Using LEDs and halogen lights to photograph a 1927 Canberra florin

I’ve got an Australian 1927 Canberra florin, a special issue which celebrates the building of Australia’s first Parliament House. These days mints seem to produce a commemorative coin at the drop of a hat – on the other hand the 1927 Canberra is one of only four special issue florins distributed over the period 1910 – 1963.

Anyway, it’s a beaut little coin which is in pretty good but not fantastic condition and I wanted to get a “true to life” photo of it. After a couple of hours’ effort I still only managed to do one side – as you can see

1927 Canberra Florin reverse in EF+
1927 Canberra Florin reverse in EF+

In coinspeak, it’s a good EF (Extremely Fine) which can be written as EF+ or gEF. The obverse (heads’ side) has the following key features:

  • a full crown and diamond with 8 clearly separated pearls
  • some reasonable cartwheel lustre in the field and design but mainly in the legend around the rim
  • hairline scratches and a few contact marks in the fields
  • no significant toning

That translates into “an attractive and clean looking, shiny coin – especially near the edges. One with all the design details of the king’s head clearly visible and no dark brown bits”.

I reckon that photo is a pretty fair representation of the real coin, but I can tell you it took some getting!

All of the following images are of the exact same coin, using the same camera settings – what a difference the lighting makes!

Those photos were the result of experimenting with a light box using two types of LED from the local hardware place – one lot labelled “white” (photos came out looking bluish) and one labelled “warm” (photos came out looking yellowish). Also on hand was my trusty halogen desktop spotlight.

In the end, after trying various combinations of LED ( including 3 grouped sources at 120 degrees and complete rings ), I finished up going back to the halogen spot – positioned so that the light entered the box and then bounced around all over the coin.

So much for the LEDs which didn’t give me what I wanted – that might only be because they’re not the right wavelength, although by mixing them I thought I could overcome that problem…but no…oh well!

Interestingly, some of the LED only shots really bring out the level of detail on the coin, however the browny yellow colours suggest toning that isn’t actually there. So no good for showing the lustre or toning but great for the level of detail…hmmm, sounds all right but no-one will believe that’s a photo of the coin in your hand (unless we’re at a blue light disco!)

The halogen spot – directed at an angle onto the coin – was just too harsh. The very high contrast showed off the lustre really well but it overemphasised the hairline scratches, making the coin look a lot worse than it is in reality. That’s one of the problems photographing shiny silver – the most reflective of the metals (guess that’s why it’s used in solar panels)…

They say that “the camera never lies” – well, judging by tonight’s results it could take a bit of persuading for it to tell the whole truth, too!



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s