Andy    July 20, 2016

How about this for an idea… Simply place a “large” handful of pencils in a pot on a brightly coloured background and shoot from above using a wide angle lens.IMG_0791

This is a quick and easy shoot that’s ideal for a rainy afternoon using things you’ve probably got lying around.

What you need

  • IMG_0770A camera with a wide angle lens, or a zoom lens zoomed out.
    I used a fish-eye lens but that’s just because I’ve got one.
  • About 25 pencils.
  • A cup of some sort
    You’ll need to allow space for the pencils to splay out, but very little of the cup will appear in the final shot so it doesn’t need to be special.
  • A coloured background
    I used several different sheets of art paper, but fabric, wrapping paper, even sheets or towels would work too, but avoid patterns which would distract the viewer from the pencils.
  • A “soft” light
    You can do this in several different ways depending on what you have available, but the aim is to avoid harsh shadows. However your options include;

    • Getting close to a large window – you want to avoid windows where the sun is shining in so either north facing window, a cloudy day, or window with a net to diffuse the light. you might also want to have a reflector opposite incase the shadows are too strong.
    • Bouncing a flash off the ceiling – by angling the flash straight up you can have no shadows, however by pointing it to one side you can simulate light coming from a specific direction.
    • A studio light – with a soft box or possibly shoot-though umbrella.


  • IMG_0784Place your background on a table or other work surface so you can move around it easily and try different angles. You’ll need to be above the pencils to take the shot so you could even use the floor.
  • Place your pencils in the cup and arrange them evenly
    Remember you can use the tops or bottoms of the pencils (points or rubbers) but be consistent and make sure they look neat, so be prepared to do some sharpening.
  • Take the shot!
    If you’ve got access to a tripod use it! remember to focus on the tips of the pencils – they’re the bits that need to be in focus. Using a smaller aperture will give you a bigger depth of field and more pencils in focus.
    This shot works because at close range the wide angle lens will emphasise the splaying-out so get in as close as you can whilst still leaving some space around the pencils. The bright background is part of the shot too.

Thin white


  • Use both ends of the pencils
  • Use just one pencil turned the other way round
  • Use one pencil of a different colour
  • Jiggle and re-arrange the pencils
  • Try different coloured backgrounds
  • Try placing the pencils off centre, or even partially out of the frame.
  • If you’re bouncing light of the ceiling or using some form of artificial light move it around and experiment with having even light from directly above, or light and shade by moving the light to one side.
  • If you’re using natural light, move nearer to or further from the window. Try with and without a reflector.