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My new Black Betty: The impossibility of photographing black toning


Ryro
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For Saturnalia my big brother bought me this lovely old cabinet toned RR from Cipius MFer😉:Screenshot_20221221_130829-removebg-preview.png.cfc34782fe6e9144670929969adae914.png

Cipius M.f. (115-114 BC)

Marcus Cipius

Mint: Rome

Denarius

Diameter: 18mm

Corner axis: 9 o'clock.

Weight: 3.8)95g.

Obv : M. CIPI. M.F. Helmeted head of Rome right; behind X.

Obverse translation: “Marcus Cipius Marci Filius”, (Marc Cipius son of Marc).

Reverse legend: ROMA in the exergue.

Reverse description: Biga galloping right, led by Victory (Victoria), holding palm in right hand and reins in left hand; under the hitch, a rudder.

Reverse translation: “Roma”, (Rome).

Comment about this copy: For this type, Mr. Crawford noted an estimate of 535 obverse dies and 669 reverse dies, making it one of the largest issues of the Roman Republic with an estimated production between one and two million minted denarii. History: In 115 BC, ئmilius Scaurus, consul and prince of the Senate promulgated the 'lex ئmilia' creating a new distribution of citizens in the tribes. He also led a military campaign against the Ligurian tribes (Salyens) in Gaul. The following year, Marius intervened in Spain while Cato was beaten in Macedonia by the Sordisc tribes.

Purchased from Legacy coins Utah Dec 2022

My problem is photographing that beautiful black toning! I can kinda get it, or I can get details, but not both. 

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Some others:

IMG_2812(1).PNG.c7f0cf39251ec26a671b2032fd779b19.PNG2212603_1632665069.l-removebg-preview.png.64144515b2e315df5b48fb4aed8ac72e.png1824421_1618170446.l-removebg-preview.png.f1f9eb7164e2391d65006feb27b8118d.pngIMG_0340.PNG.edfb916d177b357f9b17bfa9ae2f3d69.PNGIMG_4054(1).JPG.883c682cee7c3114b7ccd731c1c63742.JPG

 

 

 

Any best practices for taking photos of black beauties? And let's see your pictures of darkly toned ancients!

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For black coins I usually use a very flat side light which enhances the edges bur leaves the rest of the coin black.

normal_Pergamon_49.jpg.81beb83707682f6c24db30e4e9354cf0.jpg

Mysia, Pergamon
AE18, 3rd century BC
Obv: Helmeted head of Athena left.
Rev: ΠΕΡΓA, Head and neck of bull left, owl right, without monogram
AE, 4.23g, 17mm
SNG von Aulock 1352; SNG Paris 1574

 

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This Trajan "DAC CAP" denarius is probably the darkest-toned silver coin I have -- in hand, it's almost completely black -- and I had to take a lot of photos under artificial light before I managed to get one in which the design is reasonably visible. 

image.jpeg.fbd6e66866106abdb2737099f30ab880.jpeg

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Photographing black (or dark) coins is a pain for me too. I manage to take the pics with my camera, but the colors are wrong (if I manage to take something that looks like a picture). 
My only solution is using my phone, that has a very modest camera. And usually it takes 5 attempts. 

This is one of my coins where the camera (barely) managed to take a pic. The toning is dark gray, without the green shades that appear in the picture. 

image.png.dd139e367e8585075af538e62faf9a96.png

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1 hour ago, Ryro said:

And let's see your pictures of darkly toned ancients!

Looks to be a lovely coin Ryan!..

I've tried all sorts of ways but for me at least its just trial and error...

Here's my best attempts with no artificial lighting on a cloudy day without any direct daylight hitting the coin..Although the high spots are silvery which probably makes the detail stand out more?

normal_trajtogether.jpg.0c8e32c57369c7061c6493bf041984d7.jpg727813257_some_white(1).jpg.d627e2a5d83e40f3f5cd8d9c6505a4c2.jpgnormal_MARCOBREV.jpg.4829543cc3f0b7bf2654e63d0e67eda0.jpg

Edited by Spaniard
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I love shooting deeply toned silver.  The key is diffused lighting and then just experiment for the best place to put it.  You can get very different results depending on where you place the light

 

VespasianTetra.jpg.934e8fe3b5c37636c8a118124737350b.jpg

AYTOKPAT KAIΣA OVEΣΠAΣIANOY
Laureate head right

ETOYΣ Δ IEPOY
Eagle standing to left on club; palm branch in field.

