DIY Axial Lighting Setup for Coin Photography

Started Jun 6, 2014 | Discussions
Jim Salvas
Jim Salvas Veteran Member • Posts: 5,670
DIY Axial Lighting Setup for Coin Photography
3

Here is an oldie but goodie.

This is my setup for photographing coins using axial lighting. This technique allows the light to appear as if it is coming straight out of the camera lens.

I made a foamcore box, lined it with black velvet to block stray light, and mounted a thin piece of glass in it at a 45-degree angle. The camera is mounted on a copy stand, aimed down into the open top of the box.

The light from the snooted flash on the left strikes the glass, bouncing the light down 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. Note that the box side on the left extends almost up to the level of the flash, to cut down further on extraneous light.

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. There are no actual shadows, only brighter and darker areas, depending on how much light is reflected back to the camera.

This photo shows the high level of detail you can get with this setup...

If you make one of these, you can check the angle of the light by substituting a small, flat mirror for the coin. The light should then be bright and clearly visible in the viewfinder of the camera.

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Jim Salvas
"You miss 100% of the shots you never take." - Wayne Gretsky

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Nikolausz
Nikolausz Senior Member • Posts: 1,099
Re: DIY Axial Lighting Setup for Coin Photography

Do you have more photos of the setup from different angle?? I still don't get it.

thanks

Marcell

Jim Salvas
OP Jim Salvas Veteran Member • Posts: 5,670
Here's a schematic

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Jim Salvas
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Nikolausz
Nikolausz Senior Member • Posts: 1,099
Re: Here's a schematic

Actually I imagined that way but was not sure. Won't ruin the glass the photo quality??

According to your example, not really.

Thanks for the explanation.

Jim Salvas
OP Jim Salvas Veteran Member • Posts: 5,670
Re: Here's a schematic

Nikolausz wrote:

Actually I imagined that way but was not sure. Won't ruin the glass the photo quality??

According to your example, not really.

Thanks for the explanation.

The glass won't have much effect as long as it is clean, thin and flat. The glass used in picture frames works well. I actually bought splitter mirrors, as used with lasers, to increase reflectance, but it didn't affect general image quality.

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Jim Salvas
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olyflyer
olyflyer Forum Pro • Posts: 26,550
This is really a great idea,

Jim Salvas wrote:

Here is an oldie but goodie.

This is my setup for photographing coins using axial lighting. This technique allows the light to appear as if it is coming straight out of the camera lens.

I made a foamcore box, lined it with black velvet to block stray light, and mounted a thin piece of glass in it at a 45-degree angle. The camera is mounted on a copy stand, aimed down into the open top of the box.

The light from the snooted flash on the left strikes the glass, bouncing the light down 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. Note that the box side on the left extends almost up to the level of the flash, to cut down further on extraneous light.

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. There are no actual shadows, only brighter and darker areas, depending on how much light is reflected back to the camera.

This photo shows the high level of detail you can get with this setup...

If you make one of these, you can check the angle of the light by substituting a small, flat mirror for the coin. The light should then be bright and clearly visible in the viewfinder of the camera.

Thank you for sharing. It is easy to make and very useful for anyone who is photographing coins and jewellery.

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Nikon Z7
PixelMover Contributing Member • Posts: 750
Re: DIY Axial Lighting Setup for Coin Photography
1

That's a great setup! I have recently started shooting fashion to advertise jewelry, but the client keeps asking if I can make a 'reference' shot of each piece too. (as in for internel reference only, very clear but not necessarily pretty/flattering, not a high-end product shots.)

I still have a copy stand and loads of foamcore/picture frame glass, so it shouldn't be hard to duplicate. With this setup I can throw in the 'catalog' shots as a freebie and keep an already happy client even happier.

One thing I would change in your setup, though.

In your sample pic, reflection off the edge of the coin onto the black background gives it a sort of 'halo' effect.

I'd cut some different sized rings, about 2cm high out of plastic tubing, a bit smaller than the coin's diameter. Spray the outside matte black. Put the coins on these when shooting. By lifting the coin above the BG, the 'halo' should disappear, making the pic look even crisper. The slight increase in distance may also help keep the background more black, if needed.

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Jim Salvas
OP Jim Salvas Veteran Member • Posts: 5,670
Re: DIY Axial Lighting Setup for Coin Photography

PixelMover wrote:

That's a great setup! I have recently started shooting fashion to advertise jewelry, but the client keeps asking if I can make a 'reference' shot of each piece too. (as in for internel reference only, very clear but not necessarily pretty/flattering, not a high-end product shots.)

I still have a copy stand and loads of foamcore/picture frame glass, so it shouldn't be hard to duplicate. With this setup I can throw in the 'catalog' shots as a freebie and keep an already happy client even happier.

One thing I would change in your setup, though.

In your sample pic, reflection off the edge of the coin onto the black background gives it a sort of 'halo' effect.

I'd cut some different sized rings, about 2cm high out of plastic tubing, a bit smaller than the coin's diameter. Spray the outside matte black. Put the coins on these when shooting. By lifting the coin above the BG, the 'halo' should disappear, making the pic look even crisper. The slight increase in distance may also help keep the background more black, if needed.

That's an interesting modification. I'll try it out.

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Jim Salvas
"You miss 100% of the shots you never take." - Wayne Gretsky

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PalmettoFellow Senior Member • Posts: 1,171
Re: DIY Axial Lighting Setup for Coin Photography

What effect does this have on very shiny reflective items?  Do you see a rectangular light source?

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Jim Salvas
OP Jim Salvas Veteran Member • Posts: 5,670
Re: DIY Axial Lighting Setup for Coin Photography

PalmettoFellow wrote:

What effect does this have on very shiny reflective items? Do you see a rectangular light source?

The shape of the reflection will depend on the shape of your light source. An object with a flat mirror surface will show the actual light, but you can control the size of the reflection by diffusing your light.

Optimally, the light source should be just broad enough to cover the width of the subject, as seen from the camera position.

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Jim Salvas
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SD Julie New Member • Posts: 4
Re: DIY Axial Lighting Setup for Coin Photography

Hi
I wonder if you could show what is the effect if you remove the glass? I suspect you would have less specular highlights. Thank you. It is an interesting solution for photographing military medals. I used to do copy work in a photo lab.
Julie

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Jim Salvas
OP Jim Salvas Veteran Member • Posts: 5,670
Re: DIY Axial Lighting Setup for Coin Photography

SD Julie wrote:

Hi
I wonder if you could show what is the effect if you remove the glass? I suspect you would have less specular highlights. Thank you. It is an interesting solution for photographing military medals. I used to do copy work in a photo lab.
Julie

If you remove the glass you no longer have axial lighting. You would just then use normal lighting from off-axis.

I allowed the highlights to clip slightly on the shot I showed above, but here's another where I biased the exposure to emphasize the background toning on the coin.

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Jim Salvas
"You miss 100% of the shots you never take." - Wayne Gretsky

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