In my previous article on photographing the new Reverse Proof Buffalo coin, most of the readers of the PCGS eCollector overwhelmingly chose image 4. The main comments I gathered were that the contrast of image 4 better represented the nature of the Reverse Proof over image 3, while complementing the details of the design of the coin over image 1 and 2.
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The demand for instruction and information in coin photography sometimes overwhelms me. I've attended three of the PCGS Collectors Education Program Grading Classes, and in every session I'm asked when I'm going to put on a Coin Photography course. Many of the comments I received from the Gold Buffalo article asked that I be more instructive as well. While I have no plans to put on a course, and I am limited in what I can reveal in these articles, I thought I'd take this opportunity to give you a little insight into what it's like to be trained in coin photography by introducing you to our numismatic photographer, Chrissie Good.
PHIL: Welcome to PCGS, Chrissie. You've been with us for just over a week now, what are your feelings so far?
CHRISSIE: It's definitely a learning curve for me, but it gets exponentially easier every day and I'm excited about everything I'm learning about both photography and history! Everyone has been very welcoming and nobody has laughed too hard at me when I get lost downstairs.
PHIL: Can you tell us a little bit about your background in photography?
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CHRISSIE: I grew up loving photography, it was a passion I shared with my grandfather from a very young age. I had a fantastic photography teacher as a mentor in high school, and went on to get my BA from Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara. After graduating in 2005, I worked full-time as a portrait photographer for a small studio up until I was hired here! I loved working with children and the spontaneity of my work as a portrait photographer, but am already enjoying the more technical aspects of numismatic photography.
PHIL: What drew you to the Photographer position at PCGS?
CHRISSIE: Honestly, I'm a little more introverted by nature, so a little bit of a quieter position where I could really focus on my photography was very appealing. It's really exciting for me to be able to learn new skills and do something completely different.
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PHIL: How did people react when you announced you were leaving portrait photography for coin photography of all things?
CHRISSIE: I had one brilliant coworker who knew all about PCGS and was so excited and jealous. He couldn't wait to hear all about it, and to ask if I'd seen certain coins yet. However, I definitely got funny looks the first time I explained it to the rest of my friends and coworkers. A lot of people said "Just coins? All day?" But now that I'm learning more and can tell them more interesting things about what I'm doing, they're finding it interesting as well and asking more questions!
PHIL: Have you found any similarities between portrait and numismatic photography?
CHRISSIE: I didn't expect to, but I have actually found many! Most notably it's about lighting the subject in a way that's flattering and pleasing to the eye. Just a slight change in the lighting can give a completely different look and impression, and with a person or a coin, just a small adjustment can take something from looking very plain to looking extraordinary.
PHIL: What has been the biggest challenge for you thus far when it comes to photographing coins?
CHRISSIE: The biggest challenge for me has been training my eye to the PCGS standard and the standard of the coin industry. I'm still trying to fine-tune the precise lighting angles and contrast levels to properly showcase the features and flaws of each unique coin.
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PHIL: Have any particular coins caused you any grief? Have you seen any coins you've really liked?
CHRISSIE: The ones that fall to either extreme of the spectrum - either very dull and flat, or very reflective - have been the most challenging for me so far. It can be tricky for me to determine how to light very lustrous uncirculated coins - such as a Vancouver commemorative half dollar we worked on - or very dark, glossy coins such as old Lincoln cents to best represent them in an image. It's taken a lot of back and forth with a very patient Phil as we go over the small things that can be tweaked to make an image really stand out. As far as my favorites, from a photographic perspective I get most excited to photograph the really bright, colorful proof coins that come through, but am also finding the world coins from all different cultures just fascinating.
PHIL: Numismatic photography is very challenging. Our customers are very particular, and they demand the best. Not to put any pressure on you, but it needs to be asked: Are you up for the challenge?
CHRISSIE: Absolutely. I think there's something very rewarding about winning the approval of someone who knows exactly what they're looking for. It can be so frustrating as a photographer to show work that you're proud of to someone who doesn't know the difference between good and bad photography, so I'm looking forward to the critique and stepping up to the challenge!