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Coin Photography


A little over fourteen years ago (2005) I wrote a short article entitled Photography Tips to accompany the launch of the United Kingdom Detector Finds Database (UKDFD). In the article I declared, "In general, mobile ‘phone cameras are not suitable for this purpose" (i.e. photographing detecting finds). In defence of this statement, it was made two years before Steve Jobs revealed the first iPhone, but the situation is now very different; today's smartphones are very capable of producing high quality images of coins and other finds made by metal detectorists. High quality, however, is not guaranteed; it requires that certain measures be taken to ensure a satisfactory outcome. The purpose of the present article is to identify these measures such that results like those illustrated below can readily be achieved using either a smartphone or a digital camera. A few pieces of ancillary equipment are also essential, principally a tripod and a lamp, but their cost is minimal.

Hadrian Dupondius VF (white).jpg
Edward I Penny VF (white).jpg
Anne Shilling NVF (white).jpg
George III Halfpenny NEF (white).jpg

My use of the words 'camera' and 'smartphone' can be regarded as interchangeable for most purposes as far as this article is concerned, but for information I now find it more convenient in several respects to use the latter rather than the former. All the images used to illustrate this article have been produced with a Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphone. They can be viewed at their full original size by clicking the applicable image. Notwithstanding the title, the guidance given is generally applicable to many small objects other than coins, including badges, buttons, clothing accessories, discoidal weights, etc.

Several of the factors that historically influenced the quality of a photograph, most notably control of exposure and focus, are now mostly handled automatically by today's technology. Despite these advances, however, it is apparent that many of the images uploaded to forums, databases, auction sites, etc., leave much to be desired. If exposure and focus are assumed to be automatic, therefore, and the camera has a satisfactory optical system, which of the remaining factors mostly affect image quality? The answer, I believe, is the 'set-up' and the lighting, and it is these that are considered in detail in separate sections of this article.

The advice offered is based not only on my personal experience and experimentation with coin photography, but also on the insight gained as a result of having processed tens of thousands of images uploaded to the UKDFD. I should stress that my aim is to provide guidance to achieve technically sound images; advice relating to achieving artistic/creative results may differ. I should also declare that I have not always taken my own advice in respect of images published elsewhere on this website, but in many cases my influence over them has been limited, as they originate from third-party sources.


Article Status

This issue dated:

1 October 2021

(Revision History)

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