Digital Photography for Numismatics

If you’re new or just getting started selling your coins online, here are a few tips to help you capture quality images to accurately depict each coin!

Let’s start by discussing basic setup.

It might surprise you, but a big, expensive photo studio isn’t necessary. Of course there are some high-end cameras and lenses that can be used to sharpen or magnify your coin, but there is no need to go overboard. All that is needed are four basic tools – proper lighting, a copy stand or tripod, a digital camera or smart phone, and some basic photo editing software.

To begin, let’s discuss types of digital cameras. By far, the most common cameras are smart phones. In fact, the cameras on smart phones are improving so quickly that it’s almost as easy as snapping a quick photo with your phone and uploading it to your selling platform. Although it is not recommended when listing your coins on eBay or a website, it certainly can get the job done. The downsides to the smart phone camera are the lighting (they tend to have glare) and pixilation. When using the digital zoom on a smart phone, the images start to become pixelated or blurry and the individual pixels appear when zooming. While it is okay to get a quick snapshot of a coin for reference, this can seem subpar when it comes to accuracy and could be disappointing to a potential buyer.

A standard point and shoot digital camera can take a semi-professional photo. They are affordable, all-in-one, great cameras that are versatile and easy to use! No detachable lenses are necessary and plenty of settings are available to help you get the image you desire. You can get a simple point and shoot for around $100.00 and will be pleased with the results (provided you use it correctly and properly set it up).

For a more professional setup, consider a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera. These cameras will run you a few hundred dollars just for the camera body, and you’ll need to purchase a macro lens for a few hundred dollars as well. Most DSLR cameras will come standard with a regular zooming lens, but to get those high-quality close-up photos, the macro lens is exponentially better. You won’t be disappointed with this upgrade!

Settings are similar on both point-and-shoot cameras and a DSLR cameras. Both have a macro setting which is best for taking close-up photos of a coin. With a macro lens on a DSLR, it’s not necessary to use the macro setting, but experiment with it to see which photo quality is better. Do not to use a flash with the macro setting as it can overexpose the photo and create a glare. Most cameras will give you the option to turn flash off.

Another point to mention is the importance of keeping the camera still to prevent blurry images. A copy stand or tripod will help prevent this. Your local camera store or online retailer will carry a variety to choose from, but this is an absolute necessity when capturing high quality close up photos. Simply attach the camera to the stand directly above the coin and avoid angles. The camera can shake when you snap the shutter button on the camera despite it being attached to a firm stand that is flat on a table. This can be avoided one of two ways. Use the built-in timer on your camera to have a slight delay which will give your camera a few seconds to stop moving once you press the shutter button, or use a remote plugged into a DSLR camera. A remote drastically improves the amount of time to take photos using the built in timer. Wireless remotes are also available.

Lighting is probably the key component to getting quality photos.

Basic setup only requires two lamps. Fluorescent bulbs tend to produce the most life-like lighting for coins. The position of the lights is also important. This takes a bit of trial and error as it can vary with the different types of coins you will have. Copper, silver, gold, etc., they all have their ideal positions. Flank the lights on either side of the copy stand to reduce shadows. One big plus to digital photography is that you can take more photos than you can count and choose the best ones later!

A few more tips on lighting. Be sure to setup in a dark area using only the two fluorescent lamps as your lighting. Lighting tents and cubes are not necessary for smaller items such as coins. The purpose of lighting tents and cubes is to diffuse lighting which can enhance a photo of larger products.

Next, upload the photos. To achieve the most professional look, some very basic photo editing is necessary, but it is extremely important not to overdo it! In other words, DO NOT ALTER the photo in any way to misrepresent the item you are selling! So if there is a scratch on the face of the coin in person, leave that scratch in the photo. However, if a piece of lint shows up in the photo that really isn’t on the coin, then skillfully removing it in the editing software is a good idea provided you do not alter the appearance in any way that can deceive buyers. If you are unsure how to do this, don’t modify the photo, simply make a note in the description stating the lint is on the outside of the holder or retake the photo. Lint can be prevented with an air dusting spray.

Other things to consider. Be sure to rotate the photo if needed and crop the photo to trim the background so that it looks professional. Depending on how meticulous you are with your camera settings and lighting, you might need to lighten or darken parts the photo a bit before uploading it to your site. Be careful not to over expose or darken too much.

At the end of the day, your goal is to just try and match your digital photo as closely as you can to the actual coin. Experiment with camera settings, distance from the coin, lighting, and different sizes of coins. Have fun and good luck!

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