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Capnbidwell

Natural Light versus Artificial Lights

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I am stunned by the level of fantastic photography practiced on this forum. Both Bill and Russel raise coin photography to an art.

 

I noticed that people relying on sunlight to shoot coins. And I agree that often the sun is an excellent and easy way to get good lighting. Artificial lights offer flexibility to get different looks. The introduction of full spectrum fluorescent bulbs offer continuous lighting for only $7/bulb.

 

The advantages of artificial lights:

 

• Controlling color temperature. As the sun sets its color temperature lowers and the coin will look more orange.

• Ability to move the lights at different angles. Often a die crack or other anomaly on a coin can be emphasized by moving a light around.

• Ability to get the light between the coin and the lens when the camera is very close to the coin.

• Ability to control how harsh or soft the light is. A white foam core card or some nylon will allow you to soften the light to change the quality of the shadows on a coin.

 

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stufotos/5198874114/" title="photosetupcanon by stufoto, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4104/5198874114_e7fb403525.jpg" width="500" height="375"

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I am stunned by the level of fantastic photography practiced on this forum. Both Bill and Russel raise coin photography to an art.

I very much agree on that! :bthumbsup:

 

I noticed that people relying on sunlight to shoot coins. And I agree that often the sun is an excellent and easy way to get good lighting. Artificial lights offer flexibility to get different looks. The introduction of full spectrum fluorescent bulbs offer continuous lighting for only $7/bulb.

 

The advantages of artificial lights:

 

• Controlling color temperature. As the sun sets its color temperature lowers and the coin will look more orange.

• Ability to move the lights at different angles. Often a die crack or other anomaly on a coin can be emphasized by moving a light around.

• Ability to get the light between the coin and the lens when the camera is very close to the coin.

• Ability to control how harsh or soft the light is. A white foam core card or some nylon will allow you to soften the light to change the quality of the shadows on a coin.

I used to do almost everything in sunlight. However, not all coins can "take the heat", so to speak. But I found that especially for older copper coins with heavy patina, you can't really get any better pictures than with sunlight. It brings certain challenges, but there is no more natural lighting than the sun.

 

Believe it or not, the coin in my avatar (a silver 50 kopeck Russian coin of 1914) was taken in diffuse evening sunlight coming in through our kitchen window (obviously no bug screen here in Zurich!) But it is a very special coin; most very nice coins will do well in almost any kind of lighting, IMHO.

 

Here is a shot of the same coin taken with axial lighting using artificial light (daylight bulbs):

 

RUSSIA_50_Kopecks_1914_BC_Type_2_obv.thumb.jpgRUSSIA_50_Kopecks_1914_BC_Type_2_rev.thumb.jpg

 

And here are larger images of the avatar (the avatar was merely a reduced version of the obverse image) made in sunlight, as described above:

50_Kopeek_1914_BC_obv.thumb.jpg50_Kopeek_1914_BC_rev.thumb.jpg

 

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stufotos/5198874114/" title="photosetupcanon by stufoto, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4104/5198874114_e7fb403525.jpg" width="500" height="375"

 

You should use BBCode provided by the forum message editor for this (unfortunately, I don't believe that you can use the photo itself as a link):

photosetupcanon by stufoto, on Flickr

5198874114_e7fb403525.jpg

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Those are indeed very nice photos, and you have a terrific analytic method. I believe if you used photo rated light bulbs you could match the qualities of the sun and create pictures that would be difficult to distinguish whether the light is artificial or natural.

 

To me the differences in your sunlight and daylight bulb photos are differences in exposure and contrast. I am guessing you are using two matching bulbs shining from opposite sides of the coin. In photography The two lights are referred to as Key and Fill. With sunlight you effectively have a strong key light with whatever bounce light creating the fill. This high key to fill ratio (say 4:1) causes nice deep shadows and detail. Your artificial lights has a low key to fill ratio (say 1:1). If you put diffusion on one of the lights and back it up a bit, I think you will find the lighting quite similar to the sunlight version.

