Thursday, April 2, 2020

Desperate measures for extraordinary times

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day can be celebrated during times of social distancing for those who are equipped and supplied for it, but a lot of people participate by attending group sessions which are not going to happen this year.

I’m the first one to say that you can build a very capable camera with stuff you probably already have around the house and analog methods are the most fulfilling way to experience pinhole photography. However except for solargraphy, any method using analog/chemical capture of an image is going to require development. A lot of rookies are not going to be able to do that without access to one of those public or school events.

So is there any way to create a pinhole image that could be shared in the Pinhole Day gallery that could be created without development?

You can, of course, replace the lens of a digital camera with a pinhole body cap, but you need an SLR or mirrorless camera to do that.

In recent years, the Pinhole Day gallery has included numerous images of room sized camera obscuras where the image was recorded with a lensed digital camera that allows total control of shutter speed. I did this myself once in 2006 with a 30 second exposure using Nikon’s first digital SLR.

My first thought is that’s not going to be an option for many people. I would guess that very few individuals would have access to a digital camera that would allow a shutter speed of over 1 second.

A room sized camera also pretty severely limits the scene you can capture to the view out your chosen window. And think of your mother’s response under a stay-at-home order when you say you want to tape up all the windows in your room.

I’ve seen this sort of thing done with a box-sized camera obscura.

My objective was to find a method any kid (with a little help from Mom and Dad) could recreate this idea with.

Everyone has a cell phone with a camera. I have an iPhone SE which is several years old so I think it would be comparable to what most people have. I don’t have an Android phone but there are similar apps available for those. I have no way to try them.

The basic concept is to make a pretty standard pinhole camera which will form an image on the back of the camera, then position your cell phone camera so that it can take a picture of the pinhole image. I’ve seen this done with a high end digital camera with pretty good results.

I took an old box I had which was 6.5 inches square and 4.25 inches deep.  I needed to make sure it was far enough from pinhole to image plane that the phone camera would focus on it (Aren’t lenses a hassle?)

To make sure I had the most contrasty image, I lined the box with black construction paper. Although the box interior was already white, on the back of the box, I put the whitest card stock I had for the image plane.

I drilled the easiest pinhole possible by completely piercing a piece of drinking can aluminum with a #10 quilting needle to make a .56mm pinhole. My experience is that anyone can make a pinhole like this on the first try.

I mounted this on the axis of the box.  I extended the hole so I could mount the cell phone as near as possible to the pinhole.

I made a cardboard sleeve so I could just slide the phone in and out with the camera positioned in the hole.

I taped it all on the box with the phone holder far enough away from the pinhole so that it didn’t block part of the image.

This puts the area that the phone captures a little off axis, so when viewfinding you want to use the camera’s position rather than the pinhole at the front of the camera, and any viewfinding marks on the back have to be offset in that direction as well. In order to keep the phone pressed tightly up against the box as well as keeping it from falling off and getting destroyed, I held it under a couple rubber bands.

Since the box was square I originally used it pointing up and chose the square format of the phone image, but quickly discovered that I could only capture about a 5 inch field with the phone at this distance, and later discovered that the standard rectangular “photo” setting had a useful function not available in the square format. Of course there’s no need for a shutter since taking a picture with the phone is going to control that. You can’t see a thing on the screen when using the camera.

My first attempt, even after as much editing to brighten the image as I could do on the phone was a little disappointing.

I supposed I could have gone to the computer and pulled out those highlights a little, but in the interests of universality, I wanted to limit the editing options to the phone.

I went back in and did a little googling about low light photography with the phone and came up with this article on It describes how to alter the “live” function of the iPhone. That function takes a rapid sequence of ten exposures. If you swipe up on a photograph made with this function, it offers several effects, one of which is “long exposure” which effectively combines all the images into one. The intended use of this is to create trails and blurs which we are all so familiar with in pinhole photography, but it also tries to auto correct the exposure on that stack, and effectively adds up all the photons captured by those ten frames. This is a common technique in astrophotography.

