Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Close-up Studio Project

It’s been very cold. The highs in the last few days have been in the low single digits Fahrenheit. I’ve been known to venture out in snow and cold for pinhole photography and even voluntarily gone to extremes. However, when it’s this cold, it’s hard to concentrate on what you’re doing and to wait around for pinhole length exposures. An indoor project seems in order.

I participated in an on-line forum with Nicole Small recently. While listening to her describe her initial ventures into pinhole while working within the limitations of her studio, I started thinking about studio methods.

It seems like we may be still living under some pandemic restrictions on Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. Last year there was lots of discussion about how one could do pinhole photography without leaving home. I did a series of the walls in my house as an inspirational example. Here is more inspiration in case you’re still in lockdown at the end of April.

I don’t have a studio or any lighting equipment. The best thing I could find to serve as a seamless backdrop was a tabloid sheet of paper (with a template for a Variable Cuboid front printed on the other side). The typical lighting for this kind of photography is a large source like an umbrella or a light box, but a nearby window provides a similar soft light. I used a white towel hung over the back of a chair for fill on the shadow side. 

A common problem in working with a seamless background is keeping the edges of the backdrop out of the picture. That’s easier to do with a narrow angle camera so I chose the 100mm front for the Variable Cuboid. It has a pinhole that’s smaller than the normal recommended optimum. The formulas for minimal diffraction include the distance to the subject as a variable and the on-line calculators assume a subject at infinity, so my set up would be near to the mathematical ideal working this close-up.

This arrangement was going to limit the size of my subject matter. Inspired by Steichen, Weston, Penn and The Mothers of Invention, I looked to the kitchen for my models.

I started with a Cosmic Crisp apple. The fronts for the Variable Cuboid have an adjustable rising front. Initially I forgot to be careful not to raise it when I opened the shutter so there was some unintended tight cropping at the bottom. One often hears about serendipitous compositional surprises with pinhole photography, so we’ll just embrace that.

I had started with a sheet of one inch thick foam padding for a backdrop, but it was almost impossible to get lighter vegetables to stand upright on it. I could tell I didn’t need anything that big so I switched to paper for this half eaten head of Boston lettuce.

Even with the more stable base, I had to use some other studio methods. There’s a clothes pin clamped to the back of this stalk of brocolli to help it stand upright.

No special studio method here. After struggling for some time with these brussel sprouts and having them roll all over the hallway, I finally got one to balance on top the others for the composition I wanted.

I minimized the amount of onions in the tomato sauce I made the night before so I could keep this one whole for my studio session the next day.

An individual head of garlic.

A tomato accompanied by two of its smaller cousins.

An acorn squash.

It’s impossible to make a composition with a single banana using a square format camera. I paired it with some peaches, also a common combination for a smoothie.

I’ve been baking sandwich bread for some time but have been trying to get a little more artisanal lately. No-knead crusty whole wheat on top, traditional French-style country bread on the bottom.

Roses dry nicely and can stay in a bouquet quite a while but eventually succumb to gravity.

An individual dried rose.

The prediction is for this weather pattern to continue for some time. This project may bear some additional investigation but I’ll have to go to the market first.

The 100mm front for the Variable Cuboid has a .35mm pinhole making a 6x6cm negative. Tmax 100 semi-stand developed in Rodinal 1:100.


  1. Nice work! Just goes to show we have subjects all around photo worthy if we just take the time to look..