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Help Me Optimize My Axial Coin Photography Setup

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Pillar of the Community
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 Posted 11/27/2021  4:47 pm Show Profile   Bookmark this topic Add numismatic student to your friends list Get a Link to this Message
Would like to request assistance from the experts on suggestions to improve my home made lightbox to photograph coins. This is my new setup inspired by youtube videos on axial lighting coin photography.

The lightbox was constructed from a leftover 7-Eleven stryrofoam cooler which was about 12"x12"x10". I took off the lid, handles and lid fasteners and cut off the upper part above 7" from the bottom.



For a light source I cut out a hole and embedded an LED flashlight that I got at home depot for $5.



I lined the inside of the box with black construction paper. You can see styrofoam bits that keep falling inside my lightbox. I also took a coffee filter and taped it around the front of my flashlight to diffuse the light.



I took a 5"x7" rectangular piece of glass from a picture frame I had at home to use as the axial refractor. I taped the edges with tape in order to not cut myself as I am handling the glass. I also took a piece of styrofoam and wrapped it in black construction paper in order to support the front of the flashlight and to raise the flashlight above the coin so that the flashlight is not sending light directly onto the coin. I only want light refracted from the glass acting as mirror to illuminate the coin.



For the photos, I am using my Samsung Galaxy S20 to snap the pictures from directly above the lightbox.
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Help me optimize my photo setup: http://goccf.com/t/411871
Edited by numismatic student
11/28/2021 2:54 pm
Pillar of the Community
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 Posted 11/27/2021  4:50 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add numismatic student to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
These are the results of photographing an uncirculated Morgan dollar using my lightbox. Let me know if you have any suggestions for improvements. Thanks!




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Pillar of the Community
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 Posted 11/27/2021  5:00 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add numismatic student to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
And this is an example of a circulated coin that I photographed today using this new setup.


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 Posted 11/27/2021  5:33 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Zurie to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Very nice lighting, brings out the luster nicely. The only concern is the focus isn't tack sharp on any of the images. Not sure how to fix that with the autofocus on a smartphone. Maybe it's camera shake when you hit the shutter button?
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 Posted 11/27/2021  5:38 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add numismatic student to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
I have a tripod and a remote bluetooth shutter, but I can see the the phone moving on the tripod so I don't use the tripod. I have been using a small hardcover book to rest the phone on, on top of the cooler. I am surprised that you are seeing the pics out of focus. You must have a much keener eye than I do.
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 Posted 11/28/2021  07:05 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add SilverCents to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Fasinating. Very interesting DYI setup. The photos are quite spectacular, but I agree with Zurie that they seem to be a tad bit out of focus, but it's so minimal. Getting a phone to take such clear photos is impressive (then again I'm not too familar with the standards of phone photography).

Either way, great setup and great coins, I might want to build myself something similar one day, as I can't ever get clear full body shots of the coins I have.
"Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get." - Forrest Gump
Progress can only be achieved through trial and error. Failure is the greatest teacher.
Valued Member
United States
164 Posts
 Posted 11/28/2021  09:18 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add jafo50 to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Pretty nice results considering the light source (flashlight). All of the elements required for this type of setup are there so nice job and kudos for getting very creative.
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 Posted 11/28/2021  10:22 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add numismatic student to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Thank you for your comments. One of the issues I have is illustrated in the Morgan dollar photos. In the first set of photos, the bottom half of the coin is uniformly brightly lit and the bottom half isn't. The opposite is true in the second set because I turned the coin 180 degrees. I would like the coin to be uniformly lit throughout and wonder how I might achieve that.
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Help me optimize my photo setup: http://goccf.com/t/411871
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 Posted 11/28/2021  10:51 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add SilverCents to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Well, don't take my advice too seriously as I'm not experienced with lighting in photography, but perhaps angling the LED light so that the entire coin is getting the same amount of light, as (I'm guessing), when the bottom side gets lit, it's not leaving enough for the LED to hit the top part at the same angle. So maybe angle it from the top (though this would be more difficult and annoying I'm sure), or position the LED light lower than the level it's currently at.

