coinsbygary's Blog

19 Sep 2020

The Agony and Delight of Axial Photography

Coins | coinsbygary

Over the last few weeks, I haven't had much time to write blogs. This is because I've been working on my photography skills and, in particular, axial photography. I have learned a lot, and now I have several excellent examples of coins photographed using axial photography.

The first thing I did was to craft a holder for my glass reflector. Then I reinforced the edges of the glass with electrical tape to prevent the glass from accidentally shattering. For the holder, I used a cardboard box top sliced at 45 degrees towards the light source to hold the glass pane. The holder cost me nothing to make. However, it did cost my wife a glass pane from one of her pictures.

Next, I made a diffuser for my light source cut from the side of a plastic milk jug. To prevent side light from illuminating the coin, I used a single-use pair of sunglasses from my eye doctor when she opened my iris. Conveniently, the sunglasses roll up like a tube. Finally, I used a lens hood I already owned to prevent side lighting from interfering with the camera lens. Folks, this is an excellent example of professional photography on the cheap!

My set-up picture shows a portion of the light shine through the glass onto the back of the holder. The images of the camera's viewfinder show the reflected light from the glass illuminating the surface of the coins. Since there is less light to work with, the film speed is ISO 400. The aperture is f4, and the shutter speed is 1/125. If this is done correctly, the area of the picture around the coin will be mostly dark. All you want to see in the viewfinder is the coin!

Since plastic holders have reflective properties of their own, they can be challenging to work with. Therefore, axial photography works best on raw coins. Notice the haze and a hot spot in the viewfinder picture showing a 2011 French proof coin mounted in an NGC holder. This is light reflected from the surface of the holder interfering with light reflected from the coin. The 2004 and 2017 raw quarters only show light reflected from the quarters. Incidentally, the quarters are from my change dish.

I have spent a lot of time learning to edit the photographs of certified coins to remove the interference from unwanted light. To reduce the effect of unwanted light, I have found the milk jug diffuser to be helpful. However, the quarters needed very few edits because of limited or no interference from unwanted light. I am also posting a raw 1856 Belgian 5 centime coin commemorating the 25th-anniversary reign of Leopold I, King of the Belgians. The coin is struck in bronze to illustrate the use of axial photography on heavily toned bronze coins.

I hope this blog sheds a little light on axial photography. I always say that the proof is in the pudding. For your viewing pleasure, I am posting several pictures using axial photography.

The 2011 French 10 euro proof coin commemorates the author of Les Miserables, Victor Hugo. The reverse inscription is roughly translated, "Cossette looked up, she saw the man coming to her with this doll as she saw the sun coming."

The reverse of this coin was incredibly hard to photograph because of its surface characteristics. The obverse, however, makes for a pleasing picture. Notice the mirror fields on axial photographs resemble the in-the-hand look of proof coins. Photos of proof mirrors typically show black when taken by direct light. The reverse of this coin has a frosty flat field showing black contrasted by the mirror of Victor Hugo's image etched into the design.

Other pieces for your viewing pleasure are a 1937 Spanish peseta and a 2019 Great Britain five-pound coin featuring Una and the Lion. Enjoy, Gary.



Level 4

Wow amazing pictures. What type of camera do you use. Thanks for the great blog.

Doug S.

Level 4

Wow...amazing photographs!! Well done! From this and your previous blogs you appear to be the person to ask for advice!!!! I am curious how you get such amazing images uploaded to this site. My images are much much better than the images after I upload to this site. I have a Nikon D750 , 60 MM f.2.8 Micro Nikkor lens with a copy stand and Nikon Close up flash set . File size for the site?? Do they compress the images? I must be doing something wrong but cant figure out what it is. Maybe the method I use to get them on my computer? I use wi fi on the camera to send to my phone which then loads automatically via the Cloud on the iMac. At any rate these are incredibly sharp. Regards Doug


Level 5

Thanks for sharing your expertise Gary. I hope to achieve your skill level some day.


Level 6

You do amazing work Gary! Photos are top notch! Love Una and the Lion ; )


Level 6

I love your setup. Are those quarters under your frame? Brilliant. Makes me feel better about my microscope setup. There is no argument with your results. Reminds me of a Navy, I think, saying, "Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do or do without". Thanks.


Level 5

Amazing to have the talent like you do to photograph coins. Way out of my league, but I do enjoy reading about your skills. I do learn a lot, although I probably won't be doing anything close to photograph coins like you do.


Level 6

t would be nice to take good photos of coins. I usually copies photos to post.


Level 5

Dude, I love your knowledge and ability with cameras. I am like a STD to cameras, if I can keep it from working and presenting a good photo, I will. I try, and try and still most of the time I am better off getting stock photo's off the internet. Oh well, it is nice to see and read about your work. Later.

It's Mokie

Level 6

Beautiful photos Gary, you truly are a master with the camera. You should at least print directions for your setup, I am sure many of us with give it a shot (no pun intended)


Level 7

Gary you have great equipment. And your pictures are no question the best on the sight. You helped me on a lens. But you're look like they were taken at the mint. Your system should have a patent for taking pictures of coins.. Thanks for the updates.

The coin only looks as good as its picture online. You are a great photographer, and I love reading about your process on ow to get such clear photos. I agree, a book is something you definitely need to look into.

I. R. Bama

Level 5

You really should publish a book on this. You have so much to share of great value to the community about photographing coins

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