When I am about to take macro photos, I will always start by checking the camera to make sure it is operating properly. The next natural step is to load the film and check the ASA setting on the camera with the film I am about to use.
At this time the lens will be mounted on the camera. I am now using a 90mm macro lens. This lens allows focus of objects close to the lens, and I can easily take photos of a coin two times its actual size.
A standard lens normally will focus only as close as about three feet without attachments. However, by adding either extension tubes or close-up lenses, you can focus much closer -- even as close as three inches. This is a good alternative to a more expensive macro lens; however, you will sacrifice some quality.
Extension tubes mount between the camera body and the lens. These offer better quality than do close-up lenses but are more expensive. A set of extension tubes usually runs about $125 to $150, whereas a set of close-up lenses might cost only $60.
For macro shots, I will mount the camera on my copy stand. A copy stand is simply a vertical bar mounted to a base. The vertical bar has a mounting attachment for the camera. When the camera is attached, the camera will be facing the base. In this way, the plane of the film is parallel with the
base. Many copy stands will have a mount that is adjustable with a arm, which allows easy adjustment of the height of the camera.
I have several jewelry pads onto which I will place the coins while I'm photographing them. These offer a safe surface for the coin, minimizing or eliminating possible damage. Additionally, they are available in different colors, which will offer a variety of backgrounds. I generally use black and will discuss the reason shortly.
The cable release is vital for macro shots. If you try to cut a few dollars off your cost, you will spend it in added film expense. I don't know of any one who can use the camera's shutter button and not cause some vibration of the camera.
Lighting is very important, but often over complicated. Some people will tell you that it is necessary to have two lamps coming from various angles to light the coin properly. However, I have found that a single, standard 60-watt bulb is best.
I will slightly tilt the base upon which the coin is placed and have the light angled so that the reflection is directed into the lens. Or it may be easier to angle the camera slightly and then have the light reflect from the coin's surface into the lens. The lamp will usually be the typical bourse lamp, which is easy to maneuver into the appropriate position. When using the tilt method, be sure to focus on the center of the coin. This will help to ensure that the entire coin will be in focus.
If color film is being used, simply screw an 80A filter (about $25) onto the end of the lens. This will correct the hue of the light for the color film. However, a filter is not necessary for black & white film. A blue photo flood can be used instead of the normal bulb and the filter.
This is an appropriate time for a tip. I have found that, generally speaking, if you will try to get the fields of the coin's surface light and the shadows by the coins devices dark, the results will be best. Depending on the results you need, there are times when you might need to do the opposite.
To get the proper exposure setting, the use of a "gray card" is critical. A gray card is simply a card which is a precise degree of gray, or neutral, shading. (Cost is about $15 for a set.) With the light and camera in place, place the gray card in the position of the coin. Look through the lens to see what exposure the camera's light meter reads as optimum. This will give you the proper setting for the shutter speed. Set the exposure manually.
If you do not use a gray card, the camera's light meter may be fooled by the vast amount of light reflecting off the coin's surface. It is always best to use a gray card. They are cheap!
I often find it necessary to move the light around from time to time to get the best possible photograph. Different coins reflect light differently, and obtaining the correct amount of reflection is important. It is generally much easier to move the light slightly than to adjust the coin. Also, I prefer to handle the coin as little as possible. Generally speaking, best results are obtained when the fields of the coin in the photograph are light, and the shadows appear on either side of the devices or raised areas of the coin. This gives the coin a true, three-dimensional effect.
There are two primary reasons that I prefer to use a black background. First, black is an absolutely neutral color. It will not alter the hues of any photograph. Even white will alter the hues. Second, black is the best background if a photo is to be converted to a slide. Using a black background during a slide presentation will permit the viewers to concentrate on the subject, and not any surrounding fibers or other matter.
However, there are times when I will use a blue or red background. As a rule, red will sometimes enhance copper or gold, and blue will sometimes enhance gold and silver.
Another tip: I will often use a small wood block to raise the coin off the surface of the pad. Doing so will cause the background to be out of focus. If the background is in focus, some fibers or the grain of the background may show in the photo. The fewer detracting marks and threads the better. You want the coin to be the focus of the photograph.
If you are photographing a coin that must be returned right away, try "bracketing." This is a method of shooting several shots of the same subject but with a few different exposures. In this way you will be better assured of getting a properly exposed photograph.