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Share your Coin Photography Tips & Tricks!


Kaleun96
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12 hours ago, HipShot Photography said:

I've seen some pretty extensive setups in here.  Mine is less complicated, and as Dougsmit stated above, I do what works for me to get images like these. 

2022-06-05_a.jpg

Love this one! I'm guessing you added in the background, shadows, and spotlight/halo in post? Whatever you've done, it's very effective!

Did you take this photo with your axial lighting setup and, if so, do you allow a fair amount of diffused light to interact with the coin non-axially or do you block out all non-axial light? Judging by the brighter edges at the top and darker edges at the bottom, it seems like you allow for other light to be introduced and this would help reduce the contrast on the devices.

It's been awhile since I tried any axial setups so I can't recall how a coin like this (AE with a light patina and decent relief) might respond to them but my initial thought was that I'd expect it to have much more contrast than is seen here so I'm curious what your methods were.

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Posted · Administrator
13 hours ago, Severus Alexander said:

I think this is probably the biggest apparent limitation I've found with this site so far.  Kinda weird given that the max total size for attachments on one post is huge.  Maybe there's a setting somewhere that allows you to individually override the automatic image compression?

Or what happens if you link an image instead of attaching it?  Does that solve the problem?  In which case we'll want to be doing that with our higher-res stuff when needed.  (Usually not needed, but sometimes...)

@Restitutor, @dougsmit, @TIF

Let me try linking a random large image:

spacer.png

That should be 5,951 × 3,960 pixels.

[[edit: Duh, somehow I missed that Doug already tried this experiment.]]

Thanks for bringing this limitation to my attention, Sev & @dougsmit!

I've updated settings and done a test, this is now rectified. 

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1 hour ago, Kaleun96 said:

Did you take this photo with your axial lighting setup...

Yes, I used my axial lighting set up with this coin, and as always, it was shot independent of the background and shadow, both of which were added in post. I don't block non-axial light; I embrace it. To me, with most coins, axial light alone is low contrast and makes the image look flat and lifeless. However, combining it with a non-axial light requires controlling its intensity, direction and contrast, and that's where the challenge lies, but to me, the results are worth the effort.

I agree that high-relief coins have deep shadows when illuminated with axial lighting alone, so I've developed some additional techniques to capture the shadow information within my axial lighting system. 

Of course, none of this would be possible without a thorough understanding of raw files and Photoshop.

 

Edited by HipShot Photography
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I've saved the best ideas I've liked from a previous similar CT thread. 

I would like something out of the box that I can use for the facing-down camera stand; I don't want to bother my neighbor with building something. 

My camera; a 2012-vintage Sony alpha 77.  I'd have to look up what the lens is.  I stupidly didn't do enough research when the camera salesman sold me the camera (I did research on WHAT type of camera, I just didn't on what lens - I though the Carl Zeiss lens on my previous camera was detachable) sold me a useless telephoto lens.  The result; most images were crap.  A few years later I went on a camera forum and they directed me to a much faster Tamron lens (not a macro lens).

Other than my Note 20, I have no other camera.  I'd like to get something out of the box which doesn't cost a ton of money (up to $200-ish is ok) for the stand.

A new camera would be nice, but inflation has really started to hurt and I just can't justify spending that money.  I'm sure the new cameras take better images, but the ones in the 700-1000 range are still 24 MP, all those years later.  My note 20 is 108 mp.

The camera's used to take record label photos for my OTR hobby (I use  the multi-frame noise reduction mode on that), which enables decent hand-held photos (jpg only, unfortunately).  Or, the note 20 takes pretty decent pics.  I don't need an artistic masterpiece for those.  Just decent.  They're used for research.

798441919_FatMan-461014-StrangerThanMurder-Pt.01only-N33dub-Copyforweb.jpg.c77eb32f459348a1798f4a9842224550.jpg

I didn't do much on this, other than auto color in photoshop.  I'd prefer to work from RAW, but I couldn't get consistent sharp enough photos from regular hand-held photography. ABC labels are often tough because they were once white/cream, but somehow decay - probably the glue, often becoming very dark. This was a Sony one.

