I’ve been a bit quiet recently and have to admit that I’m a little bit behind with my ‘Project 52’! I’m still doing it but I’ve come to a few conclusions over the last couple of weeks:
- It takes a lot of practice and time to get images rather than ‘blurs’ or ‘not a lot’ out of a pinhole camera.
- A bit more research before starting might have helped!
- I might have been expecting a bit much trying to use a different camera each week for a whole year (If I didn’t actually work then it might be possible but as that’s not the case it’s best not to beat myself up for not doing it but rather to just carry on a slightly reduced rate. Hey it might just take two years :-)).
- Finally, and winter and pinhole photography are not the best match (please feel free to disagree with me on this one). Dull, overcast days seem to result in dull, flat photos!
So what have I done about all of this? Well to start with I decided to get a bit more expert help and bought a couple of books and dug some others off the shelf. There are a few that I have found particularly useful and I have reviewed these below. So I’ve spent a fair bit of time reading and learnt why some of my first attempts have not been working:
- The best time to take pictures is on bright sunny days. The contrast of the photographs is increased in bright light and obviously shorter exposure times are required.
- My pinholes are too large.
- My pinholes are not round.
Now I understand why the images I took with my coffee can camera (below) are best described as ‘rubbish’. I’m pleased that I actually managed to get an image at all (even if it was just of my Dad’s foot, I’m just lucky I had a patient model) but it was a long process and not hugely rewarding. The main thing is that the camera worked and now I can make some adjustments and try again.
I’ve added a few more detailed shots of the finished camera below. The 1st shows the pin hole and shutter, the 2nd the inside that I have lined with matt black paper and the 3rd the little holder I made to take the 120mm film.
I’m planning on taking some more images with this camera this weekend as long as the weather holds up so hopefully a ‘results’ post will follow shortly. I will also go into more detail about how I made the camera and the tweaks I made to get it to work better then.
The three books I’ve found useful so far are:
- The Camera – Life Library of Photography
- Pinhole Cameras – A do it yourself guide – Chris Keeney
- Lo- Fi Photo Fun – Adam Bronkhurst
The Camera – Life Library of Photography
I love this series of books. I was given them by my Dad and step Mum years back. If I’m honest, at the time I kept them because they were old and I thought they might make interesting reading one day but I have turned to them time and time again when I want something clearly explained in layman’s terms. They might be old but the fundamentals of photography have not changed and many modern books fail to include some of the basic information that makes understanding the science of photography so much easier. If you are interested in getting your hands on them then keep an eye out in charity book shops, I’ve often seen sets and now have 17 in total (not sure how many there actually are).
There are only two pages that I found useful (the two illustrated above) but they explain very clearly why you need to have the right size pin hole for the focal length of your camera. The images used are by Ansel Adams and the explanation is best read in full so I’ve placed it below.
Image 1 – ‘To take this picture of a fence and barn in California, landscape photographer Ansel Adams replaced the lens of an ordinary camera with a thin metal disk pierced by a pinhole opening 0.5mm (1/50 inch) in diameter. The film was exposed for a full 6 seconds. The way the pinhole produced an image is illustrated in the diagram (left). Only a few rays of light from each point on the subject can get through the tiny opening and these strike the film in such tight clusters that blurring is reduced to a minimum. The result is a soft but acceptably clear photograph.’
Image 2 – ‘For the second photograph of the same scene, Adams increased the size of the opening to 3.2mm (1/8 inch), which meant reducing the exposure time to 1/5 second. The result is a hopelessly fuzzy picture. As shown in the diagram (right), the larger hole permits a greater number of rays from each point on the subject to enter the camera. These rays spread before reaching the film and are recorded as large circles. Because of their size, these circles tend to run into one another, creating a blurry photograph.’
Pin Hole Cameras – A do it yourself guide – Chris Keeney
Chris’s book gives detailed instructions on how to make a whole range of pinhole cameras from items that you can find lying around the home. ( To be fair you also need to buy quite a few bits but the camera bodies can be made from things you already own.)
It includes an introduction on why he loves pinhole, a brief history of the pinhole camera and then a couple of short chapters that give brief, concise information on the film or paper to use, how to actually make a good, usable pinhole and the right equipment to do so. The rest of the book is divided into ‘Camera How-To Exercises’, detailed explanations of how to make 8 different pinhole cameras including an SLR pinhole. At the end there’s a small gallery of images and a very brief description of darkroom techniques. All the chapters are illustrated with good ‘step-by-step’ photographs which is good as I feel that without them some of the explanations are a little confusing.
He doesn’t go into detail about how to work out exposure times and how to precisely measure a pinhole, other than scanning it and measuring in Photoshop (which is fine if you have a scanner) instead he suggests that you use the online resources available, which is fair enough as there is a lot of information out there.
The things I found most useful were tips about using 600 or 1000 grit sandpaper (available from most auto supply stores apparently, I’ll let you know how available it is when I’ve got my hands on some) to sand rough edges off the back of your pin hole, which needs to be round to give you a sharp images. Also he suggests what needle sizes are best to achieve a usable pin hole. Beading needles will give the smallest holes as they are the thinnest and these can be bought from a good haberdashers and measure about 0.4mm in diameter.
I was a little frustrated by the lack of information in this chapter as after reading it I was still not sure which needle would give the right size pin hole for the focal length of my camera but I suppose it gave me a better idea where to start.
I looked Chris up on the internet and discovered that he has a website where he has created an incredible list of pinhole resources as well a huge list of other pinhole photographers working around the world. There’s some really amazing stuff on there and it’s well worth a look.
Lo-Fi Photo Fun – Adam Bronkhurst
Adam’s book covers a huge range of photographic techniques, cameras, experiments and projects. His passion for experimental photography is clearly evident and slightly infectious :-). I’m sure that I will refer to this book in future posts but today I’m just going to concentrate on the section on pinhole.
In different parts of the book he describes how to convert your Holga and SLR into pinholes as well as how to make a cookie tin pinhole camera. There is also information on Solargraphy using beer can and film canister pinhole cameras.
What I like about Adam’s book is that, similar to Chris’s, there isn’t page after page of mind boggling information. Instead you get a small gallery that shows good examples of each experiment followed by clear concise information including the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of each technique backed up by useful bits of additional information. I feel it gave just enough information to get you started and encouraged me to then go and research it further.
Under ‘Pinhole Basics’ there is an F-stop and exposure calculation chart which I found very useful. You don’t need to be a NASA scientist to decipher it and most importantly it includes the needle sizes required to make a specific diameter hole!! So in theory I now know that if my Coffee Can camera is roughly 5.5″ long (that’s the focal length) then I should use a size 10 needle to make a 0.45mm hole which gives an f-stop of f/280. I can then work out rough exposure times from the ‘Exposure Times’ chart.
I hope you’ve found this useful and if you can suggest any other books that I might find interesting then please get in touch or leave a comment below, I’m always happy to hear your thoughts.
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