Again, this is pretty much me guessing from what I know about photography (which isn't very much), and I'm not accustomed to the refraction of light in physics. But all in all, I'm assuming it has to do with the position of the LED light.
"Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get." - Forrest Gump
Progress can only be achieved through trial and error. Failure is the greatest teacher.
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 Posted 11/28/2021  11:05 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add numismatic student to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Thank SilverCents. In this setup, changing the angle of the refractor (glass) would redirect the light onto the coin without moving the light source.

Because I will be photographing coins of different sizes, I opted to not fix the glass in the lightbox as others have done using rails. It was important to me to be able to slide the glass across the bottom, enabling me to change the distance from the coin to the glass while keeping the approximate 45 degree angle. I think that for a larger coin, I may need to move the glass further away from the coin by placing a riser for it, thereby increasing the refracted illuminated field. I'll give that a shot and report back.
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 Posted 11/28/2021  11:47 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add SilverCents to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Oh I see, thank you for informing me, that would be very useful indeed.

Gotcha, I can see why that would be a key thing to consider. That's a very smart idea! Makes sense, you certainly know what to do next! I'll certainly make sure to remember how you can use glass to refract the light in such a way. Certainly, I'm very curious to see the results

"Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get." - Forrest Gump
Progress can only be achieved through trial and error. Failure is the greatest teacher.
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8528 Posts
 Posted 11/28/2021  11:56 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add numismatic student to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
The focal distance or distance from smartphone lens to the coin is about 6" with the glass/mirror about halfway between the two in the original pictures.

In my adjusted setup, the focal length is about 10" and I placed the bottom end on top of a tuna can that is about 2" high. That allowed me to still place the glass about halfway between the lens and the coin and was able to adjust the angle of the glass to get the best picture possible. I used the tripod and the bluetooth trigger this time to get the camera fixed higher.

I think that there is a tradeoff here. Although my lighting appears better, seeing the stronger cartwheel, I think that the longer focal length costs in terms of detail as I can't manually focus the subject.

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 Posted 11/28/2021  12:52 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add SilverCents to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Well that was certainly effective. The lighting seems to be just about perfectly balanced based on the photo, well done!

But as you mentioned, it did cost the resolution. I'm curious if your phone has this ability, but some phones, especially newer ones, can have the choice to decrease the shutter speed, that way it'll have more time to capture the photo and it might produce a clearer image? Not sure to be honest.

EDIT: Grammar
"Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get." - Forrest Gump
Progress can only be achieved through trial and error. Failure is the greatest teacher.
Edited by SilverCents
11/28/2021 12:52 pm
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 Posted 11/28/2021  2:51 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Zurie to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
The Galaxy S20 has a digital zoom, not an optical zoom, which means as you get farther away from the coin you will lose resolution because you're basically cropping. I would try to get as close as possible to the coin that still allows you to focus adequately. You shouldn't have to change your light box setup.

Weren't you using a Canon SLR before? I would think you could get better photos with that camera and lens, using the same axial lighting setup.
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 Posted 11/28/2021  4:58 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add numismatic student to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Fiddling with my canon dslr but having issues with the image capture software. Will update when I get it working.
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Valued Member
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 Posted 12/01/2021  02:02 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add coinphotofan to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
If there is luster/cartwheel, it is a sign that the axial lighting is not as even as it should be. Axial lighting is extremely even, with light hitting every spot on the coin in a uniform way. Below is a coin picture taken with axial lighting:



It shows no luster whatsoever. Luster/cartwheel only shows up when there is contrast in lighting, i.e. the light is not even. The following picture shows the same coin, with axial lighting AND a low angle narrow light source (Ikea goose neck LED light ). The luster is brought out by the additional light, not axial lighting.



Typically the light source of axial lighting is a broad one, such as an LED panel, or a fluorescent tube. I guess the flashlight is just not wide enough to provide even axial lighting.

What is the purpose of using axial lighting on a white business strike coin anyway?
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