Perfect: Capture Your Coins on Film By
Mike Thorn, Coins Magazine
November 19, 2008
the many topics I've discussed in this column, coin photography
has not been one of them. The main reason for this lack of
discussion is that until fairly recently I've not had any
expertise or interest in the subject.
If you've never given coin photography a thought, you may
be wondering why anyone would be interested in it. After all,
what's in it for you? How would it help you be a better coin
First of all, if you've ever looked at the auctions or bought
any coins on eBay, then you've seen the difference between
people who know how to photograph coins and people who don't.
The former produce pictures of their coins that make you,
the potential buyer, want to bid on them. The latter produce
pictures that are often of coins that are too far away from
the camera, badly out of focus, too dark to see details, or
some combination of the above.
Thus, one big reason to learn something about coin photography
would be so that you can take decent pictures of coins you
would like to sell on an online auction site. Of course, if
you have no interest in either buying or selling coins online,
this reason will not appeal to you.
Beyond selling your coins, another reason to learn how to
take coin photographs is so that you can have a photographic
record of your favorite (or most expensive) coins. In other
words, you could use photographs as part of keeping an inventory
of your collection. Also, if you keep your better coins in
a lock box at the bank, having photographs of them will allow
you to enjoy your collection after banking hours.
As I said earlier, until recently I had little interest in
learning anything about coin photography. Although I've bought
and sold coins on eBay since 1999, I only recently began to
take photographs of the coins I offered for sale. For several
years, I used a scanner to make pictures of the coins I was
Sometimes my scans were satisfactory in describing the coins,
and this was particularly true for well circulated pieces.
However, I found the scans unsatisfactory for uncirculated
coins, as they never showed a coin's mint luster. Also, in
the few cases when I sold toned coins, the scans didn't reproduce
the colors accurately.
I would probably have continued to use my scans, limited
as they were, but necessity forced me to change: My scanner
died at a time when I had several coins I wanted to sell.
I tried taking flash pictures with an inexpensive digital
camera, but this was totally unsatisfactory. Either my pictures
taken with a flash showed no detail on the coin because of
the reflection of the flash, or my handheld close ups taken
without flash were too blurred to be useful. It was at this
point that I decided to try to learn something about coin
And that brings me to the topic of this column: a review
of Numismatic Photography by Mark Goodman. With a list price
of $29.95, Goodman's book was published by Zyrus Press (1-888-622-7823
or go to www.zyruspress.com) and is available online from
booksellers such as Amazon. Amazon's current price is $19.77.
My initial impression is that Numismatic Photography is worth
adding to your numismatic library if only for the gorgeous
pictures of interesting coins it contains. Of course, there
is far more than this to recommend it.
In a brief section about the author, Goodman explains that
he is a professional radiologist, and this background informs
his interest in the quality of photographic images. As he
puts it, "Attention to detail has, in part, fueled my
obsession with image quality in coin photography."
In his introduction, Goodman explains that his book's purpose
"is to provide the reader with the detailed information
needed to take high quality coin pictures." Each of the
book's 17 chapters is divided into two sections, one titled
"ESSENTIALS" and another titled "ADVANCED."
Reading the essentials of each chapter's topic will get you
started with coin photography, whereas reading the advanced
section will take you to a higher plane of knowledge.
As you would expect, the cameras Goodman discusses are all
digital. One important feature of digital photography is that
it gives you immediate feedback. You can tell instantly whether
or not your technique works, and you can also see quickly
what effect changes in your method have on the coin photographs
Although Goodman talks frequently about digital SLRs (single
lens reflex cameras, where you're looking directly through
the lens when you look through the viewfinder), these are
not essential for good coin photography. With proper technique,
a simple (and relatively inexpensive) point-and-shoot digital
camera will take excellent coin pictures.
From my experience, one thing that is essential for coin
photography is a copy stand, which Goodman discusses in Chapter
3 (Useful Gadgets). The reason is camera movement: "To
get really sharp pictures, camera motion must be kept to a
minimum. Good shots can be achieved with a steady hand, but
having a copy stand&makes things a lot easier." I
quickly found that my hand was not nearly steady enough to
prevent blurring of the coin's features, and I'm willing to
bet that this is true of you as well.
Lighting is also important in coin photography, and Goodman
discusses this topic in Chapter 4, "Lighting Types."
Some of the other chapters (and topics) in this book are "Determinants
of Sharpness," "Color and Luster," "Raw
Coins," and "Imaging Slabs."
In addition to Goodman's book, which I highly recommend if
you're interested in photographing your coins, you can find
lots of free information about the subject online if you Google
something as simple as "coin photography."
If you have a digital camera and a computer, you might consider
giving coin photography a try. It's a lot of fun and also
a way to better enjoy your collection.