Dated "New Holy Year" 4, AD 71-72
Antioch, Seleucis and Pieria
10.47g
Prieur 116; McAlee 338; RPC 1950

 

RPC1965.jpg.a39cce93b37a46f1519c18aea66e73d7.jpg

ΑΥΤΟΚΡ ΚΑΙΣ ΟΥΕΣΠΑΣΙΑΝ
Laureate bust of Vespasian right with aegis

ETOYΣ Γ IEPOY
Eagle standing left with wreath in beak on palm branch; club in left field

Caesarea Maritima mint, 70-71 CE

13.63g
RPC 1965 (1 spec.). Prieur 129.

Ex-Cgb

Rare. Only two others in Forum galleries (Atherton, Alberto)

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It can be tough. The key is to find the right balance between showing the details and washing out the color. I had to do a little experimenting with this coin, a very dark silvered bronze, but the resulting photo very accurately captures that balance, showing the details without washing out the color too much:

diocletian_01.jpg.4f1e8af9c0049c9736611a53ca2b385f.jpg

 

 

 

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As a few others have mentioned, diffused lighting will be the best method for retaining the original tone of the object but since dark objects produce little diffuse reflections you need much more light to achieve the correct exposure than if using direct lighting.

To get the right amount of diffused lighting and little to no direct lighting, it's not only about the angle but the distance between camera and object as well as the focal length of the lens. You'll have to experiment with placing the light at different angles relative to the axis of the object and camera as well as different distances - as the bottom graphic demonstrates it's not all about the angle.

Using natural sunlight on an overcast day may be easiest if fiddling around with lighting setups is too much. You can also experiment with small amounts of direct lighting to help the details pop in certain areas.

image.png.a090e0925c527cd3b5ab733d6e3d810f.png

Source: Light - Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting.

Edited by Kaleun96
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21 hours ago, Ryro said:

Thanks everyone! Here's another deep toned coin(obviously not my photography)image.png.faf2b1a19caa6290b53505678b3b191f.png

@dougsmit wrote a wonderful article about shooting dark toning on the old site, but I'm not finding it... would love to see some of his dark eastern Septimius Severus coins

I have moved several of my outdated pages to a secondary section hoping to replace them.  'Wonderful' is not a word I apply to these (or any of my) pages.  I keep telling myself that I will write more pages for the site but my hobby time now is going mostly to other projects.  I really should do a single, better page on coin photography to replace all those old ones but it has not happened yet.  

https://www.forumancientcoins.com/dougsmith/dregs.html

If you tell me what it was you liked about that page, I might be able to spare that one while  I am decimating the weaklings. 

Of my Severan coins my favorite black one is this Caracalla Caesar drachm of Caesarea.  The photo shows the glare reflecting from its shiny black surfaces.  

pm1370b01493.JPG.2a032b5d328bc6f771765e15516735ff.JPG

Of my Eastern denarii, I have always been fond of this dark 'Emesa' showing Fortuna seated on a chair with cross supports underneath.  It is the only coin with those supports I have ever seen.  This one came to me before 1964 (I saved it and two others when I sold my collection in 1974).  It is quite dark but nowhere near as dark as the Caracalla.  I realize I am the only person who cares about chairs. 

 

 

rg2400fd0039.jpg

Edited by dougsmit
wrong photo
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Photographing dark coins is no different that any other coins. It's always about getting the correct exposure. The problems arise if you have a dark coin and you're trying to make a light image.  These are all dark coins shot with a hybrid axial lighting system without sacrificing detail, tone, or texture. 