Although the original image looks totally black, after applying this long exposure effect you can see the beginnings of the image.

After using just about every one of the functions in the edit toolbox,  I got a reasonable image out of it - probably as good as many of the images we see submitted to the Pinhole Day gallery using photo paper. (n.b. The highlight just in front of the driveway on the left house was because the card I used for the back of the camera was slightly glossy and created a hot spot directly under the pinhole)

This was done under sunny conditions. I tried this later on a cloudy day and couldn’t even pick up highlights.  It might work better with a newer phone, and you could try using a bigger pinhole.

A limitation on this is the slowest exposure the phone makes is about 1/40th of a second, so even with them all stacked that’s only 1/4 second.  Apps exist that will allow you do manually control the exposure, so I downloaded a bunch of those.  Again, in the interest of universality, I limited it to ones that were free to download.

Unfortunately, all those are extremely limited versions with only a few of their functions available and require viewing a five second ad for every exposure. I got extremely frustrated and eventually paid the $1.99 (USD) for the cheapest one Slow Shutter Cam, which had gotten good reviews.

It allows adjustment of shutter speed and ISO. It took a few tries to dial in the right exposure, but it did yield better results.

This was a 4 second exposure at ISO 400.

I tried again on a cloudy day. One important feature under lower light levels is to lock the focus. I just held the phone against the box focused on my hand at the other side.  The focus lock is a button at the top of the screen. You have to be very careful putting the phone into position because virtually any touch on the screen will cancel the focus lock. It’s also easy to accidentally zoom in. But it’s digital so you can tell right away that you’ve done either of these.

These were at 15 seconds at ISO 800.

The maximum shutter speed is 60 seconds, but it also has a bulb setting. You touch the shutter button to open it, and then touch it again to close it.  I tried up to a half hour exposure on my dining room table and didn’t get so much as a highlight.

The image quality is very noisy, but pretty distinctive. I can imagine with a little experimentation getting some creative imagery.

As long as the original image is created with a pinhole, images captured with a lensed camera like an iPhone are acceptable for the Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day gallery.

 If you don’t have any other option.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Manic Exhibitionism with Eastman Kodak Tri-X Film.

I’ve recently had photographs exhibited in two local galleries, an unusual experience for me. Both were going to involve public events. I felt compelled to document these with a pinhole camera.

Art openings tend to be relatively crowded events. There were 94 artists represented in one of the shows, so just a friend or two each would fill a good sized gallery. Opening up a regular tripod for an extended exposure wouldn’t be polite or safe. This calls for a 35mm camera, fast film and a flexible little Joby tripod.

I decided to use the Manic Expression Cube. I had used it at an art event this summer, so that seemed like a neat connection. Also, I was likely to have to place it in some less than optimum places. The rising front might give me some flexibility as to what was in the frame,

When we visited the George Eastman House two years ago, I had this fantasy of a large display of Kodak films that pilgrims like myself would want to purchase at this shrine to photography. It turned out they only had some Fun Savers and Portra 400 35mm film. After confessing my delusion to the shopkeepers, they also came up with Tri-X also only in 35mm. That struck me as a more historic choice and I bought a roll. I felt I had to save it for some special project. This seemed just the thing to use it for.

WARNING: Pinhole images made from small negatives with grainy film ahead!

The first event was the opening of a juried art show in Appleton, just north of where I live, which included all kinds of media. The picture selected for the show was the first exposure done with the 45mm Populist built to illustrate the Tenth Anniversary Populist Plans which give detailed directions on how to build one. After they had announced who was in the show,  I was chatting with one of the jurors, who lives in Oshkosh. She mentioned that the curator organizing the show expressed an interest in also exhibiting the camera. I took it along when I delivered the picture.