 

This low key ratio is the problem with scans of coins. The scanner effectively lights from all directions.

 

I attached a photo of a high contrast detail using artificial light.

 

 

For whatever reason the picture insert icon will not allow me to post my photo. I think the admin is fooling with me.

 

http://www.flickr.co...tos/5199283480/

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With daylight, the whole sky provides lighting. With an artificial light, its pretty much a point source. How do you combat problems associated with both of those?

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Those are indeed very nice photos, and you have a terrific analytic method. I believe if you used photo rated light bulbs you could match the qualities of the sun and create pictures that would be difficult to distinguish whether the light is artificial or natural.

 

To me the differences in your sunlight and daylight bulb photos are differences in exposure and contrast. I am guessing you are using two matching bulbs shining from opposite sides of the coin. In photography The two lights are referred to as Key and Fill. With sunlight you effectively have a strong key light with whatever bounce light creating the fill. This high key to fill ratio (say 4:1) causes nice deep shadows and detail. Your artificial lights has a low key to fill ratio (say 1:1). If you put diffusion on one of the lights and back it up a bit, I think you will find the lighting quite similar to the sunlight version.

 

This low key ratio is the problem with scans of coins. The scanner effectively lights from all directions.

 

I attached a photo of a high contrast detail using artificial light.

 

 

For whatever reason the picture insert icon will not allow me to post my photo. I think the admin is fooling with me.

 

http://www.flickr.co...tos/5199283480/

 

 

I don't think anyone is messing with you. Check my explanation in your other post.

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Those are indeed very nice photos, and you have a terrific analytic method.

Thanks!

 

I believe if you used photo rated light bulbs you could match the qualities of the sun and create pictures that would be difficult to distinguish whether the light is artificial or natural.

 

To me the differences in your sunlight and daylight bulb photos are differences in exposure and contrast. I am guessing you are using two matching bulbs shining from opposite sides of the coin. In photography The two lights are referred to as Key and Fill. With sunlight you effectively have a strong key light with whatever bounce light creating the fill. This high key to fill ratio (say 4:1) causes nice deep shadows and detail. Your artificial lights has a low key to fill ratio (say 1:1). If you put diffusion on one of the lights and back it up a bit, I think you will find the lighting quite similar to the sunlight version.

Actually, with the axial lighting technique, I only used one source which is reflected from a glass plate set at 45 deg. over the coin. The camera picks up the light reflected first by the glass, then by the coin ... there is a nice explanation of axial lighting HERE for anyone not familiar with the technique. Thanks to forum member altyn, I have started using this technique quite a lot now.

 

This low key ratio is the problem with scans of coins. The scanner effectively lights from all directions.

I attached a photo of a high contrast detail using artificial light.

For whatever reason the picture insert icon will not allow me to post my photo. I think the admin is fooling with me.

http://www.flickr.co...tos/5199283480/

This site wants me to log in with a Yahoo user... :confus: But if you copy the URL of the image (it should have ".jpg" at the very end of it), you can just paste it into your message between the tags "img" and "/img" -- each enclosed in square brackets, i.e. "[" and "]" and the picture should show up OK (can't enter these literally, unfortunately, because the server will try to interpret what is in between them). The above link is not a picture file, which is why the forum software doesn't allow it. The .jpg ending tells the software that you are going to show a picture at that address.

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My setup:

 

5199844620_e934f27e75_z.jpg

 

Artificial light with a rube goldberg axial lighting setup. When I'm actually shooting, I hold the large photo flood and move it around to find the actual lighting effect that I find pleasing. I use a fill light from below the glass on the opposite side that I can turn on or off depending on the effect. The glass can be removed and and I can turn on the actual copy lights, or can place the photo flood over head and shoot through the glass. The line coming out of the camera goes to the computer where I can examine the image after each shot and re-shoot with changed lighting, etc. Depending on my purposes, it can go quickly (record for my inventory) or take sometime (shooting for publication or artistic effect).

