Simplified Coin Photography - Part Three

If you missed them, part one of this discussion is here. and part two is here.

Part Three of our discussion will address my preferences for backgrounds. You can skip this step if you dont care what the coin is laying on in your photos and many perfectly good photographers take the attitude that the photo is of the coin and there is no reason to care about the rest. This is a matter of choice. I prefer backgrounds that are an even black or an even white. Following that, I can accept an even gray or any other unobtrusive color. For my images below I hve used black white and red (which I consider to be totally imappropriate for coins but, as I said, this is a matter of choice. My first image shows my camera rig based on an old photo enlarger frame which you will not have but the background ideas presented can be adapted to any camera support including one like I presented on the first page of this discussion. The coin is supported on a piece of glass sitting on top of a white box (I use an old refrigerator vegetable tray but you can use whatever is convenient including a cardboard box. The glass should be clear and colorless. While clean glass is nice, it is possible to raise the coin a bit above the glass on a small section of dowel rod (or CDR spindle as I showed in part one) so any dust and smears will be out of focus. Below the photo is a caption explaining each of the images (all of the same coin - a Thracian Provincial of Caracalla).

Backgrounds other than Black

On the top row left is the out of camera result (cropped just to a square containing the coin). The background is sort of white and shows a few out of focus dust spots rather faintly. Just below it is the same thing but with the white paper background replaced with a piece of red. Darker colors (like red) show the dirt spots much more clearly than the white including one at about 2 o'clock that would have been nice to wipe off the glass before shooting!

Using Adobe Photoshop Elements very handy Magic Wand selection tool, I selected all of the background in one click on the white and one click plus a couple additions of bad spots on the red. Here is where you are rewarded by making the effort to shoot the background evenly and out of focus. Certainly you might just lay the coin on a piece of paper and shoot but the process of selecting all the background and none of the coin would be harder. After selecting, I made the second images from the left by using the 'average' tool which blended all the irregularities into one tone (sort of white above or red below).

The third image is one step farther where the selected background is replaced by pure white or any other color (here blue). The right column top shows the white background replaced with pure black BUT it shows a problem. When using the selection tools you need to be careful on the settings so you don't leave a little rim of unwanted color around the coin. This is on the pure white images as well but it is not easily seen because of the small difference between the original white and pure white. The left half of the black image shows the result with the Magic Wand set normally while the right half had the additional care taken to remove 2 pixels more from the background (and possibly into the coin a pixel here and there) so there is no white ring around the image.

The lower right image shows a closer view of the coin on the dowel (painted black here but that is less important than I thought it would be). Notice that I used hot melt glue to fasten it to the glass. This is also not required but saves a certain number of time when you knock over the dowel by accident.

Black Backgrounds
If you want a plain black background it is better to dispense with the glass and shoot over a 'black hole' created by a tube to shadow the black background under the dowel or spindle. While I have used a variety of tin cans and other shadow devices, the best is a piece of black craft foam rolled in a circle and held together with a pair of rubber bands. The diameter can be varied as needed to be sure no light reaches the background. My coin sample shows the edges of the foam coil but that will be cropped out when the two halves of the image are combined in one file. I prefer black backgrounds because of the way they look but also because they are easier to do than white or other colors. If you wish to separate the lower edge of the coin just a bit you can add some white tape to the black foam at that side and throw a little light on the edge. Too much of the will look fake. The image below used white. Improved? Too much??? We will not all agree.

What have we shown on this page? You can do as little or as much as you wish to make your coin backgrounds look right to you. I did not show an example of a coin shot laying on a table or held in a hand since I find those pictures offensive. Your opinions may find my overprocessed images equally horrific. All I ask is you think about what you want and make it happen. Perhaps you noticed that my various images of this coin do not all match well. Those who read my first part of this discussion might realize that a small diference in angle can make a big difference in the image. The last change we made to add a little edge fill also added fill to the lower part of the coin which, in my opinion, hurt the image. Perhaps I should cut back to a piece of gray duct tape? Another difference here is the color balance change from glare from the coin, background and glass. Fine points of postprocessing make little differences that are most easily noticed when comparing images side by side. A big question will be color balance and light bulb selection which is the subject of part four .

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)

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(c) 2011 Doug Smith