They placed the camera on a shelf just under my photograph. It looked to me like something that had been excavated from a Mesopotamian tomb. I wrapped the Joby around the handrail of a stairway just opposite the picture. The place was packed, but it was at least a fifteen minute exposure so no one reflected or blocked enough photons from the same place long enough to be recorded.

There were artist’s statements on the wall next to each work, most of them impassioned multi-paragraph manifestos. I must have misunderstood the assignment. Mine was “This photograph was made on film with a hand-made cardboard pinhole camera.”

The exhibit was in a gallery with a mezzanine that wrapped around the room. There was also another gallery which could only be accessed by an elevator. I wrapped the tripod around the corner of the handrail that surrounded the balcony and we went up to see the works on the third floor. While we were gone, the presentation of awards took place. I received an Honorable Mention which I wasn’t there to accept, but my pinhole camera did get to see it.

The other show was “Then and Now” at the Oshkosh Public Museum which I’ve posted about several times.

Links: Rephotographic Project Reimagined  ·  Reimagined Interiors  ·  Hyperspace  ·  Bimodal Stereo  ·  Cameras at an Exhibition

The photographs were displayed alongside the historical image that inspired them. The Museum had 16 inch prints made. Pretty cool. I think mine hold up to the enlargement quite well. A little jarring to see my pictures mixed in with the razor sharp interpretations done with high-end digital cameras by the three commercial photographers who also participated. The opening took place on a Sunday afternoon and was quite well attended.

The tripod was attached to the only chair in the room, which no one was sitting in during the opening.
Here is the view in the other direction into the next room.

Deb Daubert, the curator who organized it, being interviewed by the local TV news.

They often have other events associated with an exhibit, and I gave a presentation on pinhole photography a week later. I went in the day before to make sure I didn’t have any technical surprises the next day. While l futzed around, I opened the shutter, then realized the camera wasn’t level so I quickly fixed it, but not fast enough to avoid an extra image of the windows.

The next day. I put the camera at the back of the room and opened the shutter just before I began the talk.

About ten minutes later, I asked the staff member who introduced me to close the shutter and bring the tripod to the front. I ended the talk with stereo photography for which I had given everyone red/cyan glasses.

Of course, two weeks later the pandemic happened and the museum has been closed. The exhibit is scheduled to run until May 24 so there’s some hope more people will get to see it. The sign predicts they’ll reopen on April 15.

The museum in Appleton has decided to extend the show until the end of the summer.

To use up the film, I took advantage of the lockdown to photograph two of my partners in crime on Main Street without any cars parked in front of them. For the Oshkosh exhibit, I took pictures in both of them, but neither ended up in the show, primarily because I couldn’t find a match in the archive for them.

Camera Casino made the print that was in the Appleton show.

It was matted and framed at the Art Haus across the street.

In the middle of all this, I submitted three images from last summer done with the Manic Expression Cube to the juried Pinhole Photography show in Porto, Portugal. One of those was included in the show, but they have decided that their exhibition will now only be on-line.

The Manic Expression Cube has a .17mm pinhole 24mm from a 24x24mm frame. Kodak Tri-X stand developed in Rodinal 1:100.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

A little black cube

When you buy something from Chanel on-line, the receipt and a little thank-you card come in a matte black envelope with their logo glossily embossed on it. How can you not think of making a pinhole camera looking at material like that? I’ve been saving them for years.

What could be more appropriate than a Little Black Cube cut from the same pattern as the Evil Cube. It’s a bit lightweight, sort of like cover stock, but it works if you use some underlying foundation.

The shutters required some custom tailoring so the logo would fit without unsightly seams. This outfit definitely calls for pearl viewfinders.

You don’t want your front to fall down and expose your pinhole. Some stretchy spaghetti straps keep it secure.

At the presentation I did at the Oshkosh Public Museum last month, in the accompanying display of my collection, I wanted to show a pinhole alongside a screen filling micro-photograph of it.

