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images: catalogs versus real life

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I was always wondering how professional photographers take pictures for catalogs or auctions. Obviously, there is no single approach. What we see on the Heritage web site is certainly not the same in terms of technique compared to how this is done by Stack's (although I must admit I can only suspect what they do). In any case, both of these approaches, in partucular the one used by Heritage, show very informative images. However, the approach that is most popular in Europe is different. If you look at their web sites or catalogs (e.g. Kuenker), you would see images apparently taken using diffused light with no sharp contrast; although most detals would be clear, the actual structure of the coin surface, for instance, would remain somewhat hidden. Please don't take me wrong: I am not talking about image resolution (bites or pixels) but different photography techniques that either reveal everything or not quite everything. Of course, Kuenker does excellent job in assigning a grade; if they say a coin is 'vorzuglich', you'd bet it would be graded as AU58 or AU55, so there is consistency here. Yet, their photos are somewhat 'cosmetic', while I'd prefer to see a coin exactly how it looks early in the morning. What do you think?

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I was always wondering how professional photographers take pictures for catalogs or auctions. Obviously, there is no single approach. What we see on the Heritage web site is certainly not the same in terms of technique compared to how this is done by Stack's (although I must admit I can only suspect what they do). In any case, both of these approaches, in partucular the one used by Heritage, show very informative images. However, the approach that is most popular in Europe is different. If you look at their web sites or catalogs (e.g. Kuenker), you would see images apparently taken using diffused light with no sharp contrast; although most detals would be clear, the actual structure of the coin surface, for instance, would remain somewhat hidden. Please don't take me wrong: I am not talking about image resolution (bites or pixels) but different photography techniques that either reveal everything or not quite everything. Of course, Kuenker does excellent job in assigning a grade; if they say a coin is 'vorzuglich', you'd bet it would be graded as AU58 or AU55, so there is consistency here. Yet, their photos are somewhat 'cosmetic', while I'd prefer to see a coin exactly how it looks early in the morning. What do you think?

 

I just love the images over at the Heritage site! :wub: Sometimes the colors seem a little off to me. But you can't beat them for detail!

 

In Europe, I think there is a company in Stuttgart or in that region which specializes in coin photography. Dmitry Markov used them for a long time; there was a reference to the company in one of his older auction catalogs, but I couldn't find it right away. I'm fairly sure that Künker and maybe Gorny & Mosch use them. They have to be equipped for mass production of photos, so they choose setups that work for all sorts of different coins without emphasizing any certain aspect of one particular coin type.

 

Yes, Künker does a good job at grading, and I've always been pleasantly surprised when a coin I win from them finally arrives. I'm not so sure about the grading standards with some of the other European auction houses, though. Many times it seems that they "forget" to mention scratches and rim nicks, although they are usually mentioned in the descriptions.

 

But although I try to get as nice a photo of my own coins as humanly possible (within the bounds of my limited budget, that is), it's OK for me if the catalog images are just "good enough" without being something to really drool over. :)

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Thank you, bobh, for sharing your thoughts. Yes, if this is the same company that serves most European auction houses, this would explain why their images look the same style. I can't say I dislike them but I think they often fall short of showing color and luster (if present, of course).

Just to illustrate my point I show two sets of images below: the upper was made by me and the lower was from Kuenker. I am not saying that my images are professional level (far from that) but because I can compare them with the actual coin, I can tell that they do a better job in representing the coin compared to the catalogue images. The drawback of the technique I used (two halogen lights high up at 11 and 1 o'clock, basically per the book of Mark Goodman) is that it is rather ruthless in showing the coin's imperfections, not just virtues. Thus, while a lustrous coin would be revealed in all its glory, a worn coin would actually look worse than in reality.

Rouble 1907 comparison.jpg

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Nice rouble! :bthumbsup:

 

I like your photos much better than Künkers. As you say, some things get emphasized that you'd rather not have (e.g., the rub on the hair). But the fields and the patina are gorgeous! With the bottom pictures, everything looks kind of so-so.

 

Just curious ... looks like you sent it in to NGC ... what grade did they give it?

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PS - I noticed from your list of interests under your avatar that you collect insects as well as coins. Presumably, you also do photography of the critters ... do you have a link to your insect pictures? I would love to see some of them!

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Just curious ... looks like you sent it in to NGC ... what grade did they give it?

 

They graded it as MS61, in line with the 'vorzuglich-stempelglanz' description by Kuenker, and I think this is accurate. Yet, it is very convenient for an auction house to use that particular technique which is not overly revealing, so to speak, as you have also noticed.

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PS - I noticed from your list of interests under your avatar that you collect insects as well as coins. Presumably, you also do photography of the critters ... do you have a link to your insect pictures? I would love to see some of them!

 

I am working on this. There will be, eventually, a web site with my entire bug collection :bwink: .

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Photographing any subject raises questions of what is real. A photograph is certainly not real as it is a reproduction of an object in a blend of light, color, and shadow. Do you choose an image that shows what the coin looks like in hand? Do you choose and image that reveals all the defects present on the coin's surface? Do you find a happy medium with the understanding that no two people share the same vision and will likely see the same object somewhat differently from one another? I like to see all the small imperfections when shooting for my collection catalog as they can be used almost like finger prints if I ever needed to prove a coin was my own. If I want to display the coin, I want a picture that shows the struck details, color, luster, and diminishes the imperfections. Both are accurate photographs, but they tell eary different stories.

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... Both are accurate photographs, but they tell eary different stories.

Thank you for the comments. I am sure many of us share this view on coin photography. We want to master different techniques in order to be able to emphasize various aspects of our coins: sometimes minute details and sometimes their general appeal. It is impossible to just apply a universal "best" technique: what is best and what is not depends on the purpose. This is actually what prompted me to start this topic initially, although I sort of deviated from my intention and did not ask my question straight. And that was about how those Kuenker catalogue images are made. I think that the method that I am currently using may represent a coin in a somewhat disadvantaged perspective: it shows all imperfections including those that are not seen by a naked eye. Therefore, the impression made by an image is different from that made by an actual coin. Although this is how I like it most of the time, still one can ask: can this (very detailed) image be viewed as 'real'? ("Photographing any subject raises questions of what is real" - a very good observation indeed).

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So, here is another example of a 'real life' (top, my image) vs. 'catalogue' case. Still, any suggestions on what to try to make a more 'cosmetic' picture (the catalogue style)? I am thinking about using a photographic tent or a lighting umbrella to produce a very diffuse light which is probably at the core of the issue. My images so far have been taken using a direct light coming from a halogen source.

Rouble 1914 comparison.jpg

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I would use axial lighting and vary the angle of the light to get the desired result. Then I would lighten the image as needed.

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