One of the characteristics than defines the Zen of Pinhole is the ability to previsualize a photograph and then, without a viewfinder, place the camera in the right place to capture that scene. I compose the picture in my head and then use sighting triangles to get the camera at the right distance, height and angle.
It works fairly well for me but this is a real source of stress for some people, particularly on Pinhole Day when they won’t get a second chance.
An accessory viewfinder could help with this. It’s very easy to make a little open box exactly the format of the camera, 6 x 6 x 6cm in this case, with a viewing port in the back so you can put your eye in place of the film and see what is framed by the box. If the bottom of the camera and the viewfinder are the same thickness and you have two quick-release adapters for your tripod, you can compose the picture through the viewfinder, switch to the camera and your photograph should match exactly what you saw.
This isn’t a new idea. Ansel Adams famously sent people out with a cardboard frame to practice composition before letting them use a camera. In my summer pinhole workshops, after the kids had built the front box with the hole for the pinhole cut out, I would send them to look through that for a few minutes to experience the angle of view before mounting the pinhole.
I got the idea of using such a device mounted on the tripod to point the camera from a YouTube video by Huw Alban. He used a digital SLR with a lens set to a certain focal length so the image matched that of his Lerouge pinhole camera. I’ll bet you could do the same thing with a phone.
Sarah found my little box moderately useful on Pinhole Day. I thought I should see how it worked and what it was like to use. It was made to match The Little Black Cube. The Evil Cube is the ugly twin of that camera. I loaded it up and set out to give it a try.
My first stop was on the Ames Point breakwater. I carefully aligned the tree at the left with the edge of the frame. That turned out to match but the negative wasn’t level and I had to rotate this image two degrees. One thing that Sarah and I both noticed is that we wouldn’t lock the tripod head firmly enough and ended up moving it when we made the switch, often without noticing.
A couple of times I took a picture with my phone through the viewfinder to verify if the negative actually captured the same view.