To sum up, I need a stand out of the box (I'm inept at making things) which isn't hideously expensive, I need the stand to allow the camera to be readily detached since I only have one camera.  I also need a light. I have an enormous LED ring light, but that's too big. I've noted down the lights which Severus Alexander and others suggested on CT.  I also need something to place the coin on.

Some have suggested photographing coins outside for light but I've noticed the tendency for small coins to spurt out of my hand when I wear gloves.  Nothing has come to disaster yet on the soft carpet, thank goodness. It'd have to be indoor.

Life and my OTR hobby leave me pretty little time to photograph stuff.  My inept attempts so far take a ton of time to cobble together in photoshop.  I also don't like to handle my coins, especially the AE, so my hands have to be bone dry, even with gloves, which means there's pretty few windows for photographing.  A long ago BD outbreak spooked me.

I also need a coin scale and something to measure the unphotographed coins with (for those which don't have that info already). 

Well, I do still have the 2003 vintage Sony 8 MP with the Carl Zeiss lens, but although it still works, it was always crap for taking label pics and coin pics.

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Hipshot Photography (and anybody), the Photoshop I have is CS5 (which also has the CS5 master collection - AfterEffects, etc.), and I only have a novice understanding of it and zero knowledge of AfterEffects.  I also have a new Jasc Paint Shop Pro and GIMP, although I never use the latter.  Which would be better for manipulating my coin images?  I've shown this on CT before and people have chimed in on there. 

I've always had trouble smoothly removing the coins from the original background.  Here's one of my better inept fairly recent attempts at coin photography (hand-held).  Yes, I realize the rose is upside down.  No attempt was made to remove the original background. I just cropped them and plopped them into a large canvas and cropped the end results.

Even this image probably took 30-45 minutes to cobble together, not counting the time to photograph it. Some find coin photography relaxing. I find it quite stressful and aggravating.  If it came with a high-res dealer photo, I'd never bother to do it in the first place.  Just being honest.  Perhaps if I became semi-competent at it, it wouldn't be as aggravating.

I like to incorporate the original tag into the photo. The coin info's already baked in that way and I can better remember who it came from.

1996528267_Rhodes-304-275BC-ARDidrachm-6.60gSNGFin503vVF.jpg.4e546ca8a7400b8d5be3cdf45f96cc54.jpg

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32 minutes ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

I've always had trouble smoothly removing the coins from the original background.

Well, as @Kaleun96 showed at the beginning of this thread, it's easier to separate coin from backround if there's a distinct boundary that let's this be done automatically.

Otherwise, one option is just to use a freehand select tool and manually cut the coin from background by drawing a series of points to define the boundary, as I did here with GIMP:

image.png.50bebca7ff2587d3f092ca0911ec864a.png

Edited by Heliodromus
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You did it very well!  I'd always have bits of the original adhering to it when I tried.

I should also experiment to see if the newer Paint Shop Pro has a smart lasso.

That image was done with the same crappy lighting that I use for the record labels.  The images have been slowly but consistently improving. They still have a lot of room for improvement.  The best results have been on silver, second gold, with AE's having a lot of problems.  The lighting would have to be revamped for the coin setup.

And then there's the problem of where to put the coin setup.

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I bookmarked this thread for future reference.  There's a lot of good ideas.

It would be a good idea to also have a step-by-step tutorial thread for beginners (with lots of illustrations), whether it be a link to one in CT or a fresh, new thread.  Some Photoshop/PSP/GIMP tricks would also be good. 

Per each coin, what's the average time that it takes to make a decent image? (After the photograph is taken).

Although I've cut back on my workload my old time radio hobby takes up an incredible amount of time.  I'm usually restoring shows 7 days a week.  I could spare maybe 2 or 3 hours over a quiet weekend for photography.

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23 hours ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

I could spare maybe 2 or 3 hours over a quiet weekend for photography.

This is just an opinion:  I believe 2-3 hours once a week is plenty to devote to learning what you need to know about photography if you do it 'right'.  Rather than slamming out as many coins as you can, start with one or even two with different 'situations' (rough-smooth, silver-bronze, large-small).  I would start with coins that are easier so you get some success at first.  Blast white, black as pitch, scrubbed and polished are not the easiest.   Having selected the coin, shoot it in a few different lights.  Shoot it with very flat, diffused and non-directional light.  Shoot it with diffused, directional light from the top and slightly offset to top left and top right and process each photo to the best of your ability.  Then compare them and see what worked and what did not.

