Thursday, December 4, 2008

Good Coin Photos: Diffusion Is The Key!

I have been working with my coin photo lighting today and after a couple of years, I realized that until one masters lighting then one is lost. As I was lying in bed last night, I noticed how well diffused the light was that came from the white shade of my bedside lamp. I was thinking of how I could get the same effect. My shade is too large or I would have used it.

This morning I went about the house looking for something that would give me the same results as my lampshade. I found where V had stuck a one-quart milk container in the back of one of the cabinets. I cut the top half off the container, leaving me with the bottom half. I now had the bottom half of the empty milk container. I cut a large opening in the bottom, placed the container over my coin, illuminated each side with two of my shop lights and I now had a “light tent”.

I proceeded to photograph a bright penny and the results were good but I needed more diffusion. I am an artist/pack rat so I was able to locate a nice piece of fabric within my inside studio. I cut the cotton fabric to size and wrapped the container with two layers of the fabric. I then placed the coin on a one-inch length of dowel to achieve some elevation so as to avoid coin shadows.

I placed the open end of the container over the coin, turned on my lights and I knew at once I had the proper diffusion! I shot the coin with my Canon XTI and Sigma 105mm Macro lens and as I shot the coin I ran the EV up and down the scale to make certain I had a good shot. I looked at the results and I am terribly excited. Not a shadow or a reflection! Take a look at the Aretas IV you see above and let me know what you think.

I mentioned the Canon I have. I truly believe one can get great results with a point and shoot camera. I think one needs a macro setting, ISO changer (ideally) at and at least an aperture priority mode. I would look for a camera with a manual setting mode. Remember, one does not need 7 mega pixels! One mega pixel is enough. I have looked on Ebay many times and there are all kinds of bargains to be had with gently used or seldom used cameras. There are many used 3 and 4 mega pixel cameras with the settings you need. Take a look.

I would like to mention that I know I am not the first coin enthusiast to use a milk carton. However, I had tried a larger one-gallon container in the past with poor results. I think moving to the smaller one quart container and wrapping the unit with the fabric is what made things fall into place for me. I am going to try to locate a piece of frosted Plexiglas and create a tent using the Plexiglas material. I can’t get past the aesthetics! Thank you for reading and I hope this article generates enough interest to get you started. Please bookmark my site and return on occasion to see what we are up to. God Bless.. Jerry..


Anonymous said...

Hi Jerry,
I just wanted to compliment you on your ingenuity with the milk carton. You got some great photos in my opinion! I am still looking for the camera to buy for my coin needs (PLUS some general use). When I get it I will certainly try your diffusion technique.
I'd like to say here that I read all of your submissions to the Coin Photography site and enjoy them all.
Please keep it up.
God Bless,
Chuck (

Chuck said...

Hi Jerry,
Killer Nabatean coin you have there and Killer photo of the coin.
Will have to try your new technique.
Chuck (

Anonymous said...

Hi Jerry

You're right, lighting is everything! I'm very interested in your results and plan to have a look at something similar.