Tech Tuesday: Pinhole Photography

22 Mar

I created my first pinhole camera back in college; taping-up an old shoebox to make it light-proof, positioning the precious piece of Ilford paper in the dark, going back and forth from the lab to the street outside countless times, and developing until I got just the right exposure. Lots of trial and error – and so much work for one photo. I guess that’s what made the final, perfect print so rewarding. And what made me fall in love with vignetting… ahhh, vignetting.

And so, it’s that mystique, that nostalgia, that carefree feeling that pinhole evokes, which has inspired today’s Tech Tuesday post.

In today’s world of dSLR, you don’t necessarily need to resort to such primordial tactics to achieve the effect. There’s actions and presets, as well as special lenses and attachments like this one from Lensbaby, that create the look and feel. You can save time and buy all kinds of premade (and super cool) pinhole cameras that are ready to use, and you can convert your dSLR body cap into a pinhole lens with the help of a do-it-youself video tutorial. But, rather than go into specifics, or share tips on creating your own pinhole, we’re going to go in another direction…

While many of us talk about the next new lens or flash we would love to get, other photographers are keeping it simple and making their name with good-old pinhole. Some are also using inventive methods and techniques to create their own personal style:

Sheila Bocchine

An artistic direction that began with a dare from a friend, Sheila has worked for years to fine-tune her technique as well as to market her unique style to clients. Often hailed as “the only known pinhole portrait photographer in the world” – she encourages her subjects to move, which may seem counter to this slow process.

In a recent interview Sheila shared her personal attraction to motion and pinhole: “For me, the best portraits are a combination of stillness and movement – that way you get to see what’s happening in the real world. The world doesn’t sit still so why should my images?”

I love her advice for photographers exploring and experimenting with their craft: “Don’t listen to anybody. If you want to do it, then do it. As soon as you start listening to people telling you that you can’t do something, you start to believe it. I can do whatever I want. If it doesn’t work then it doesn’t work, but I have every right to give it a go.”

Amen, sister.

Chris Keeney

Chris is so dedicated to pinhole that he’s created an entire section of his website devoted to sharing inspiration and resources; it’s “a complete all-in-one internet resource that offers information for the beginner, amateur and professional pinhole photographer.”

There you’ll find an impressive list of places to learn about and create pinhole images, as well as a monthly feature on a photographer (they hail from all over the world) who has done amazing things with the technique.

His take on pinhole is inspiring and beautiful: “It’s similar to growing orchids, once you start doing it and realize how rewarding it is, the more you want to do it. The joy of making your own camera, then creating an image with just a tiny pinhole and some light sensitive material, seems like magic every time you do it.”

Abelardo Morell

This final pinhole photographer does things a bit differently – he’s famous for essentially turning entire rooms into pinhole cameras through a technique called “Camera Obscura.” This is done by covering all the windows in the room with black plastic to achieve total darkness. Next he creates a small hole in the material which allows the light from outside (and the view) to project onto the parallel wall of the room. The image is then captured by a digital camera.

Morell started with this method at home in 1991. In a blog post last year he spoke about how the project has evolved; “Over time, this project has taken me from my living room to all sorts of interiors around the world. One of the satisfactions I get from making this imagery comes from my seeing the weird and yet natural marriage of the inside and outside.”

His first exposures taken a decade ago were 5-10 hours long. But now he says, “I have also been able to shorten my exposures considerably thanks to digital technology, which in turn makes it possible to capture more momentary light. I love the increased sense of reality that the outdoor has in these new works. The marriage of the outside and the inside is now made up of more equal partners.”

Back to Basics

I’ll leave you with a few words from Adrian at foundphotography.com, from a post he wrote regarding pinhole photography (and Abelardo Morell):

Whether or not we embrace technology, I think all of us have experienced some degree of techno burnout… It wears us out, and sometimes interferes with our creativity. My camera doesn’t need to be a computer. It doesn’t need a phone attached to it. It doesn’t need megapixels. It doesn’t need optical zoom, unlimited settings, and a 209 page operating manual. In fact, it doesn’t even need a battery, a lens, or film. I am tired of fighting with a machine that thinks it knows what I am trying to do better than I do. The camera isn’t taking the photo, I am, and I want the control back.

"One of the first photos taken with my newly modified Pentax" -Adrian

I need to get back to basics. I miss the sound of the shutter release. I miss turning the crank to advance the film. I miss turning the lens to bring the subject in and out of focus. I miss the darkroom. So, this weekend I stripped it all away and built myself a pinhole camera. All it took was black electrical tape, some black matte board, a needle, and a Pepsi can. Maybe it isn’t the most practical thing, but it sure feels good to free myself from technology, if just for a little while.”

Did I mention Adrian created a pinhole camera from Legos? Awesome.

(An extra special thank you to my friend Matt for rekindling my passion for pinhole and inspiring this Tech Tuesday post!)

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3 Responses to “Tech Tuesday: Pinhole Photography”

  1. Sheila Bocchine March 30, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    Wow, what a surprise! Thank you for including me in this post about pinhole photography!

    • jennawalcott March 31, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

      Hi Sheila! Your amazing work more than entitles you to the recognition! We’re happy to have your presence on our website! :)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Getting Published, Pinhole Photography, Laughing Tree Gallery | Sheila Bocchine, Photographer - March 30, 2011

    [...] Photo Betties – A blog about professional female photographers. Definitely check it out, they have fabulous content! They wrote an article about pinhole photography, and it’s such an honor to be featured alongside pinhole photographer greats, Chris Keeney and Abelardo Morell. [...]

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