23 hours ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

It would be a good idea to also have a step-by-step tutorial thread for beginners (with lots of illustrations)

In 2011 I gave a talk to a local club with few ancient collectors so I shot what I had in modern coins to keep them awake. If you click on each slide, you can read text about that photo that might help.  Part of me wonders if I should return to this set up.  Some of my recent photos are not as good.  See if it helps in any way.

https://pbase.com/dougsmit/coinphotobasic

Title slide

Edited by dougsmit
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On 5/31/2022 at 9:13 PM, Kaleun96 said:

I have a lot of info about my own coin photography methods on my website but it's nice to have somewhere to casually share new things I try that may not become a permanent part of my workflow but may be of use to others.

Amazing website - and thanks for this informations - very (!) helpful for beginners. I will try it.

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https://artemis-collection.com/photography/coin-photography-on-a-budget/

 

I missed seeing this link before but believe it is the best explanation of coin photography with a phone that I have seen.  It does not make me want to throw out my camera.  In particular, I liked the use of the  lab jack to move the coin.  I have used them to move the coin with a heavier camera fixed in position.  In general, I believe it is better to move the lighter object and fix the heavier one solidly in place. My camera is heavier than my coins and the posts that support them. 

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, dougsmit said:

This is just an opinion:  I believe 2-3 hours once a week is plenty to devote to learning what you need to know about photography if you do it 'right'.  Rather than slamming out as many coins as you can, start with one or even two with different 'situations' (rough-smooth, silver-bronze, large-small).  I would start with coins that are easier so you get some success at first.  Blast white, black as pitch, scrubbed and polished are not the easiest.   Having selected the coin, shoot it in a few different lights.  Shoot it with very flat, diffused and non-directional light.  Shoot it with diffused, directional light from the top and slightly offset to top left and top right and process each photo to the best of your ability.  Then compare them and see what worked and what did not.

100% agree with you Doug. As you say, it's really worth testing your method with a few different types of coins to make sure you find what works best for you and to see if you'll run into any problems later with "difficult" coins.

I probably spend about 2-3 hours a week shooting coins and I was eventually able to work through my collection over a couple of months that way. I hate the editing part the most so that's usually the limiting factor for me, I couldn't edit more than 4-5 coins in a sitting without getting sick of it.

----------------------------------

edit: Doug beat me to it, thanks!

On the topic of guides, I'll drop a link to mine as well in case it's of any use. It's more focussed on getting a decent, reliable setup with a camera phone but there are some tips and suggestions that apply to any type of camera. It's just one method of many so if you try it and don't like the results, feel free to divert from the guide and try your own thing. At the very least, it'll get you thinking about lighting and how small changes in size or angle can have a big effect on the end result.

Edited by Kaleun96
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Posted (edited)

Had a go at photographing a medal for the first time yesterday. It was a bit trickier compared to ancients since the fields are so large and flat it can be hard to get a consistent look across them. I was going for the "reflective surface" look you get from axial lighting to brighten the fields and provide maximum contrast but Napoleon's portrait was relatively dark given the high relief. I ended up bouncing some extra light off my wall and then through a diffuser to help brighten his face without making it obvious I'm using a non-axial light source.

2022-06-14-19.55.34_ZS_DMap0.36x.jpg

Edited by Kaleun96
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My current failure in progress is this denarius of L Aemelius Paulus which has a Stannard scoop for weight adjustment.

http://stannard.info/stannard_adjustment_al marco_of_denarii_blanks.pdf

I have several scooped coins but this one is distinctive in having eleven stutters along its length (a record Guinness has not recorded).  Some of the ridge details are stronger than others and lighting the coin to show them all without completely ruining the rest of the coin surface details has not come easily to me.  I doubt this one will be the final attempt unless I just give up and recognize that no one cares but me. 

r27030dd2949scoop.jpg.3c9ff3dbcfec42f457bd13ef27397208.jpg

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53 minutes ago, dougsmit said:

I doubt this one will be the final attempt unless I just give up and recognize that no one cares but me.

I am sure that more than a few of us see our coins differently thanks to your photos and posts - hope you can get the lighting to work better on this one 😀  it looks flat to me - I'd want to create some shadow.

