U.S. & World Coin News and Articles

Photographing the New Reverse Proof Buffalo

In my last article I discussed the new Enhanced Uncirculated Silver Eagle. I was surprised at the response generated, and I received a lot of feedback from readers of the PCGS eCollector. Most of you agreed with me in my selection of what should represent the coin best. However, what really surprised me was that the second most popular choice was my first image; the photo I spent absolutely no effort on, and the coin I didn't correct for color. I didn't even use my photo lights, just ambient office light. It just goes to show that it's possible to overthink things in coin photography, and there's such a thing as happy accidents.

PCGS had an incredibly busy ANA show. So busy in fact that I only managed to scrape together a few minutes during my lunch breaks to visit the bourse floor. One thing that caught my attention was the buzz for the new Reverse Proof 1oz Buffalo from the US Mint commemorating the centennial of James Earle Fraser's iconic design. The incredible line-up to purchase the coin at the show says a lot about the enduring appeal of the coin.

Buffalo nickels themselves present some photographic challenges; they can be lustrous, or dull, or brilliant (particularly brilliant proofs from the 30s), and the concave nature of the obverse around the word Liberty can be tough to wrangle with. But I was caught off guard by how challenging the new 2013 coin is to photograph. It's much more difficult photographing this coin compared to the Reverse Proof Silver Eagle. The fields of the coin are surprisingly flat compared to previous bullion buffalo issues, but it still has subtle details.


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The fields also have a muted, pebbly luster to them. The devices on the other hand are undulating and highly reflective, and the relief is much, much higher than say your typical Gold Eagle bullion coin.

In image 1 we have our baseline photo. I attempted to make this a true reverse proof, having illuminated fields and black devices. Of course when you do this a lot of detail in the devices becomes completely imperceptible, and it looks pretty ugly. Plus the highlights in the obverse really reflect glare from the light source, as well as potential reflections of the photographer.


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In our second image I adjusted lighting and camera settings, diffusing the light sources as much as I could. Controlling these highlights remain an issue, and underexposing more would make some of the gold color look increasingly greenish. But, it does retain a lot of that contrast and glossiness that one might desire in a photo of the reverse proof Buffalo.


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In picture 3 I really cranked down the contrast, eliminated a light source, and made existing light sources as indirect as possible. I kind of like the results. The gold color is fairly rich, there's still a lot of glossiness to the devices. However, the luster in the fields is more muted. Also, is it contrasted enough? Does it truly look like a reverse proof? Initially my gut reaction was to go with 3, but perhaps 2 is more representative. Maybe a happy medium between the two would be best.


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Using a completely different technique used for traditional proofs, image 4 is another possible candidate for the TrueView standard. The image lacks a lot of the glossiness from previous versions, and a lot of the luster as well. However it may be the best representative of the definition and details of the design. Highlights remain an issue but are easier to deal with using this technique (sorry, can't go into too much detail, top secret), and it is much easier to photograph the coin this way for me. But is it the right way? I'll leave that for my readers to decide. Email me at [email protected] with your thoughts.

Personally I prefer the mint state version of the coin; mainly because the luster on those particular coins seem so pleasant and velvety, and aspects of details don't get lost in the glossiness of proof fields or devices... and yes the mint state coins are easier to photograph.

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