Pinhole Cameras – making images without a lens / by Jeremy Mudd

April 28th is Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, and in honor of that upcoming event I wanted to write a short blog on pinhole photography and include some pinhole images I’ve made in the past. Hopefully this will inspire you to get out there and shoot Pinhole – even if you don’t have a Pinhole camera. More on that to come.

Pinhole Photography is based on the original Camera Obscura concept. From Wikipedia:

“Camera obscura (plural camera obscuras[1] from Latin, meaning "dark room": camera "(vaulted) chamber or room," and obscura "darkened, dark"), also referred to as pinhole image, is the natural optical phenomenon that occurs when an image of a scene at the other side of a screen (or for instance a wall) is projected through a small hole in that screen as a reversed and inverted image (left to right and upside down) on a surface opposite to the opening. The surroundings of the projected image have to be relatively dark for the image to be clear, so many historical camera obscura experiments were performed in dark rooms.

The term "camera obscura" also refers to constructions or devices that make use of the principle within a box, tent or room. Camera obscuras with a lens in the opening have been used since the second half of the 16th century and became popular as an aid for drawing and painting. The camera obscura box was developed further into the photographic camera in the first half of the 19th century when camera obscura boxes were used to expose light-sensitive materials to the projected image.

The camera obscura was used as a means to study eclipses, without the risk of damaging the eyes by looking into the sun directly. As a drawing aid, the camera obscura allowed tracing the projected image to produce a highly accurate representation, especially appreciated as an easy way to achieve a proper graphical perspective.

Before the term "camera obscura" was first used in 1604, many other expressions were used including "cubiculum obscurum", "cubiculum tenebricosum", "conclave obscurum" and "locus obscurus".[2]

A camera obscura device without a lens but with a very small hole is sometimes referred to as a "pinhole camera", although this more often refers to simple (home-made) lens-less cameras in which photographic film or photographic paper is used.”

There are three ways to get a pinhole camera:

1.       Buy one from a company that makes them or a used one on eBay (generally shoots only film)

2.       Make your own pinhole camera out of anything (box, can, etc – generally shoots only film)

3.       Make a pinhole “cap” for your existing digital or film camera. This way you can shoot film or digital depending on the camera.

Option 3 is generally the cheapest and easiest alternative, although know that it doesn’t always give the best results as compared to a specifically designed pinhole camera. Also know the larger the “sensor” or “film plane”, the better the result. The best pinhole shots I’ve seen in terms of sharpness and clarity are on large format cameras, and the quality and perceived sharpness generally decrease as the size of the “sensor” decreases. Also, know that “sharpness” is a relative term; no pinhole images are really very sharp and start to fall apart if you really pixel-peep them.

If you are interested in making your own pinhole camera body cap to try it out on your existing digital or film camera, go here: https://digital-photography-school.com/make-pinhole-camera-dslr-body-cap/.

Chapel at Calvary Cemetery - NOON 612 Pinhole on Fuji ACROS 100 film

NOON 612 Pinhole Camera - image courtesy of NOON on Etsy

I have a cap I made awhile back, but I generally shoot with my NOON 612 medium format film pinhole camera. The larger medium format negative yields, in my opinion, better results and I also like the challenge of composing an image with a wooden box with only sightlines on it to gauge the edges of the frame.

The other great thing about the NOON 612 is that it has the ability to shoot in 6x6, 6x9, or 6x12 format depending on where you put the dividers in the inside of the camera. This means you can get 12, 8, or 6 images from your roll of medium format.

The NOON is f/207, so the way you shoot it is that you compose your shot (on a tripod), meter the scene for f/22 and whatever film speed you are using, then take that exposure time and plug it into the supplied chart that comes with the camera. On bright days, depending on what film you use, it could be seconds. On dimly lit days, it could be minutes. The shutter is a simple block of wood on a pivot.

Incoming Storm - NOON 612 Pinhole Camera with Fuji ACROS 100 film - IIRC this image was a 5 minute exposure.

There are a few interesting things about shooting pinhole. First - the images tend to be the same level of “sharpness” thru the entire scene front to back. This is due to the high f-stop of the pinhole. Second - if you get your camera level, anything that is an upright in the image is perfectly straight with no lens distortion. That’s because there is no glass to distort it. Even your eyes distort things when viewing them due to the “lens” in your eye but you don’t notice it – when looking at a pinhole it often looks odd due to this lack of distortion. Third – things in the image look a lot further away than what you think they will when you are working on the scene. I think pinholes generally work best when you are fairly close in to what you want to capture.

Bridge to Dayton - NOON 612 Pinhole Camera with Fuji ACROS 100 film

Here are a few more pinhole images I’ve shot over the last 1-2 years.

Schuster Center, Dayton on a windy morning - NOON 612 Pinhole Camera on Fuji ACROS 100 film

Woodland Cemetery - NOON 612 Pinhole Camera on Fuji ACROS 100 film

Calvaray Cemetery - NOON 612 Pinhole Camera on Fuji ACROS 100 film

Calvary Cemetery - NOON 612 Pinhole Camera on Fuji ACROS 100 film

The Yellow Springs at Glen Helen - NOON 612 Pinhole Camera on Kodak Ektar 100 film

Troublemakers - NOON 612 Pinhole Camera on Kodak Ektar 100 film

I hope that this has inspired you to give pinhole photography a try. If you are interested in learning more about Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, feel free to check out http://pinholeday.org/.

Also, if you are interested in the NOON 612 camera they have a store on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/listing/592983087/noon-pinhole-camera-6x12-panoramic-6x9

Thanks for reading!

Jeremy