Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fast Track To Ancient Coin Photography

This article is devoted to those who are new to coin photography and who are looking for a "Fast Track" method to photographing and posting coins. I will keep things as simple and as inexpensive as possible. Please read the material carefully and see if you understand. If not, I will be happy to answer any and all questions. I should mention that I get good results using my Fast Track method. The coin photograph you see above was created using the same method I am teaching you.

First of all, I assume you have some kind of digital camera. Your camera will most likely have a macro (close-up) setting and almost all digicams will have a variety of White Balance settings. You will also use the shutter delay. If you are not familiar with your camera or the terms I am using, please familiarize yourself with each term. You will find the terms in your camera's manual.

Although your camera is profoundly important, I believe proper lighting is 98% responsible for the good coin photographs you and I create. Lighting is the bane of most coin photographers and causes the greatest anguish when learning to photograph coins. I am offering you what I consider to be a shortcut around some of the problems you will encounter.

You will need some way to "tie" your camera down or better stated; you will need some way to shoot your camera from a fixed position. I use a couple of copy stands I made. The one I like best is one I made from an old enlarger. It had been in my studio attic for 25 years before I remembered it was there. It does make an awesome copy stand. The copy stand serves the same function as a tripod. It keeps the camera in a fixed position. In fact, you will be able to use a tripod until you either build or buy a copy stand. It is really easy to build a simple copy stand.

We now address the lighting. The following items are needed. You will need a plastic two-quart tea or beverage container, The container MUST have a frosted surface. This frosted surface is what softens and disperses the light. The frosted surface is also translucent as opposed to transparent. I have had an easy time locating the the plastic containers at Wal-Mart, Dollar Tree or Dollar Store. I have found the the pitcher manufactured by "Sterilite" readily available and I also think it has qualities in and apart from the other brands. The pitcher you want has a two-quart capacity and is tall and round. The pitcher is less than $3.

Next, you will need two inexpensive goose neck lamps or two inexpensive aluminum shop lights with a clamp on device attached. I prefer the goose necks because I think they are much more flexible. The goose necks cost about $6 bucks each. You will also need to purchase two 10 or 15 watt fluorescent spiral bulbs as are commonly found in the home. Check Wal-Mart or elsewhere and see if you can locate bulbs with a "K" or Kelvin of about 5000 to 5500. Kelvin is a thermodynamic term we only need know is used in reference to our bulbs.

If you have a choice of 2500 K of 6500 K, choose the 6500. It leans towards the cool. If you are fortunate to have a True Value hardware nearby, you will find their 5000 K bulbs on sale once every month or so. If you are unable to find the bulbs I have mentioned then buy the "daylight" balanced at Wal-Mart or wherever you can find them. Don't blow $15 bucks each on photo bulbs you have to order. I have used plain tungsten and adjusted my camera to a very nice balance.

I am always reluctant to ask anyone to to cut anything because most people do not know how to handle sharp instruments! I do need for you to cut the entire inside bottom from the pitcher. We want a round "tube" Please cut the bottom "out" as opposed to around. If you do not feel comfortable cutting of if you are a bit clumsy then PLEASE ask the best craftsman in your family to help with cutting the pitcher's bottom.

An X-Acto knife is great for such a job as is a box cutter. Cut very slowly and cut away from your body. Never pull the cutter towards you. The cutter could slip and the consequences would be bad. Once you have cut the pitcher, we now have a light tent. Not only that but you have a wonderful light tent! Time to add one more item to our repertoire of items. Please cut a 1/2" diameter dowel to a length of 2". Make sure the dowel is at right angles. In other words we want the dowel erect and level. A 2" bolt with a nut screwed on flush will work as well. A small 2" rod will serve the same purpose.

The purpose of the dowel is to elevate the coin off the surface of your copy stand. The 2" elevation will allow the background (negative space as we artists say) to be slightly out of focus. Trust me at this point to understand this is desirable. Remember, the coin photo you see above was created using precisely the method I am teaching you.

I have suggested the goose necks. I will show a photo of my setup and you will not see goose necks but I did not have the benefit of anyone teaching me. Mine has been all trial and error. Let's run through the setup. The camera will be located directly above the upside down light tent. You will have a goose neck lamp on each side of the tent and the goose necks will have fluorescent bulbs installed. In the center of the light tent you will have a coin on your dowel.

One more thing. Please locate a small thin piece of wood. Perhaps 6"x 12". A thin piece of Masonite would be great as would a 1/4" thick piece of plywood. Pick up a spray can of Wal-Mart brand of "primer gray".. look at the lid and the lid provides a sample color. The gray will be very flat and about a middle value. The color is actually pretty close to photo gray. This piece of wood, well sprayed with your primer gray will serve as your copy stand format. The paint is .99 cents per can.

We do not want strange colors bouncing around and the gray will absorb many stray colors. This does not mean you can't use other colors. I keep a stack of 4" x 5" colored mat board to use as needed. I simply place the color on top of my gray as needed.

Remember to play with the lights when you have all in place. Move the lights up and down.. pull them back and push them forward. You need to become familiar with the parameters of your tent and lights. What do I say? Paint an acre of canvas and you will be a painter. Shoot 1000 coins and you will be better than you were when you shot the first coin.

I am sure I have left some things out I would like to have included. Remember, I am working with a 70 year old brain unlike most of you youngsters. Please tell me what you need to know. What have I overlooked? I will quote myself again. I would tell my art students to not let me move to another subject with the assumption they knew what I was talking about. I say the same to you. Please feel free to ask all the questions you like and I will take as long as needed to share what I know.

I love you all. Look at my photo and I hope to include a photo of my setup at the end of this article. I am having some trouble with my blog so I hope my photographs show up.. God Bless.. Jerry.. PS" Please click on the URL below to view my setup