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On 6/9/2022 at 5:56 AM, Kaleun96 said:

Thanks! I suspect I have some similar 2nd grade doodads laying about in a box somewhere as well 😄 3D printers have been quite a revelation for my hobbies in this regard, no more trawling the aisles of hardware stores in search of "something", where you're not sure what that "something" is, just what is needs to do.

You could probably make some 45 degree cones out of diffusion gel or paper card using one of these template generators. I think that would've been my alternative had I not 3D printed them instead. You might be able to find one that lets you specify the angle of the cone but you can also work it out with trigonometry. I think it worked out that for a 45 degree angle, the height of the cone should be equal to half the difference in diameter between the top and bottom openings. So one of my cones has a 55mm diameter opening at the top and a 35mm diameter opening at the bottom and the height of the cone is 10mm, which is half of the 20mm difference in diameters.

Gel diffusers definitely help with the contrast problem, the main trick is to get distance between the light source and diffuser. The further away the diffuser is from the light source, the better it will do at diffusing the light. Though it's easy to have too much diffused light and that can give a bit of a dull and matte look to surfaces of coins. But I find having the diffuser far away is best when I just want a bit of "fill" light to brighten and soften everything up a touch but not too much. If the diffuser was closer to the light, I'd probably get bright spots from the fill light in that 4th image from above, which can be quite distracting.

As for AE, I find I use much more diffused light then I would for silvers. In the photos below, the darker one was taken with a ring light and no fill light, if I recall correctly, which produced this nice dark colour but I ended up not liking it due to it being so contrasty. The brighter photo is the current one I'm using for that coin and I probably used a mix of ring light and fill light -- but with a lot of fill. It really brought out the colours in the patina and brightened the portrait but I would also say it's a bit more distracting to the eye as well. There are some pros and cons to both and I tend to alternate between styles every now and then.

I don't have any tetartemoria yet but I did recently print a 5th coin mount thingy with a diameter of about 7mm, which is suited for diobols and hemidrachms. 

 

XDiY9sC.jpg

4cCUogK.jpg

I like the clarity of your photos, but they are a little 'dark' for me, so I took photos (of your photos) and clicked on "Auto Adjust Colours", and this was the result. Not being critical, just trying to be helpful.  (More pleasing to me if I was doing it with my coins.) 

Magical Snap - 2022.06.16 07.40 - 001.png

Magical Snap - 2022.06.16 07.40 - 001a.png

Magical Snap - 2022.06.16 07.43 - 002.png

Magical Snap - 2022.06.16 07.43 - 002a.png

Edited by Topcat7
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Posted (edited)
10 hours ago, Topcat7 said:

I like the clarity of your photos, but they are a little 'dark' for me, so I took photos (of your photos) and clicked on "Auto Adjust Colours", and this was the result. Not being critical, just trying to be helpful.  (More pleasing to me if I was doing it with my coins.) 

Magical Snap - 2022.06.16 07.40 - 001.png

Magical Snap - 2022.06.16 07.40 - 001a.png

Magical Snap - 2022.06.16 07.43 - 002.png

Magical Snap - 2022.06.16 07.43 - 002a.png

Thanks, glad you brought this up actually as it's a good topic to discuss! Lighting has been a tricky one for me since it doesn't look the same on all screens (nor does the colour) so over the last few months I've tried to pay more attention to trying the photo on different devices but these two photos are a bit older (the bottom one much older). I've got the photo up on my large computer monitor and on my MacBook screen at the same time and it's really quite a big difference in how different they look.

Some other thing you have to watch out for is the ambient light in the room changing, if you monitor has a "night" mode where it shifts the white balance to warmer tones, and also what's on the screen next to the coin (e.g. the coin's background, the "theme" of the software you're working in, etc). Quite often I'll edit a photo one day and come back to it the next and feel it's completely "off" because I had been editing it when there was bright sunlight, or the monitor had changed to warmer tones, or because I had been editing it on my large screen with nothing around the coin except the black background and then I look at it at a much smaller resolution when it's surrounded by different colours in the periphery.

