Axial Photography – The Finishing Touches to a Simple Studio


The axial setup below got me started on my own studio setup. Judging by the blog date stamp seen in the http address above the image, it’s been just over two years since I started out on this process. I subsequently got distracted by practicing junior management for the past two years – enough! Having put such ridiculous notions of herding cats out of my mind (until the next interesting challenge arrives), we’re back to what matters – numismatics!

Image 1 – courtesy of

The Prototype Axial Photography Setup

As a semi-professional photographer, much of the equipment needed to replicate the studio in image 1 was on hand in the house. The pricey addition was the $1500 copy stand seen in the image below. A bit of overkill – I belatedly realised that it is an ultra-strong model made for large format cameras. Nonetheless, it serves as a rock solid studio – no image shakes at slow speed with this behemoth!

Image 2 – the prototype axial image studio constructed 2021

I’ve tried to get my hands on old slide projectors, so as to have a steady stream of light pointing at the coin. However, I’ve subsequently learned to live without. A simple AC studio light like the Godox 400 in the image has a modeling light that lights up the object or model. This is to assist the photographer with autofocus capture by providing a minimum of lighting on the subject, irrespective of ambient light. Note that Godox makes horseshoe flash controllers for all makes and models – an Olympus controller sits on this machine. A simple round diffuser – easily acquired from Ebay – is jammed into the shelving to keep it stable. I’m not particularly concerned by the folds in the diffuser – the lighting difference is minimal. At worst, it’ll reduce contrast a little.

The World’s Worst Handyman

This morning’s quick modification arose from lazy work done when I started. If you look at the image below, you’ll note the two additional holes in the perspex. That hinge is used to create the 45 degree angle, that bounces light from a source that is horizontal and points it vertically. I’d been fiddling with that perspex for the past 2 years while shooting images. I only realised this morning my problem. The perspex edge wasn’t horizontal to the platform it sits on and was subsequently tilting slightly at an odd angle – DOH!!

Happily perspex is easy to drill with a battery operated system and following a bit more attention this morning, the perspex was returned to the studio at a steady 45 degrees with no movement noted. The mobile vice is simply to weigh down the bottom of the perspex, otherwise it is top heavy.

Fiddling with Distances in Axial Photography

Keep in mind that artificial light decreases in luminosity as it is moved further away from the subject. You then need to increase the output of the flash bulb to compensate, which decreases the bulb life – it’s all about cost. So looking at image 2, you can see the flash is jammed right up against the bench being used and output is 1/8th of full intensity. Note in image 3 that the modelling light is on and illuminating the coin in the box below. Olympus comes with a live view mode, which is very useful for checking lighting prior to shooting. The important factor in this particular studio setup is focal length – 60mm, which with a micro 4/3 sensor is 120mm equivalent in the old 35mm.

Image 4 – the horizontal and vertical planes that move

The limitation to the present system is the 60mm macro lens from Olympus. The perspex is shifted as FAR LEFT as is possible to provide space for the camera system to drop. As the coin gets smaller, the lens drops lower and lower. I have the camera set to 1:1 for it’s JPEG crop (a perfect square) and I fill the coin to the edge of the screen. Logically, this means dropping the camera closer to the coin as the coin gets smaller. This must be done WITHOUT touching the perspex. With that perspex pushed as far left as possible, subtle changes to the lighting angle produce different outcomes, as seen below.

Image 5 – subtly shifting the lighting angle changes the image lighting

Changing Camera Settings for Axial Photography

I’ve got two camera systems and two studios. Switching cameras back and forth between a normal LED and axial studio is a recipe for confusion, because the camera settings are very different. I’ll be completing the LED light setup ASAP with fixed settings on both studios. One example is seen below. For normal LED lighting, I used a black felt camera box that creates negative fill (see image 4). Anyone who has ever attempted LED photography must know how bright and over-exposed a silver coin can become. Photographers use black to absorb that light and create contrast. The front page website image of this young lady was taken by yours truly – an excellent example of negative fill.

Image 6 – adjusting contrast levels for axial lighting

However, looking at image 6 above, the changeover to axial photography has led to the opposite arising – too much negative fill! The legend looks dynamically contrasted on the left, but the facial details are bathed in shadow. The image on the right was reducing high contrast levels in the cameras menu back to zero (i.e., no artificially created contrast by the camera’s computer). Looking back at image 1 and noting the lack of black negative fill in that studio, I will conduct some tests by removing the black box and see how this affects the imagery.

A Quick Settings Rundown for Axial Photography

Finally, a quick overview of camera settings. 1/200  speed is fast enough that the camera will not record ambient light, only the flash being used. Committing to that speed is much easier than running around turning the lights off every time a photo is being taken! Every lens has a sweet spot – it’s easy enough to read up on the lens you are using. For the Olympus 60mm macro, I work with f/9.0. In the link just provided, you can see examples of images highly cropped at f/11.0. That’s how sharp this lens is.

Image 7 – setup up permanent settings for each metal type

While writing this article I’ve noted that the camera’s internal stabilization system was still on – turn it off when using a tripod or copy stand. Shooting in RAW then permits work to be done in Lightroom for touch ups – that’s for big dollar coins only. For 99% of imagery, the JPG is taken straight from the box and converted into product in It’s for this reason that it is important to get the photo right INSIDE the camera.  Amber and Green colours are still in LED lighting mode. I’ve not noticed any significant changes in colour in axial, so those settings will be set back to zero shortly. Sharpness +1, saturation +2 (jpeg compression tends to flatten colour), contrast negative 1 as I explore the fill in issues created by the black backdrop.

Any Questions?

This was a very brief update to a process that has been years in the making. If you’ve any questions, please shoot in the comments below. Cheers, Les.