Posted by: David Vernon | April 23, 2010


See One Time

Did you know that this Sunday was Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day? Well I didn’t either but I read too darn many blogs so now I know all kinds of things I was once ignorant of.

For the uninitiated, pinhole photography is a fascinating and very old sub-genre of photography. Take something light tight, poke a little hole in it, expose some film or paper placed inside it, and then process that film or paper. No lens – nothing too complicated – and you get a very unique perspective on the world. Pinhole cameras – because they have no lens – have extreme depth-of-field. Essentially you can get everything in focus. That focus, however, may be a little soft without the lenses help but that adds to the unique look part.

The cost to do pinhole photography is very small. Cameras can be made out of everyday objects (I’ve used paint cans whose rounded interior surfaces add a kind of fisheye effect) and then you just need a little film (if you don’t have a darkroom) or plain old photographic paper (if you do have a darkroom). There are templates and kits all over the Internet so you can find a design for something that works and just use it. If you use film, you usually have to mock up some kind of film advance system so you don’t have to load single frames, but then you can take the entire exposed roll over to Peoria Camera and they’ll get it developed for you in as little as 48 hours.

Once you’ve got your hole punched into the camera “body”, then you just have to figure out how long to expose the image for. The tiny aperture on your camera is likely something much smaller then say f/22 so your exposure times could be much longer. On a bright day – where you might be shooting at 1/1000th of a second, it’s not unusual to turn around and expose for 2-20 seconds (there are formulas to calculate your exposure times). On a cloudy day or in low light situations, prepare for a stretch. Multiple minute exposures are not unusual – and you have to consider the old film trait of reciprocity failure – which can double, triple, or even quadruple your exposure times (for film this is a consideration for exposures longer then one minute – on photographic paper it starts to be a factor after 30 seconds).

I found the reference to Worldwide Pinhole Photography day over on the flickr blog. Their entry has a link to a build-it yourself film-based pinhole camera template that you can download for free. I then found a shorter and a longer summary of everything pinhole. Both are full of good info – but start with the short one, eh?

And if you have a yen, you can experiment with digital pinhole photography. Just punch a small hole in the center of that unused body cap that came with your camera. Put a piece of electrical tape over it, open your shutter on its “bulb” setting, and then remove the tape. See what you get…

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