I drilled a .3mm hole. To make the right statement to my audience, I needed to make the best possible pinhole. It was just the right size for the 60mm measurement of the Little Black Cube. I didn’t think a rising pinhole was necessary for this look.

The inspiration for this camera is a tradition of making something special for Sarah for Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. One year I didn’t test it first and that turned into a major faux pax. Last year I didn’t get the camera done in time to test. She did take one picture with it and that turned out to be her Pinhole Day choice.

For this year, I started making the camera right after WPPD last year but got involved in a lot of other projects and didn’t finish it until now.

I’d better take the opportunity to test it appropriately.

The shopping bag from her historic visit to the original Chanel Boutique in Paris, with the handles secured with ribbon and festooned with extra camellias.

An arrangement of skin care products.

Another angle of the unopened gifts from last Christmas. This image could only be made with a pinhole.  My Canon FD 35mm lens, with about an equivalent angle of view, will only focus down to 35cm and fully stopped down to f22 only manages 10cm of depth of field.

Backlit body oil in it’s natural habitat.

Getting intimate with the clasp of the Classic Flap.

A medley of quilted leather.

The little carton this bottle of nail polish came in ended up as the shutter in the original Chaneloflex.

A palette of polish.

Pearls and perfume.

A stack of perfume, with pearls.

The bath soap, unboxed and ready to use.

The Little Black Cube has a .3mm pinhole 6cm from a 6x6cm frame (f200). The film is Fomapan 100 stand developed in Rodinal 1:100.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

From f295: The Chaneloflex

F295 was an international discussion forum begun and administered by Tom Persinger. Originally just about pinhole photography, it expanded into all kinds of alternative methods.  It was active from 2004 until 2015 but it remains on-line. Recently it disappeared from the web for a few days, and that prompted me to decide to reprise some of my favorites here at Pinholica, for backup if no other reason.

It’s gotten to be a tradition to make Sarah a camera for Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day.  This was the first one, posted on May 5th, 2012.

In the first pinhole workshop Sarah and I participated in with Ruth Thorne-Thomsen in 1982, she provided the design of the camera (her design, my PDF) we all made with matte board that was black on one side (the inside of the camera of course), and white on the outside, with all of the corners taped up with black tape. Sarah's first thought when she saw it was that it looked just like a Chanel product.

Ever since she has considered just about every box she has gotten from Chanel as a potential camera.

The inclusion of the camera picture on the WPPD site this year pushed us over the edge, and I built her a camera out of the box for a bottle of Eau d'toilette, parts of a nail polish box, and the handle from a nail polish brush.

It's f275. .2mm pinhole 55 mm from a 24x45mm frame on normal 35mm film.

I made a film carrier out of cardstock and foamcore.

Which slides into the camera in a slot of foamcore.

With a bonus baffle to make darn sure no light wiggled inside. The end cap of the box was then slid back on.

A closeup of the 529 Graphite shutter.

A sample photograph (by Sarah).

And the image she submitted to WPPD.

She also used this camera on Pinhole Day in 20132014, and 2017.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

From f295: La Fin du Monde

F295 was an international discussion forum begun and administered by Tom Persinger. Originally just about pinhole photography, it expanded into all kinds of alternative methods.  It was active from 2004 until 2015 but it remains on-line. Recently it disappeared from the web for a few days, and that prompted me to decide to reprise some of my favorites here at Pinholica, for backup if no other reason.

I don't have much of an exhibition record but, in addition to participating in the Oshkosh Public Museum's Then and Now exhibit, I also recently had a piece accepted into a regional juried art show at the Trout Museum of Art in Appleton, and I got an honorable mention award.

That brought to mind getting into the 6th International Pinhole Exhibition in 2012 which required a series of photographs on the theme “The End of the World”. I didn't post anything about it until after the show was done and then posted this under the title "Now it can be told" on May 25th, 2013.

