Before and After

A good friend who is also a photographer asked me if I would take a shot for her because I have a little more experience with lighting.  At our work, we have items known as Challenge Coins which are small tokens of recognition for work accomplished.  Her plan was to shoot the coin and blow it up to a large size for a wall.

With that in mind, I asked her if she would pick up a piece of black felt for me and I'd be happy to do it.  I have a macro lens that would allow me to get very close to get all the detail and with the use of a couple of speedlights by remote, I would be able to light it with my camera so close.  

Setup was simple - on the floor went the felt, on it, the coin and I would set my tripod to it's lowest height with the lens facing down, a remote trigger set up and 2 speedlights (flashes) on either side pointing at the ceiling to bounce light back down.  Shooting was done in a matter of a half a dozen shots and then it was off to lightroom.

With the shots loaded into the catalog, I viewed the coin and was rather surprised at how it turned out.

Before - Click for larger size

In camera, the shot looked fine - a little light near the word Duty, but that would be easily fixable, however when I looked at the shot in Lightroom, I wasn't prepared for the imperfections.  If you click the shot above, you'll see it in all it's glory, complete with scratches, dings, dents and paint flaws from the manufacturing process.  This one was going to be a challenge.  A couple of tiny changes with the Lightroom sliders and it was time to move it over to Photoshop.

Now it wasn't overly long into the job when the question crossed my mind - just how flawless does it need to be? Should there still be a few scratches? What about the background? Does felt really look how it should? Should it look like a photo of a coin or should it look like a picture.  That last question was the one that drove me.  It had to look like a photograph, not an artists computer-generated image.  Once that was decided, that's how I would go forward.

But where to start? Thankfully, Photoshop has several tools in it's arsenal, and I bet there's probably a quicker way, but my best friend was the clone stamp tool.  Taking a piece of the image that I liked and duplicating it - sort of like Copy/Paste.  That would work for things like the scratches in the paint.  Other bits could be fixed with the Spot Healing brush.  This brush is a godsend - paint an area with a flaw, and Photoshop will change it into what it thinks you want.  This was perfect for small scratches in the metal.  

Eventually though, I found that I didn't like the reflections that were cast by the flash.  It really accented flaws.  I did my best with the clone tool to keep textures as much as possible but there were a great many times where the black just simply had to be black, so the paintbrush came out.

After - Click for larger size

All tolled, after several breaks I found it took about 8 hours to get the coin to where I liked it.  Paint flaws were fixed, dings were removed, scratches gone, blobs of paint were corrected and the felt background? It had to go.  In the end, I left much of the reflection from the flash and did my best to make sure it still looked like a photo by leaving a few imperfections.  At the end of the day, I'm very happy with how it turned out :)

In other news, thanks to three beautiful models helping me out, I have completed another photography assignment with my course at New York Institute of Photography and graduate to the 5th of 6 Units.  I'm very excited about this one.  It puts the basics behind you and puts you more into the real photographers shoes by requiring assignments for publications.  Wish me luck!