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Coin Photography

Originally published during 2017 and 2018

Over the years, many individuals have asked about the GFRC photography equipment and setup. The responses are always the same. I'm using equipment and a photography technique that dates back to 2002. Yes, fifteen years with the same exact equipment...a Nikon CoolPix 995, a photodome and the sun! However, the intellectual property aspect continues to be optimized with the Watch Hill Collection images adding yet another set of image processing learnings.

Please note the lack of expensive cameras, lens, light stands etc. Below is a quick snapshot of the GFRC photography table and equipment.

The motto to this story is that time, patience and the desire for continuous learning are necessary to extract the maximum capabilities from basic equipment. Case in point is Microsoft Excel. This software package offers capabilities to operate and manage a business enterprise if one takes the time to assimilate capabilities and apply towards application development. Matt's development of the COIN system is a clear example. Coin photography is no different. Don't expect to take a new high resolution camera out of the box and start creating high quality web ready coin images.

GFRC Photography Shop

GFRC Image Processing Flow Chart

Step 1 - Photography of the coins in the best possible lighting conditions. You've seen the simple table and camera equipment. The rest is know-how.

Step 2 - Convert all images from JPEG to TIF format before beginning processing. TIF image format is best option for maintaining accurate details during processing.

Step 3 - Aligning the images. For Liberty Seated coinage, the obverse is aligned so that the bottom of the base is parallel to the x-axis of a graph. If a coin is in TPG edge view holder, the position of the prones is noted and employed for aligning the reverse die position to that of the obverse. If the coin is raw or in old standard ring holder, then I align major features to the x-axis of a graph.

Step 4 - Images are cropped to the size of the coin.

Step 5 - Images are color balanced based on the lighting condition and color biases inherent to the camera being used. The goal is to completely match the natural toning colors as seen in sunlight.

Step 6 - Apply contrast and brightness adjustments towards matching the in hand coin appearance under a halogen light at my office desk. This is a visual skill that takes years to perfect. Darkly toned coins have a completely different adjustment profile than lightly toned frosty coins.

Are we tired yet? While Steps 2 through 6 are taking place, images are being uploaded automatically to Microsoft's OneDrive. Step 7 takes place on a second laptop with same images downloaded from OneDrive.

Step 7 - Images are circle cropped so that only a white background surrounds each coin. Images are converted from TIF to JPEG format and saved as 600x600 file. Images are auto uploaded via OneDrive.

Step 8 - Back to the first computer. Obverse and reverse images are merged into final 1200 x 600 high resolution image. Minor color balancing may take place if I don't like the obverse to reverse color matching versus the coin in hand.

Step 9 - The final clean up of images! TPG holder lines and spots are editted out. The editting process is another skill that has taken years to optimize. Then images are sharpened...maybe. It all depends on the specific images. Finally, if the coin is CAC approved, then I add the CAC label as another paste operation.

Step 10 - Image file for a specific coin is done. The file name is editted to the TPG serial number and saved at two sizes; 1200x600 and 300x150. The smaller images are necessary for fast price list downloading. High resolution images are accessed on demand as take longer to download. All images are uploaded to the Hostway file server.

For those who employ GFRC's Photography service, I charge $10 per coin. The Mt. View Liberty Seated Quarter Collection client gallery is already a $1200 time investment on my part before a single coin has been sold. Coins housed in old holders with haze, lines and spots take a disproportional amount of time to process and clean-up.

Photography Comparison: GFRC vs. PCGS TruView

Have you ever purchased a coin based on a PCGS TruView image and then surprised when the coin arrived? Indeed, photography lighting and image processing can have a substantial impact on the end product. Below is a comparison of the new 1848 dime as photographed by regular GFRC method and with PCGS Truview process.

GFRC utilizes natural sunlight and is passionate about perfect color matching the in hand appearance of a coin. My 1848 images are 100% accurate and I'm most proud of these. The PCGS TruView employ angled indoor lighting and is able to capture the lustrous appearance of a coin. Their images sometimes appear to be "juiced up" with high contrast settings.

Photography Comparison

GFRC Sunlight
PCGS TruView


GFRC Photography: Question and Responses?

In Monday's Blog, I posed the question concerning perceived improvements with GFRC photography since returning from Florida. The Tenafly Collection consignor responded with the following:

Last month I showed a friend of mine who is a professional photographer some coins I received from you vs. the photos. He said that your photos match the actual coins very closely and are very well done and detailed. Also he said it's probably very difficult to photo coins in the "plastic holders" based on reflection, haze, poor lighting, etc. I then showed him some coins I purchased from some of your "competitors"; he said some may have been "shopped" (his words) to some extent and those coins were "close" to those photos, but altered and "different" to varying degrees.  I agreed - I for one am more apt to purchase online when the actual coin is well represented by photos. I showed him some photos from other "competitors" who I haven't purchased coins from and he said that they were fair to poor representations with very little detail, even when enlarged. Also, coin photos online are "backlit". He's going to photo all my coins after my return from Colorado Springs. BTW I can easily tell the difference between raw coin photos (Gansu, etc.) vs. holdered photos even with my poor eyesight.

A GFRC customer, who is building an advanced set of Liberty Seated halves, replied with his efforts towards quality numismatic photography. This individual purchased the 1867 PCGS AU55 half from the Pleez B. Seated collection and made attempts at photographing the new purchase. He sent along this well prepared "super combo" illustration comparing the GFRC image (top), the owner's image (middle) and the PCGS TruView (bottom). He writes:

Hello Gerry,

Your blog comments about your photography encouraged me to do some experimentation.  I am working on a low cost setup and have been working on some techniques.  So I used your benchmark 1867 photo along with the PCGS TruView.  Thought that would give some nice comparisons.  

As a result of referencing your photo, I am now using a difuser with my cheap 5000k LED lamps.  

Some basic conclusions from my eye.  I think your photography is fantastic at depicting the coin accurately in color and features.  The PCGS Truview only does one thing really well...and that is capture the toning fairly accurately.  But it does so at the expense of the rest of the tonality, color, and contrast. 

I am still working on nailing that "gun metal" gray and still bringing out the toning.  That may require more masks in Photoshop than what I am willing to dedicate time toward.

I just do some simple color stuff in Lightroom and make the white edge mask.  Then bring into PS for compositing.  I placed a small curve layer for more attempts at mid-tone color balancing in PS.  

Simple answer...I think your photography is very representative of the coin and I am 100% confident that buying decisions can be based on your photography.