I notice it especially when I upload the photos to my website and see them in context of my other coin photos and then you realise you got the white balance a bit off or it's too bright/dark etc. I think the photos also have a slight shift in colour after I work with them outside of Adobe too, e.g. they're often a little bit different when uploaded to my website versus when working with them in Photoshop and I think it has something to do with the colour profile Adobe uses to display the images in their software. Would be curious if anyone else here has the same struggles and what you do to help combat these problems, outside of buying a $3000 colour-accurate monitor and controlling all ambient light 😅

But apart from all that I think I subconsciously tend towards slightly darker photos, rather than brighter, as I find bright coin photos a bit distracting and artificial. So if I were to edit the top one again, I might end up exposing it something half-way between my original photo, which is a bit under-exposed, and your edit, which is a bit over-exposed. 

hadrian.png

Edited by Kaleun96
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  • 1 month later...
Posted (edited)

The past few weeks I've been struggling with something I mentioned in the beginning post of this thread. I mentioned I had found that using a mirror as a background works well for removing the background later in editing software. That much is still true, it does work well, though there is a limitation: you can't tilt the coin. At least this is the case if you have your setup so that the mirror tilts when you tilt the coin, as I do with my setup since the background and coin holder are integrated into one platform.

What happens is when tilting the coin, the mirror is no longer directing light straight back at the lens and you end up with dark areas in the background that make background removal difficult. I knew this from the start and thought I'd try to solve the problem later. It may be that it can be solved by not tilting the mirror as the coin is tilted, theoretically I think this would work, but for my setup causes other problems so I haven't gone down that path yet.

Instead, I looked into backlight illumination to help create a background of a consistent bright white (not perfect white but something close enough). So I mounted an LED to the coin platform and created a shroud that sat over it with some diffusion gel to help create an even light for the background. That much works well, the problem is that the light from the LED spreads out too far and hits the edge of the coin at multiple angles, not just from directly below up. In the third photo of a coin edge below, you can see this where the bright light bleeds over into the coin edge. This is a no-go for easy background removal.

As mentioned, the problem is that the LED lights without lenses have a fairly broad angle so if you have an LED ring that is 60mm in diameter below a coin 25mm in diameter, light from the LED ring will hit the edge of the coin at some acute angle and illuminate too much of the edge. This can be partly solved in two ways: using a smaller LED ring that closely matches the diameter of the coin, or using a shroud around the coin to stop stray light hitting the edges.

I tried both methods. I bought some 30mm LED rings and while better than 60mm, the problem remains. So next I tried using a shroud around the coin so that only light at a fairly perpendicular angle to the coin will illuminate the edges. This does work well, however the problem is that the shroud needs to be relatively close to the edge of the coin for this to work, I'm talking maybe 5mm or less. So you would need to make shrouds for multiple coin diameters and coin shapes, because not all coins are round. To me, that's unacceptable as a solution.

Even though I've tried it before, I went back to trying a coloured background, similar to the theory of chroma keying in video editing. The problem with this, in both videos and photos, is that the background colour can bleed into the subject. You can see this in the first edge photo below, the yellow bleeds slightly into the coin's edge making clean background separation difficult. Of course this is expected as when you use a white background, you see white light reflected from the background bleeding into the coin's edge. The same thing is happening when you use a coloured background.

So at this point I had come to the following conclusions:

1. A white non-illuminated background often isn't white enough for clean separation as it ends up appearing more grey than white and blending into the coin edge

2. A coloured non-illuminated background has enough colour separation from the coin edge but tends to reflect light onto the coin edge, mixing the keyed light with the coin edge and thus making quick background removal difficult.

3. An illuminated background definitely gets "white" enough in terms of colour separation from the coin's edge but too much bleeds light into the edge, again making background removal difficult.

4. Using a shroud around the coin with an illuminated background is not practical due to the number of different size and shaped shrouds that would be required for different coins. I did 3D print an iris/aperture as this would solve the issue of needing different sized shrouds but it would mainly work best only on round coins, not oval-shaped ones.

My next thought was to have a non-flat illuminated background, specifically a convex background. The thinking is that illuminating a convex shape from the inside will directly light out and away from the coin while hopefully providing just enough illumination to create a consistent white-ish background. So I 3D printed a hemisphere and put the LED inside. Without turning on the LED, the hemisphere already helps in reducing any shadows of the coin on the background and may be good enough on its own to help making background removal easier. When the LED is turned on and the hemisphere is illuminated, the background is a much brighter and more consistent white-ish colour (edge 4 in pic below) with minimal light bleed onto the edge. There is still some but it is manageable.

