Drawing parallels with light and shade

Discovering similarities between pencil drawing and photography


Most workdays I take a break for a lunchtime walk and almost always I have a camera of some sort with me. That’s not to say that I always take photographs, it’s just become a habit to carry some means of recording whatever I see that takes my interest.

One day last week I left the camera behind and instead took just a notebook and pencil. My inspiration had come from seeing in a local craft shop window, a pencil drawing that was so precisely detailed I’d initially thought it was a black and white photograph. It got me wondering how I might get on drawing rather than photographing a scene. No harm giving it a go!


My first attempt was understandably a bit basic. Little more than a few lines on the page, perspective not great and lacking in any sense of depth. But I enjoyed the experience and found myself looking at the scene, one with which I am very familiar, in much greater detail than had I been taking a photograph of it. I realised that just as in a photograph, particularly a black and white one, highlights and shadows, light and shade are used to define the image. There’s more to this drawing lark than meets the eye!

Intrigued, I decided to investigate pencil drawing techniques. Google and YouTube provided a plethora of suggestions, hints and tips to try out. My local craft store provided the basic materials: a set of pencils, an eraser and a pad of drawing paper. I was on the road to making new discoveries!

It took a while to whittle down the internet search results to one or two sites that I found useful and one in particular that I seem to be spending more time on. There are techniques to learn, practice to be done and redone and skills to be honed. Maybe one day I’ll actually draw something that I might otherwise have photographed.


It was interesting to discover the concept of building ‘value’ with just one pencil to create a range of shades or tones from light to dark. Just as in photography, Ansel Adams’ ‘Zone System’ is used to determine exposure based on a mathematically determined scale of values applied to luminance and density, I was recognising parallels with the scale of values that could be produced on paper with the graphite from a drawing pencil.

I’ve been looking more closely at the things I see on my lunchtime walks. Pausing for longer to observe the nuances of light and shade, imagining how I would record them on paper and perhaps taking a photograph from which I might later attempt to make a drawing. I’ve been hooked. Perhaps the next time I book myself on a workshop it will be to learn some aspect of drawing rather than of photography.

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