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Using Axial Lighting for Photographing Coins

Axial lighting is ideal for photographing coins; with it there are no actual shadows, only brighter and darker areas, depending on how much light is reflected back to the camera.

Here’s my setup for photographing coins using axial lighting.

Coin Photography Tutorial
Coin Photography Tutorial

The setup is very easy to make, make a foamcore box, keep one of the sides and top open,  line rest of the box with black velvet (it absorbs stray light preventing unwanted reflections and increasing contrast). Mount a thin piece of glass in it at a 45-degree angle and you are ready to roll.

The camera is mounted on a copy stand, aimed down into the open top of the box.

When light is shined from the open side of the box, it strikes the glass and is reflected down to to the coin which rests on the bottom. The effect is as if the light were coming directly from the axis of the camera lens.

The photo given below shows the results of this lighting...

How to photograph coins
How to photograph coins

With this lighting, any surface perpendicular to the lens reflects the light brightly. Any surface angled away from this axis shows up as increasingly darker.

The light in this case is a focused LED flashlight. The narrow beam also helps to avoid stray reflections. The important thing to remember is to place the light parallel to the sensor plane.

Coin Photography - Axial Lighting Setup
Coin Photography - Axial Lighting Setup

If you are using continuous light sources it is much easier as you can change the tilt angle of the glass and observe the lighting change and thus find the best lighting that suits your need.

To check the angle of the light, substitute a small, flat mirror for the coin. The light should be bright and clearly visible in the viewfinder of the camera.

Enjoy: Jim Salvas

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