I had a series accepted into the 6th International Pinhole Exhibition which took place in Barcelona last summer, and in Le Bourget this winter. Although there was no specific ban on it, and they posted the pictures on-line themselves, I felt funny about posting the pictures here and writing about them while the show was in progress. But, now it can be told.

When I first heard the theme was The End of the World, I didn’t think any of my pictures would really fit. I’m not much of a decay and disaster kind of photographer.

Then about two weeks before the deadline, I walked into the kitchen to get a beer and opened the door and saw this.

Sarah has a taste for double and triple beers. They’re not that common to find, so when we run into a liquour store that carries a selection, we buy one or two of whatever they have. Since Sarah very rarely actually drinks them, they stay around for a while. This one came from a store in Appleton and we’d had it for about 9 months. How it got so front and center in the refrigerator, I don’t know. I think I moved the end of a plastic bag out of the way, but this is pretty much what it looked like when I opened the door. The camera is on the table top tripod which is affixed to the regular tripod in sort of a boom and is extended about a foot into the refrigerator. The door was opened for the duration of the exposure (it had to be to keep the light on anyway). The exposure was three minutes and the door open alarm never sounded.

I knew I had to come up with a series to enter the exhibit, and I think I thought this up all at once, but I don’t really remember.

I usually open beer bottles with a wall mounted opener so it took me a bit to find the bottle opener for this shot.

I’m usually a little cavalier about not taking multiple shots of the same scene but I did take two exposures of the next two scenes, but I double exposed both of them! (Sorry, multiple exposure fans, I didn’t even keep the scans of these) After I finished, the bottle got recycled out to the big blue barrel the city has us use for mixed recycling. When I got the film back about Thursday, it was now about five days before the submission deadline. I pretty much decided to pack it in, but Sarah thought the idea was so funny she encouraged me to get it done. I went out to the garage, dug the bottle out (ick, BTW), and washed it off. The beer in the next two pictures is actually Leinenkugels.

This shot was pretty easy to hold still. I was reading a book, which you can see on the table. This is the image they used for the invitation and poster in Barcelona. I think this is kind of funny, but with me wiggling a little in the background, this almost looks like the flat depth of field of a wide open lens.

Then I moved the scene into the sun room. Since I was reshooting and had to get the whole roll shot and processed, I did numerous attempts to get a shot of me with the beer glass in several positions, or a moving arc from the table to my mouth, but they all ended up in undistinguished blurs. Here’s a special f295 bonus shot that wasn’t in the exhibit.

I settled on this more static shot.

Is this the end predicted by the label on the bottle? A really easy pose to hold I must say.

No, it turns out the story is about the bottle, not me.  Here it lies in the kitchen recycling container. Are blue bags an international designation of recycling or is that just in the U.S?  As mentioned, Oshkosh doesn’t use them anymore, but we had some left and continue to use them to line the bin.

All with the Populist, .15mm pinhole 24mm from 24x36 frame.

One more admission. My artist's statement for the catalog was: “It turns out the end of the world isn’t so hard to swallow.”

It’s Sarah’s line.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

While bathing

One weekend it began snowing on Saturday evening and was still coming down Sunday morning.

It was rather dark and blustery. The internet said it was going to continue until late afternoon.

When asked how one deals with the long exposure times required for pinhole, I usually say that you just do something else while the shutter is open.

I decided it was a good time to soak in a hot bath.

There are a limited number of options if you want to be able to reach the camera to close the shutter.

The view from in the tub.

I forgot the shutter was still open when I got out and performed my après le bain toilette.  Maybe I should have marked this as not safe for work since there technically is a nude man in front of the camera.

The white tree remains undecorated in the bedroom because Stewart is devoted to sleeping under it.

Putting on a fresh change of clothes.

The snow stopped earlier than forecast so I did have to go out and shovel.

Does this indicate the beginning of a new episode of manic expression?

All with Neville.  .15mm pinhole 24mm from 24x36mm frame.  Lomography 100 film.