I’ve been shooting pinhole film photography for a while now, and, though I never expected it, it’s slowly becoming my primary form of photography. I’ve always enjoyed the slow process of film, and, if we’re talking slowing down, then pinhole photography is taking this to the extreme. It’s the absolute antithesis of point-and-shoot.
Why I’m Drawn to Pinhole Photography
Pinhole photography offers an extreme form of the ‘not knowing how your photo will turn out.’ There’s no lenses in a pinhole camera, just a small hole where the lens would be. There’s no viewfinder to look through, you can only guess the field of view, and the exposure is never precise. But all the things that make the process sound like a frustrating chore are actually why I enjoy it.
Lately, I’ve been distancing myself from street photography and reportage. It’s not a conscious decision, I just seem to be drifting away from the practice of carrying a camera everywhere I go and trying to document everything. I’m learning to appreciate visually pleasing scenes without succumbing to the compulsion to record absolutely everything. I’m swaying toward producing more ‘unique’ images, and pinhole photography offers the opportunity to shoot scenes at angles and perspectives that a standard camera may not be able to.
My Pinhole Camera Setup
My own pinhole setup has a focal length of about 35mm, which on 6×6 medium format is the equivalent of about 20mm on full frame, offering an extremely wide field of view. This wide angle format combined with infinite depth of field means you can combine macro and landscape in a single image!
Another unique aspect of pinhole photography is that there is no distortion of the image. Lenses bend light to translate a scene to the scale of the sensor or film, inevitably distorting the image. A pinhole simply lets light through in a straight line. This lack of distortion actually appears wrong to our eyes as they too distort the scenes we view in translating them to our retinas.
Shooting pinhole photography requires thinking about a scene in a totally different way. You’re not recording a fraction of a second of a scene, you’re recording 30 seconds, 10 minutes, or several hours! Any object moving in the scene will appear as a blur or a ghostly half-there imprint. Plants in the wind for example, will appear as a flowing, semi transparent motion blur. And running water, depending on the length of the exposure, will range from dynamic blur to almost smoke-like smoothness.
Longer exposures give you more options for experimentation, recording motion in a way that a regular photo never could and imbuing subjects with an inimitable atmosphere.
All the possibilities and techniques aside, one of my favorite aspects of pinhole is the fact that you’re recording a detailed, characterful image… with a hole. No lens, no auto-focus, nothing. Just a tiny hole in a piece of brass and I can produce a photograph. It’s fascinating and liberating to photograph in this stripped-back way, and I feel like I’m only just scratching the surface of the possibilities of the format. Not that I’m going to stop taking selfies any time soon…