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2022-07-1_a.jpg

2021-11-24.jpg

April 21 2020-1.jpg

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4 minutes ago, HipShot Photography said:

Photographing dark coins is no different that any other coins. It's always about getting the correct exposure. The problems arise if you have a dark coin and you're trying to make a light image.  These are all dark coins shot with a hybrid axial lighting system without sacrificing detail, tone, or texture.

Incredible detail. Do you post-process these images at all (aside from backgrounds etc.)? I've been meaning to give axial lighting a try as I am not getting nearly enough direct light on the coin. What are peoples thoughts on it?

 

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1 hour ago, rvk said:

Incredible detail. Do you post-process these images at all (aside from backgrounds etc.)? I've been meaning to give axial lighting a try as I am not getting nearly enough direct light on the coin. What are peoples thoughts on it?

It takes a lot of light; ideally from a well focused, collimated, or directed light source (i.e. sticking a 2000lm desk lamp in front of a pane of glass isn't going to work well). If you consider you have a glass with 50% transmission (50% goes through the glass, 50% of light is reflected), only 25% of the light actually reaches the camera. The light bounces off the glass and down onto the coin, and then is reflected back up and through the glass to the camera, so 50% x 50% = 25%. If your glass is more like 70/30, which if I'm not mistaken is close to what you get from normal pane of glass, the light reaching the camera is only 70% x 30% = 21%. 

I've experimented with it a lot myself and never liked the effect you get from "pure" axial lighting. It's very contrasty and works better on flat modern coins than it does for ancients. HipShot Photography gets great results with it but note that they mention using a "hybrid" setup, which I believe is referring to using an axial lighting setup but not relying solely on axial light to illuminate the coin (e.g. using other light sources or allowing stray light not reflected from the glass). 

I used to get a lot of issues with "ghosting" (where a second image of the coin is offset from the primary image) and degradation in sharpness and resolution but that's because I do focus stacking with a fairly decent camera and try to get every last bit of detail out of my setup. Whereas for most people, any effect on sharpness is probably not noticeable. There's been some discussion on "ghosting" here but I haven't tried any of the suggested methods since it came up. In the end i'm not convinced it's worth the hassle versus trying to achieve "pseudo-axial illumination", such as by using a ring light of the correct diameter. You get most of the benefits of axial illumination but it's less harsh and generally an easier setup.

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2 hours ago, Kaleun96 said:

 HipShot Photography gets great results with it but note that they mention using a "hybrid" setup, which I believe is referring to using an axial lighting setup but not relying solely on axial light to illuminate the coin (e.g. using other light sources or allowing stray light not reflected from the glass). 

My hybrid axial lighting uses a single light source, in my case a 500w studio strobe because, as was pointed out above, you do lose a lot of light with axial light (though strobes provide many benefits beyond just additional power.) My system controls the direction and intensity of the axial lighting, which is impossible with the conventional technique shown in the video posted above, which I find produces poor results and no doubt frustrates many people about using axial lighting (as it frustrated me in the beginning.)

I use a diffuser, specifically a piece of Lee diffusion material, to control the light contrast over the coin, and because it is color neutral, meaning it doesn't leave a color cast, unlike kleenex or almost every other thing people use to diffuse light. 

Interestingly, I've never come across any images of ghosting. 

Of course, there is much more to it than just those few things, and virtually every coin I photograph requires slightly different settings, however, my aperture and shutter speed never changes. You can judge the results for yourself, from ancient to modern coins it provides beautiful illumination. In my opinion and experience, it is not possible to achieve anything like the images attached with ring lights or a couple of LED lights. With that said, natural light and unusual lighting setups can create some stunning artistic coin images.

2022-02-25_a.jpg

2022-03-17_a.jpg

2022-06-05_a.jpg

2022-07-9_a.jpg

2021-10-17_a.jpg

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6 hours ago, HipShot Photography said:

My hybrid axial lighting uses a single light source, in my case a 500w studio strobe because, as was pointed out above, you do lose a lot of light with axial light (though strobes provide many benefits beyond just additional power.) My system controls the direction and intensity of the axial lighting, which is impossible with the conventional technique shown in the video posted above, which I find produces poor results and no doubt frustrates many people about using axial lighting (as it frustrated me in the beginning.)