 

Varying sizes of white board can be added to further control the light as needed. The key for me is in varying the light distance, location, and angle to create the light and shadow to achieve a good effect. While natural light is nice, you don't have much control.

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I usually prefer natural sunlight for photography mostly because of the high light level. I usually use artificial light for small subjects when I don't have much choice, or I want to control the direction that the light is coming from. That goes to show artificial light does have it's advantages, you can use it any time of the day and you also have more control over it.

 

Both natural and artificial light usually work better if the light is soft. That is one of the reasons that many photographers like to shoot outdoors at sunrise and sun set, when the sunlight is soft. Cloudy days also work, but requesting cloudy days from the weatherman isn't very effective.

 

This is where there is an advantage to photographing small subjects like watches, jewelry, and coins. The subject is small enough that you can easily soften the light. The most common method that I use for small subjects like coins is a light box. There are two basic types of light boxes. Boxes that are somewhat transparent (like a milk jug) that allows light to pass through it being defused by the material, the other being a box with reflective surfaces on the inside that reflect light around inside the box defusing it.

 

Here is an example of a transparent type light box that you can make: How to create an inexpensive photography light box. Keep in mind that this type of light box can be used on a window sill with sunlight shining on it or with artificial lights. A very inexpensive way to make this kind of light box is to cut out the side of a plastic gallon milk jug and use sunlight or artificial light to light up the plastic.

 

Here is an example of a reflective type light box: Homemake light box for product photography

 

I haven't yet tried reflecting light on glass like Bill illustrates in the privious post. It look like a good method. When it comes to photographing coins, I find that the same method doesn't alway work with every coin. So, it helps to have as many techniques as possible in your photographic arsenal.

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When it comes to photographing coins, I find that the same method doesn't alway work with every coin. So, it helps to have as many techniques as possible in your photographic arsenal.

 

Your last statement is the real key to good coin photography. If you use one method for every coin, you will be happy every time it works and unhappy every time it doesn't. Once you begin to understand why light works the way it does, you can begin to master the light to achieve the results you want.

 

Some times, you need to go to extraordinary means as in the following example. The gilt token has most of the gilt worn off and then the brass token was highly polished (deliberately or through wear, I don't know). I photographed it with axial light, overhead light, and then combined the two. Axial light captures the bright polished surface. Overhead light captures the tone and surface detail. Blending the two is my attempt to represent what it looks like in hand where the eye makes the multiple distinctions and visual blending that the camera cannot do by itself.

 

5199425295_7a10e783a5_b.jpg

 

It is still not the perfect image, but it is a challenging piece to image and that makes it a good example.

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So do you have each shot as a layer, say in Photoshop, and then adjust the relative opacity of the upper layer?

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So do you have each shot as a layer, say in Photoshop, and then adjust the relative opacity of the upper layer?

 

Yes, in this case the first image is the base, the second is the top layer and I adjust it. You have to experiment to see which works best. In this case, I wanted to add detail to the brilliant surface. By reducing the opacity of the top layer, you allow the shiny surface to emerge, but find a balance that keeps the detail of the overhead light. Both shots are made without moving anything, so they line up without having to tweak the layers. Once everything is adjusted, I collapse the layers and then make any cropping, resizing, etc. I actually shoot with a ruler in the image and then resize it to actual size before I'm done. That is irrelevant when pasting into Omnicoin or flickr, etc, but my 300 dpi images that I use for publication are one-to-one actual size. I can print them to actual size or enlarge them as I wish from the stored images.

 

Mostly it is developing a work flow to create a raw digital image, a resized digital image in Photoshop format keeping the original file size intact (dpi might increase to 700 to 1000 dpi), and a final jpg or pict file at 300 dpi without altering the size of the image (total file size decreases with the loss of digital information). That allows me to go back and start over, create new images at different enlargements, and leaves a handy one-to-one image whenever I need to grab one.

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