So that's where I'm at after a few days tinkering. Just wanted to share my thoughts/findings in case it helps anyone else or sparks some ideas of other things to try. Let me know if you have any thoughts, I'm open to trying some other things. There's a lot I have tried that I didn't mention here but I covered the main ones.

N.B. - The photos below are focussed at the very edge of the coin, hence most of the coin is out of focus. Also, the problems mentioned in this post may not be much of a problem if you're photographing coins at relatively low magnification and/or resolution. I'm aiming for one-click edge separation to within +/- 2px of the real edge so I do need the separation to be nearly perfect. For most others, a little light bleed on the coin edge is not an issue because you can't notice it at lower resolutions.

Caption for image below:

1. yellow background, not illuminated, yellow light bleeds into coin edge

2. mirror background, pretty good separation but coin edge may need to be brightened using a reflector unless you don't mind it being dark. main problem is that tilting the coin is impractical with this setup.

3. plain white background illuminated with 30mm LED ring, white light bleeds into coin edge

4. 3D printed white hemisphere background with LED illumination, minimal light bleed into coin edge, reasonable edge separation.

DSC09609.jpg

Edited by Kaleun96
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Here's some photos of two of the setups I mentioned above: the flat back-illuminated background with a sheet of diffusion gel over the LED, and the hemisphere dome back-illuminated background.

20220802_180653.jpg.956e0e3cbc840be18d64d698d0578ff4.jpg20220802_180718.jpg.66a5d1f32a6d798d96435057941be496.jpg20220802_180753.jpg.8f56bacf5d1922182f7e7dfa001789d2.jpg20220802_180810.jpg.e102647ef3f9712d05e4ffb80cb81aa9.jpg20220802_180836.jpg.18522b8361bbf8e8d27d43fe19e70b14.jpg

 

20220802_180830.jpg

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2 hours ago, Etcherdude said:

Is underexposure of the coin a problem when it’s surrounded by light?

Only if you are shooting with the wrong light metering setting, e.g. one where it takes an average exposure measure of the whole image. Then it will under-expose the coin because the background is so bright. If you select centre or spot metering then you can make sure the camera exposes for the coin and not the background. Or if you shoot in manual mode it's not a problem as you're controlling all the exposure settings yourself. 

That's an important point to mention for those shooting with their mobile phones though as they will likely run into this issue. I know some Android phones let you choose the light metering mode, I'm unsure if iPhones do but hopefully they do!

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One reason I've favoured using a black background (e.g. raising the coin over black velvet) is that there's no need to remove the background at all.  As long as you're satisfied with the finished product being having that black background, the only thing you occasionally need to do is fiddle with the black levels a bit.

I have occasionally tried to remove the background, but the way I normally do the photos this doesn't work very well... there isn't a good enough separation because some of the edges are pretty dark.  But it occurs to me that intentionally illuminating, to some significant extent, all around the edge of the coin might make the separation possible.

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20 minutes ago, Severus Alexander said:

One reason I've favoured using a black background (e.g. raising the coin over black velvet) is that there's no need to remove the background at all.  As long as you're satisfied with the finished product being having that black background, the only thing you occasionally need to do is fiddle with the black levels a bit.

I have occasionally tried to remove the background, but the way I normally do the photos this doesn't work very well... there isn't a good enough separation because some of the edges are pretty dark.  But it occurs to me that intentionally illuminating, to some significant extent, all around the edge of the coin might make the separation possible.

Yeah I've been shooting with a black background for this reason up until now. There's no reason I can't continue that, I'd just like to have the option of changing the background as it gives me a bit more flexibility for my website. 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 8/2/2022 at 12:35 PM, Kaleun96 said:

Here's some photos of two of the setups I mentioned above: the flat back-illuminated background with a sheet of diffusion gel over the LED, and the hemisphere dome back-illuminated background.

20220802_180653.jpg.956e0e3cbc840be18d64d698d0578ff4.jpg

 

 

Where did you get that contraption, please? Is it off the shelf?  That might just be the key to solve the worst of my photography woes.

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