I use a diffuser, specifically a piece of Lee diffusion material, to control the light contrast over the coin, and because it is color neutral, meaning it doesn't leave a color cast, unlike kleenex or almost every other thing people use to diffuse light. 

Interestingly, I've never come across any images of ghosting. 

Thanks for the added info! My assumption was that it was combing two methods of lighting (e.g. axial and non-axial), even if you're just using a single light source, by allowing non-axial light to hit the coin. I guess that's the purpose of the diffuser, to allow for some diffused light to reflect off the coin in addition some direct light (even if that direct light has gone through the Lee gel)?

I'm curious about the direction and intensity aspect too, since you mention that this is impossible in a regular setup. Are you modifying intensity solely with the diffusion gel or something else? Because is it not also possible to modify the intensity with one's light source in a conventional setup? As for the direction, does this mean you're sometimes changing the angle of the glass so that it is not always at 45 degrees to the lens axis? I've been accumulating some ideas for different setups to try based on the discussions at photomacrography.net, hence all the questions!

The thread I linked from photomacrography.net provides an explanation for why you won't always see ghosting, it seems it will be very setup-dependent. In that thread Rik mentions you won't see it if the glass is placed in an "infinity section" , but I don't know nearly enough about optical theory to interpret that fully. Besides having a lens focussed at infinity or maybe using a telecentric lens, I'm not quite sure how one might place the glass in an "infinity section", or perhaps it's enough to collimate the light source so that its rays are parallel? Though he also mentions it's dependent on other factors too, such as how far offset the ghost is relative to the subject and how strong it is, which would depend on the glass thickness and probably also the relationship between object, glass, and lens. I always try to shoot with the coin filling the frame, leaving only ~15cm between coin and lens, perhaps that's too small a distance and ghosting is more liable to occur.

Quote

In my opinion and experience, it is not possible to achieve anything like the images attached with ring lights or a couple of LED lights

For modern proof / mint state coins, I do agree. Though I haven't tried shooting one of them with a pseudo-axial setup either. But for ancients, I find you can get about 90% of the "pure" effect with pseudo-axial setups, e.g. the three examples you posted all seem replicable with such a setup. It's really only for proof-like coins or medals with extremely flat surfaces that I've found the angle of incidence is very important to getting a consistent effect in the fields. For most ancients, it seems that there is more room for error, I assume due to the less perfect fields and surfaces in general, that light hitting the coin at an incidence approximating 90° is sufficient - you still get the contrast effect around the devices because the vast majority of light illuminating the coin is that which is bounced back to the lens in proportion to flatness of the area which the light reflects off.

The limitation with this setup is that it doesn't work equally well for all coins due to needing to adjust the diameter of the "ring light" to the diameter of the coin. If the diameter is too wide, not enough light is hitting the coin at a high angle of incidence. If it's too narrow, you will vignette your frame so much so that it might cut-off parts of the coin. This of course depends on the diameter of the coin and how close you're focussing. For my needs, I've found I only need two sizes of "ring light", one with an inner diameter of about 32mm and the other about 38mm.

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3 hours ago, Jay GT4 said:

You mentioned your aperture and shutter speed are always the same.  Would you mind sharing?  What size lens?

My aperture and shutter don't need to change because I use a studio strobe. I don't rely on continuous light and the flash fires at 1/10,000 of a second so the shutter speed is irrelevant. I set mine to the fasted sync speed for my Nikon, which is 1/200 sec.  My aperture is f/14 which gives me adequate depth of field for most coins. I might occasionally change if the situation requires it, but that is rare. The strobe gives me more than enough power for these settings.

I use a 105 macro, which had a focal plane distance of 12 1/4",  allowing lots of light between the lens and the coin. 

Happy Shooting!  

