Pinhole photography, creative and addictive

Today, 28 April, is Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, an international event to promote and celebrate the art of pinhole photography.

For those who may not know it, a pinhole camera is an extremely basic and simple device with which to take photographs. In essence all it consists of is a lightproof box/container with a very small hole/pinhole to let in light, and a piece of film (or a film roll, in the case of more advanced model) to record the image created by the light entering through the hole.

Various websites exist (see here, here, here and here, for basic examples, or here for very detailed instructions) showing how to make pinhole cameras of varying degrees of complexity. Many can be made at almost zero cost – all it takes is some time and effort. I’ve also seen some really nifty pre-manufactured pinhole photography kits for sale, often through educational toy outlets. Alternatively, a digital version can be created by drilling a hole in your digital SLR’s body cap, covering the hole with tin foil, and making a tiny pinhole in the foil.

The inexactness of composition and exposure makes pinhole photography a very exciting photographic art form. (© All Rights Reserved)
The inexactness of composition and exposure makes pinhole photography a very exciting photographic art form.
(© All Rights Reserved)

One of the most exciting aspects of pinhole photography is that it is not an exact science. It is difficult to determine your exact exposure, and creating a composition is also a bit of a hit and miss affair. Each pinhole camera is unique – no two pinholes will be exactly the same size/shape, the distance between the pinhole and the film will vary, the film may not always be perfectly flat, and there may even be a small amount of light leakage affecting the film. This non-exactness of pinhole photography is what makes it so much fun, and such a uniquely personal experience – you are always guaranteed a few surprises when you have your pinhole film developed.

To create a fairly sharp image, the pinhole in the camera needs to be quite small, which in turn means that not much light is allowed into the pinhole camera. This means the amount of time you leave the pinhole open to take a picture (the shutter speed, basically) also tends to be quite long, making pinhole photography more suited to stationary subjects (for sharp images) or slow moving subjects (for some motion blur). Fast moving subjects are likely to move too fast to be captured, and will either result in excessive blur, or may even end up not captured at all.

In celebration of the day, you can participate by making your own pinhole camera, taking some photos and submitting one image to the Pinhole Day website (see the 2012 Gallery for inspiration.) Perhaps its a bit late for this year, but remember Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day is celebrated every year on 28 April, so now is your chance to start early for next year

Of course you don’t have to contribute to the official website. By immersing yourself into the art of pinhole photography, looking at what others have done, and developing your own unique approach and style, you can soon start building up your own library of original photo art.

Just a word of warning – pinhole photography can be seriously addictive! (But, don’t fret, it’s a healthy obsession!)

Love your camera on Camera Day

Me and my camera; my camera and me.

The photographer and his camera – where does one start and the other end? How much of what you see in an image is down to the brilliance of the photographer, and how much can be attributed to the technical abilities of his photographic tools?

(© All Rights Reserved)

I am, generally speaking, a supporter of the school of thinking that a great artist will produce great art irrespective of his tools. I have seen photos taken on mobile phone cameras that are significant artistic achievements, and there are movements in photography who go to great lengths to show how great art can be produced by technically “bad” equipment. The Lomographic Society International, for example, owns galleries, etc, showcasing photographs taken with very low-tech LOMO cameras. LOMO, a former Russian state-owned camera manufacturer, produced 35mm compact cameras that have become iconic for producing unique, sometimes blurry images, at times with light leakage, and various other “faults”.

On the other hand, particularly in technical fields of photography, the camera plays a critical role in enabling the photographer – think about fields like macro photography, for example. In some ways the camera also dictates the photographers’ approach to the subject. For instance, the time and effort required to set up a large format view camera to photograph a landscape, will almost by default result in a different stylistic approach to the subject compared to, say, a photo snapped with a mobile phone.

Given my current context (photographing science, technology and industry) my “weapon of choice” is my Nikon D3 DSLR, with a range of lenses for different applications, and I have to admit I love this bulky machine – its reassuring weight, ever willing, ever ready for anything I may throw at it.

That is not to say I am not eagerly eyeing the D4 and even the D800, not to mention the wonderful, iconic Leica M9. And don’t even get me started on some of the glorious medium format cameras out there, just waiting for me to take them in my arms!

On the other end of the technology scale, I’ve recently started playing around with pinhole photography again – in a sense this still remains to me the most magical, wonderfully rewarding field of photography. But more on that in a future post.

Whether you photograph with a mobile phone or a Hasselblad, today is Camera Day – the day to show some special appreciation for your camera, and to take it out and capture the world around you. Wherever you may be – have fun.