Pen Photography: A Pro Setup for Less than $30

Jul 18, 2014 by

Pen photography is absolutely essential to learn for any pen turner that wants to sell their pens or just show them off to friends or family members. It’s NOT super hard or expensive, contrary to popular belief.

In this post I’ll outline exactly how you can take professional, awesome photographs of your pens for less than $30, assuming you already own a camera (even a pretty basic one).


My Complete Pen Photography Setup

Would you believe that I’m able to take beautiful, professional pictures of my pens like this:

example photograph from my setup


Using the raggedy, amateur, piecemeal setup below?

complete pen photography setup

Well that’s it! It’s shoved off in a corner of my garage on a storage shelf in above the chemicals/car care equipment and below the dog kennels we use for travel. It’s humble, but it produces incredible results.

It’s also really easy and really inexpensive to get started. And don’t worry, you don’t need a fancy camera like you see in the picture below. Something higher quality than a cameraphone, sure, but that’s about it. I’ll list the camera requirements below.

You do not need to follow these instructions exactly or have precisely these materials. This should give you an idea of what you need, but feel free to swap out like supplies where necessary if your space is a little different. I’ll give some suggestions throughout this article.


What You’re Going to Need

the supplies you'll need

From right-to-left, you’ll need:

  • Something to setup on – a shelf, table, or something else
  • A few hand clamps (I use six in this tutorial)
  • A couple of scrap pieces of cardboard, approximately 10″ wide by 24″ long, folded in half
  • If you’re setting up on something solid (without gaps like mine), substitute books for carboard/hand clamps
  • A 12″ x 12″ black granite tile, which you can pick up at your local hardware store for $10-$15
  • Some thumbtacks
  • A black, felt-like or velvety piece of fabric (I use a black fleece blanket here)
  • An adjustable hanging lamp (adjustable table lamp if setting up on something solid)
  • A thin, white piece of fabric that light passes through well (I use an old, white dress shirt)
  • A camera, preferably digital, with a macro setting and self-timer setting (important!)


Step 1 – Pin Up the Black Velvety/Fleece-Like Piece of Fabric

This will be your backdrop, so make sure it’s nice and taunt as you’re hanging it. Don’t skimp on the thumbtacks. Place one everywhere necessary to keep it nice and taunt.

After the blanket has been pinned up


Step 2 – Setup the Side Props to Hold the White Fabric

Side supports erected

On either side of the black granite tile, setup a couple of side props. For me, this is the couple of pieces of cardboard that I’ve folded in half.

If you’re working on a solid shelf or table that won’t allow you to pass clamps up through the bottom to secure them, I recommend a couple of like-sized hardcover books which you can setup on either side similar to the setup above.

If you’re working on a material with gaps, like me, you just hold the cardboard in place, then clamp them from below, like so:



Step 3 – Drape the White Fabric Over Your Side Props

white fabric draped over the side props

How taunt the white fabric is doesn’t really matter – just make sure that there’s at least an 8″ to 12″ opening between your side-props once it’s done. This is where your light will shine through.


Step 4 – Setup Your Light

setting the light up above the white fabric

If you’re using a hanging light like I am, then hang it somewhere between 6″ and 12″ above the top of the fabric. Caution: Don’t leave this light on unattended if using a bulb that emits heat. This could be a fire risk if left unattended for a prolonged period of time.

If you’re using a desk lamp with an adjustable arm, try to adjust it so that the light is shining down directly on the white fabric, towards the front-end of the fabric (closest to you if you’re standing in front of it).

So this is approximately what your setup should look like at this point:

the photography setup after light is added


Step 5 – Eliminate All Ambient Light, Setup Camera, and Go!

It’s important that your photography space be very close to pitch black, if not completely pitch black, before you begin. Turn on your light, and set the camera in front of the granite tile with your finished pen on top of the tile:

close-up of my complete photography setup


Now for the camera settings – this is very important! Set your camera to “automatic” mode, which is typically indicated by an “A” symbol.

Scoot your camera up as close to the granite tile as necessary, and make sure to turn the macro setting on. In case you don’t know what that means, look for the flower icon.  This is what enables your camera to focus on something so close to the lens (since the camera is almost bumped up against the lens of the camera)

If the camera you own doesn’t have one (which is very rare these days) you can still attempt to use it but your results will probably be mixed.

After you’ve turned on the macro setting, turn on the self-timer setting. That icon will look something akin to a clock. It doesn’t matter if you set it for two or ten seconds – either should be fine. It’s just a matter of preference. Since you’re shooting in dim lighting, any slight movement can screw up your shot or cause blurriness.

By turning on the self-timer mode, your camera will have re-settled and be sitting still again by the time it takes the photograph. Without the self-timer, just pushing the button would cause the camera to move while you’re pushing the button, causing the image to blur and distort.


That’s All There Is to Photographing Pens!

example photo of what my photography setup produces

You’ll have to play with the lighting to get used to it, but if you’ve modeled your setup closely after the one I’ve described above you’ll be able to consistently get gorgeous, professional pictures for less than $30 of material. When mine’s not in use, I just cover it with a tarp to protect it from sawdust and uncover it when I need it.

Adjusting the light differently can create different effects. If you want kind of an “infinite” background like the photo above, just try to cast as little light as possible against the black background, meaning that your light is directed more towards the front of the tile.

Want a different effect? Play with casting varying levels of light on the background or pen. You should be able to figure out what your preference is pretty quickly.

finished hand-turned wood pen


Please Comment or Share If This Helped You!

If you read this and found it helpful, please comment below or share it on a social media site! That’s the best way to say “thank you” and I would greatly appreciate it! And I respond to all comments personally, so if you leave one below I’ll be sure to reply within a day or two!

Happy turning!


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