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Coin Photography

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Although I am strictly an amateur, I am always interested in improving my coin photography skills. One of the problems I have seen in my own photographs as well as those of others is strong color cast that distorts the color of the coin. I have learned that this is often the case when the white balance setting is incorrect.


This is a brief report on white balance that is strictly for the point-and-shoot crowd. Experienced photographers are welcome to chime in and add to, or correct, this post’s content.


Different lighting has different colors or temperatures (measured in Kelvins). Checking a reference gives these values for some common lighting situations.


3000-3700 Tungsten

4000-4500 Fluorescent

5500 Sunlight

6500 Cloudy

7500 Shade


Eyes adjust to a wide variety of lighting, but your digital camera uses a white balance setting to represent white and, therefore, any other color. Accurate color representation is going to be affected by the white balance setting of the camera and the kind of lighting you are using. Most digital camera include preset (i.e., selectable) white balance levels for different lighting situations. Additionally, your camera probably has an automatic white balance and maybe a custom white balance setting.


When your camera’s white balance setting matches your lighting, you are apt to get the truest color representation. When the two do not match, you are likely to get a color cast.


Using a set up I have described previously (see this LINK), I shot the following pics using a variety of white balance presets included in with my Canon PowerShot A640.


The lighting was from two lamps using 5000k bulbs and a light board, also with a 5000k bulb. Positioning was exactly the same for all the pics. So too, were all the other camera settings. In this way, you can see how white balance setting affects the quality of the picture.











Cloudy Day
















Fluorescent High
















This last one is using a custom white balance setting, which is recommended in my camera manual for taking macro shots. In this case, I have the camera take a pic of the illuminated lightboard only, and use that as the white balance setting. You can use a white piece of paper, or a gray scale photography paper (which I don't have). Of course, you may not have that feature on your camera.







As a coin collector, I want to share my photos showing the coin in the most attractive manner. With respect to photography, however, I want the photo to be truly representatitve of the coin-in-hand. The custom setting in these examples gave the best result - in my opinion.


You can see that changing the white balance produces a range of results. Some of the different setting produce very small (almost unnoticeable) changes, but in some cases, it means the difference between a bad picture and a good one. You may be fine in most situations using just the Auto White Balance feature of your camera and you can spend some time correcting them afterwards as well. But if you are getting a heavy color cast, you may want to check into your white balance and try to match it to your lighting. It is a very easy way to improve your coin photographs.

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