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Photographing Proofs

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Photographing Proofs


Part 2. Techniques that work for me.



You can hold the camera in your hands and shoot. If you have steady hands, the shot may look fine, but there is a better way. You can use a tripod, and eliminate the shaking, but there is still a better way. I use the copy stand you see here. If there is only one point that I can emphasize, it is to use a copy stand. This one is pretty rinky-dink, but it works well for me. I have seen some homebrew copy stands and I have seen some professional quality copy stands. Whatever you do, get one. They are fully adjustable and will give you a stable surface and a standard distance for obverse and reverse – as well as from coin-to-coin, if desired. Adjusting the distance from lens to coin is important. I used to think that the closer the camera to the coin, the better. Not always so. The further away the camera is, the more variation you can use with the lighting. Regardless of the power of your macro setting, when the lens is right on top of the coin, the angle of illumination is going to be very narrow and you will not be able to adjust the lighting as much as you will want to, particularly for proofs. Of course, the further away the lens is, the less of your camera’s total resolution will be available for the coin. That’s where a large mega pixel camera can give superior results.




Resting on the platform of the copy stand is a light table. That little flat base has a light inside and produces illumination all around the coin. I am quite fond of using this one. It reduces the cold spots and produces an image without shadows. I can’t control the intensity of the light board directly, however, and that can be a problem, but I have learned a few tricks. Using a sheet of paper on top of the light board or a black mat with a cutout circle (pictured) are two techniques that have worked for me to limit the intensity of the light board. You can also use the cutout near the lens to cut down on reflections.




Lighting is everything. These are the bulbs that I have found to give good results. They are low-wattage, daylight (5000K) bulbs. I don’t mix light temperatures. I use the light board and two lamps – all have 5000K temperature ratings.




You can see the lamp positions in this photograph. I am constantly moving them to get the best shot – to try and catch the mirrors just right so all that reflecting off of the mirror surfaces yields a nice liquid image but with as much detail and depth as I can manage. I don’t have any specific direction to pass along on this point except that I usually use one lamp as a primary (close) and the other as a secondary (further away and at a different angle).




This is a close up of the LCD on my Canon. You can see that the macro is on, and those numbers from -2 to +2 represent the exposure compensation. I find this to be a critical adjustment, especially when photographing proofs. Most often, I find the best results at high exposure compensation.


I can not emphasize enough the importance of practicing. One huge advantage of the digital darkroom is that you can generate 30-40 pictures in an evening. Typically, I will shoot 3 or 4 shots, moving the exposure compensation one notch for each shot – but leaving everything else the same. But I do this after I have adjusted the lighting. Then I might do it again with some different lighting. But it is not a hit-or-miss process, I try to be systematic. I find that the more practice I get, the quicker I end up with a satisfying shot.


Finally, I ask that you share your techniques. What works for you? Show us the pictures and tell us how you did it. I know I have plenty of room to get better.

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