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Graphite Drawing Photography: Tips for Flawless Images

As artists, after creating a masterpiece, you want to be able to share it with the world! But if you’re a traditional artist who uses graphite as your medium, sharing with the world can become a bit of a problem. Sure you can scan the drawing, but scans tend to create overly crisp and textured reproductions that don’t properly showcase the softness of your work. The solution? Use your camera!  

When photographing graphite drawings, lighting is really important. Once that is all settled, correct settings will be your next go to. Finally, a bit of post processing can go a very long way! Here is our guide on how to photograph graphite drawings and ensure that they turn out beautiful each time. 

Graphite and Photography 

Graphite is a beautiful medium for traditional art, especially with its softness and edges. However, it can be a bit difficult to photograph if you don’t do it the right way. 

For one, graphite can actually bounce light back and has some reflective properties to it (especially dependent upon how much of the graphite is actually on the paper. For example, an artist pressing down hard for a darker stroke). Secondly, graphite is fragile on the paper and prone to smudging. Third, paper itself can be a bit difficult to capture in its proper colors. 

But fear not, there are solutions to all of these woes. 

How To Photograph Graphite Drawings 

You can photograph graphite or pencil drawings with any gear really (even a cell phone!) but a high quality camera and lens is preferred for all of the detail work. Ideally, you want a camera with RAW mode available (for post processing aid) and a standard lens that offers no optic distortion

RAW is an uncompressed file format that allotts you a lot more control over adjusting exposure in post processing. You see, when a photograph gets recorded as a file format, it becomes compressed to fit within that format and you may lose some quality or some forms of editing capability. Basically, RAW contains the direct image data from the camera sensors with no loss of quality and alteration. This stores the fullest details of an image. 

Optic distortion refers to the warped elements in a photograph caused by a lens. Remember, the final look of an image is dependent primarily on the lens itself, and as such, distortion is a lens situation. Optic distortion is most often caused by curved glass in wide angle lenses. Standard lenses have flat glass and don’t distort the proportions of your image.  

Here are the 5 easy steps for excellent graphite drawing photographs! 

Step 1: Angle the Drawing 

Most artists want to capture their drawing as a flatlay, or, laying it flat on a surface and shooting from above. However, this creates a lot of problems and difficulty with lighting. As such, it is actually better to have your drawing propped up on something (such as an easel or taped to a board) and angle it! 

Have it slanted at a slight angle so that you’re no longer shooting from above to below, but actually shooting directly as you would any living subject. This eliminates any unnecessary shadows or lighting discrepancies. 

Step 2: Use Proper Lighting

Next is ensuring that you light the drawing up properly. You want to make sure the entire drawing is lit up evenly, with no light fall off or dark spots! 

If you’re shooting in good weather, you can take your drawing outdoors and use natural light. Wait for the sun to be lower in the sky or for it to be overcast for more even light. 

If outdoors is not an option or you prefer not to, you can use artificial studio lights for your needs. You can pick from flashes and strobes all the way to continuous lights. Continuous lights are a bit darker perception on the camera sensor versus flashes, but flashes can be a bit harder to use. Which one you pick is a matter of personal preference. 

For graphite drawings, using a large round diffuser on any light of your choice works very well, positioned directly above the drawing. The reason you want a large one is to ensure the drawing is lit up evenly on all sides! 

Step 3: Camera Settings 

Camera settings are primarily meant to create proper exposure. Exposure refers to how dark, light, or just right your photograph is! The first thing you’ll do is set your camera to (M) or Manual mode in which you are able to adjust all of the settings necessary. 

Next, you have your three primary settings that need to be done: Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO. For graphite drawings, the first thing we are going to adjust is the Aperture. 

The aperture controls how much light does (or doesn’t) hit your sensor. The lower the aperture number, the more light the camera lets in. The higher the aperture number, the less light the camera lets in. The lower the aperture number, the shallower the depth of field. The larger the aperture number, the deeper the depth of field. 

For graphite drawings, you want a deep depth of field. F/8 and larger numbers are great! This allows the entire drawing to be clearly in focus, portraying your drawing as if it was scanned. 

Exposure is a formula, sometimes demonstrated as a triangle: ISO + shutter speed + aperture = exposure. Like a mathematical formula, if one variable is changed, the rest are affected by the change. As such, after the Aperture is set, it serves as your baseline for the ISO and Shutter Speed

ISO is what is suggested as the next adjustment. The ISO is your camera’s sensitivity to light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive the camera is to light (but the less noise the photograph has). The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the camera is to light (but the more noise the photograph has). Noise are the obnoxious little specks you see in photographs. You want to avoid noise at all costs for graphite drawings as it may cause your drawing to look like those specks are a part of it! 

The final adjustment in this regard is shutter speed. The shutter speed is how fast your camera takes the photograph. The higher the shutter speed number, the more frozen the action will be (but the photograph will be darker). The lower the shutter speed number, the more motion blur your photograph will have (but the photograph will be lighter). Since we are capturing still life and need to account for the narrow aperture and less sensitive ISO, it’s okay to keep the shutter speed slower. 

Because graphite is a black and white medium, it’s ideal to adjust your white balance as well. The white balance settings adjust colors so that they look more natural, or accurate to the scene. White balance gets rid of something known as a Color Cast. Color Casts are visible tints in an image. For example, a blue color cast makes every color look very cold and blue-ish. In order to reduce color cast, white balance adjusts the temperature to bring colors back to their natural state. You want your whites on the paper to be neutral and proper, not casting with a yellow or blue! 

The rest of the settings you can leave by default. 

Step 4: Take the Shot 

Go ahead and press down on your shutter!

Step 5: Post Processing

Post processing can be necessary depending on your shooting conditions. Editing with programs can also help bring out needed details that the camera may have been unable to capture properly. 

That being said, some consider post processing a bit disingenuous, but it really isn’t if you’re only using Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, or other such software for the following purposes: 

Making adjustments to the drawing itself is where ethics may come into play. Just keep that in mind!  

In conclusion, forget the scanner and use your camera to document your beautiful graphite drawings! 

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