit more complex than the simplified version, the main difference is the adjustible height provided by the old enlarger base and upright mechanism. As shown, this will allow shooting coins up to about 50mm diameter. Item G is an extention tube which will allow filling the frame with coins smaller than about 12mm which is the limit of the macro lens being used (1:1 reproduction). More extention tubes can be added but below about 8mm size the lens is so close to the coin that it is hard to light properly. The quality of the lens makes cropping the image a better idea than adding tubes beyong the one shown. To shoot really large coins (Aes Grave), it would be necessary to remove the tube but I usually just leave it in place. Without the tube, it is possible to remove the upright and shoot small groups of coins directly on the base.

    Details of lighting, color balance and backgrounds will be shown on following pages. The black craft foam is shown here in my currently preferred configuration placed only on the side from which the light is coming. On another pageyou will find an image using a tube of foam which also works but can require painting out the foam if it is too close to the coin itself. Either method works. Coin lighting allows quite a bit of variation according to individual preferences. My assortment of lights allow flexibility in arrangement. Most coins do not require all of the lights to be on but it is easier to leave the group in place and just turn on the ones needed for any given coin. At the bottom of the ;arger photo is a brush placed there to remind you that dust on coins looks bad in large photos.

    Not shown in this photo is the wireless remote tripper used to release the shutter without jarring the camera and blurring the photos. If your camera does not accept this accessory, use the self timer feature for shutter release.

    While it is possible to show examples of coins shot using this set-up and even to discuss a bit about their lighting, minute changes in angle and exposure can make great differences in results so there will be a lot of trial and error needed to get the desired results on many coins. Certainly it will help to start with nice coins. Large photos, sharply focussed will make small faults on the coin appear worse than they are. Large photos may not be the best choice if the idea is to sell the coin. Our samples:

    The top row shows our four samples looking pretty much as "in hand" but still twice natural size. The photos are the same ones shown larger below and are just included to make the point that large photos show more faults than small ones.

    While a rather nice coin, the Crispus AE3 has quite a few 'bag marks' or small nicks. The coin is dark, perhaps a bit darker than shown unless you are looking at it under a high intensity light. This image was made with both twist bulbs but the one on the left was closer to the coin than was the one on the right.

    Our Mithradates II is substantually the same as the Crispus but in toned silver. The dark recesses make it an easily photographed coin just needing a few minor changes in the lamp angles to give a pleasing result through the finder and on the photo.

    The Constantine I is a lighter bronze but required more care in light angle to highlight the details of the doublestrike and clashed dies. Since the outlines of the obverse portrait showing in the reverse field are very important to the understanding of the coin, the right twist bulb was weakened (by moving farther away) and the left bulb redirected from an angle that highlighted the ridges.

    Brightly cleaned silver is hard to photograph without glares and heavy shadows. Four attempts at lighting are shown and, I suspect, not all will prefer the same one. The two on top were both taken with two twist bulbs bounced inside my photo closet but aimed in different directions. They differ greatly on where the glare spots fall. The lower left image was taken with the twist bulbs off using only the ring light. In the lower right is a combination of two twists and the ring used together but it would be possible to shoot several other combinations varying in the angles of the twist lamps. There is a very fine line between being ruined by overly bright glare and too soft with unnaturally dull surfaces. Toned coins are much easier to photograph than a little mirror like this Sikyon stater. While it was in place for all of the photos on this page, the effect of the paper reflector adding light to the bottom edge of this thick coin is most apparent on the combination (lower right) image.

    Which is the best photo of this coin? That one has not been taken yet. My current favorite is a variation on the ring light reverse paired with the twist plus ring obverse but I may be trying again and again and..... If this gets updated, I will post it here but every change that improves one aspect of a photo can make another worse so the next may be different rather than better.

    Part Two of this discussion is here.

    If you prefer to see the simplified rig, click here.

    Please visit my pBase Gallery:

    My pBase Coin Gallery with many new photos and some discussion

    Other photo postings:

    The following pages were posted to my coin site in years past. Some of them have become a bit dated but there is some value left here and there. All are invited to visit them and any other pages on my coin site.

    Coin Photography 2008 update
    Coin Photography with a Microscope
    Photographing a Nero Dupondius
    Coin Photography with the Canon 300D
    Coin Photography with the Minolta D7i
    Coin Photography with the Minolta D7i (earlier page)
    Coin Photography with the Nikon 990
    Coin Photography (pre-digital page)

    Back to Home Page

    (c) 2013 Doug Smith