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Picture Perfect: Capture Your Coins on Film
By Mike Thorn, Coins Magazine
November 19, 2008

Of 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 collector?

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 offering.

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 photography.

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 you're taking.

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.

 


Coin Photography - Coin Pictures - Picture Perfect: Capture Your Coins on Film


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