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On 12/24/2022 at 6:26 AM, Kaleun96 said:

the three examples you posted all seem replicable with such a setup.

I hope you have an opportunity to give that a try. I would like to compare images. 

 

On 12/24/2022 at 6:26 AM, Kaleun96 said:

The limitation of this setup is that it doesn't work equally well for all coins

I have found there is no setup that works for every coin. Although my dynamic axial lighting is my go-to, I use five different techniques depending on the coin itself, the effect I want to achieve, a hard or soft transition, or a coin's packaging, (if I can't remove them from it.) Dynamic Axial Lighting is not the best method for every coin, but in my opinion, it is for the majority of raw coins, and it will never produce a bad image, if not always the best.

 

On 12/24/2022 at 6:26 AM, Kaleun96 said:

the purpose of the diffuser, is to allow for some diffused light to reflect off the coin in addition some direct light (even if that direct light has gone through the Lee gel)?

  All of the light passes through the Lee diffuser. The level of diffusion is controlled by the position and angle of the diffuser. 

 

On 12/24/2022 at 6:26 AM, Kaleun96 said:

is it not also possible to modify the intensity with one's light source in a conventional setup?

The conventional axial lighting setup has a fixed-level power light source so no intensity modifications are possible with that one.  However, if you use variable power lights, then yes, but they only allow intensity adjustment at the light source. My dynamic axial lighting offers that control plus additional levels of control of diffusion, intensity, and light direction, all of which affect the quality of the light falling on the coin. The truth of photography is that pointing a light directly at something is rarely the best way to illuminate it. Coins are no exception.

 

On 12/24/2022 at 6:26 AM, Kaleun96 said:

For modern proof / mint state coins,

For proof/mint state coins, or any highly reflective item, the intention is twofold; illuminate the coin's non-mirrored surfaces and illuminate what the coin reflects in it's mirrored surfaces. For most commercial products this is done with independent lights.  With coins, this can be done with a two-light setup and a positioned reflector to apply a hard or soft transition. It can also be done with one light and dynamic axial lighting. The coin featured in the image attached is very busy and none of my normal techniques worked well, so I shot it with a combination of strobe light diffused through an angled sheet of 1/8" white plexiglass (colour correct for flash)  from the top and a strategically placed mirror on the bottom provides the black areas for contrast. 

ConMed-018-2.jpg

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FWIW, I've been wanting to respond to this discussion with an experiment of my own, but I seem to have misplaced one of my speedlights and can't find it for anything. 😞 

In terms of the OP's original question, I've long had difficulties getting decent shots of small bronzes. It's pretty easy to take something decent of a nice tet or even a drachm or larger late roman, but my shots of many of my Greek bronzes are abysmal.

Over the weekend, I experimented by using a flashlight to illuminate some coins in hand and just paid attention to how the details changed as the light moved. That gave me a few ideas, but my main one requires two lights. My MR-26EX has two lights, but I want to move them further from the subject. I own brackets capable of doing that, but one broke. I do own two studio strobes, though they seem overkill for the task and I would have to repurpose them from my high speed setup.

So, right now just a message of frustration since I have no idea where that speedlight went. 

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Thanks everyone for the pointers and stunning coins!

Here's another pure black beauty that I tried to get the lighting more sideways and diffused. I think it turned out well: I believe this to be a rare type and will do a write up... someday

Screenshot_20221226_195509-removebg-preview.png

Edited by Ryro
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A dark coin doesn't have to make a dark photograph. They can be exposed to bring out the details. The coins below are very dark in hand, you can hardly make out the details, but with proper lighting and appropriate exposure, they reveal the coin's details but retain the feeling of a dark coin.

One thing I can't stress enough is shooting the coin on a white background to wrap light around the edges. For presentation, a white background for a dark coin makes it pop, and every detail of the coin seems clearer.

14 minutes ago, Ryro said:

Here's another pure black beauty that I tried to get the lighting more sideways and diffused. I think it turned out well:

That's a nice shot, but I'd bet it would present better on a white background.

237_a-HR.jpg

237_b-HR.jpg

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