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Matinee: 'Pinhole Photography in Five Minutes' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

11 April 2015

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the eightieth in our series of Saturday matinees today: An Introduction to Pinhole Photography in Five Minutes.

In this 2012 short, fine art photographer Nancy Breslin takes just five minutes of your time to introduce pinhole photography, covering "homemade and purchased pinhole cameras, the special properties of pinhole photographs, pinhole exposure, some artists who work with these cameras and online resources."

And we're featuring it just in time for you to participate in Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. Held the last Sunday in April, this year's Pinhole Day is April 26. For more about that see the news release below but here's the gist of it:

Everyone in the world is invited to take a picture with a pinhole camera, upload it to and become part of the Internet's premier pinhole photography gallery.

The beauty of pinhole photography is that it doesn't use a lens. And without a lens, you can't focus. But then you don't need to focus because, well, everything is as focused as it gets with a pinhole camera. Which means a bit blurry but the same blur in the foreground as the background. We call that an infinite depth of field.

The trouble, though, is that a pinhole is not a very large aperture, so exposures can be so long that moving objects simply don't register.

But that's part of the charm.

Long as the exposures are, the predicted exposure time for film is often too short, thanks to reciprocity failure. Breslin provides a guide to Pinhole Exposure on her Web site to explain how she accounts for that.

But that's only an issue with film exposures. As Geoff Lawrence puts it in his Reciprocity and Reciprocity Failure -- an Explanation, "Reciprocity failure is not a problem with digital cameras, however noise can be."

In the clip, Breslin presents a comprehensive introduction to the technology and the art. We were particularly impressed with her trick for creating a pinhole of a precise size.

But one thing she does not discuss is the digital equivalent. She talks about the efficiencies of using film rolls rather than sheets of paper (which have to be processed immediately and are much slower than film). But nothing about digital.

It can, of course, be done with a digital camera.

All you really need is a body cap for your camera, which you can poke a hole through. A not much more elaborate DIY version is described in How to Take Pinhole Photos with a Digital Camera. A thin metal plate punctured by a needle is mounted in a larger hole drilled into the body cap.

You can also buy either a lens (well, a lens mount with a hole in it) or camera.

Lensbaby offers a Pinhole/Zone Plate optic in its Optic Kit, which is compatible with its Composer Pro, Composer, Muse, Control Freak and Scout systems. The glass-covered pinhole (which keeps dust off your sensor) has an equivalent aperture of f177. Here's a sample capture we jumped out of bed to grab for you this morning:

Lensbaby Pinhole. At f177, 1/4 second (handheld with a Joby Gorillapod braced against our chest) and ISO 200. We used the camera's preview to set exposure.

Holga makes both pinhole lenses for various mounts and cameras (including a stereo pinhole camera). B&H has a nice selection.

So, really, you have no excuse not to give it a try. And plenty of time before Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, too.

Fifteenth Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day

The fifteenth Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day (WPPD) will be celebrated all over the world on Sunday April 26th, 2015.

Everyone in the world is invited to take a picture with a pinhole camera, upload it to and become part of the Internet's premier pinhole photography gallery.

Hundreds of locally-organized events will take place in every corner of the earth to promote this ancient, but increasingly popular photographic practice. Enthusiastic volunteers, in many countries of the planet, will organize symposiums, meetings, workshops, and lessons to encourage this photographic experience, initiate new followers and help new artists to emerge. Special attention will be devoted to young folks and schools. Particular support will be given to teachers who will ask for it.

Pinhole cameras have no lens at all and pinhole photos are taken simply through a small hole, about the size of a pin. It is very fun, educational and creative to use these kinds of cameras that can even be self-made with various boxes or cans. Any container that can be made light-tight is enough: from tea boxes to tomato cans, from shoe boxes to wooden ones.

An increasing number of people are showing interest in the exciting practice of pinhole photography. In 2001, 291 pinhole photographers from 24 countries took part in the WPPD and the web exhibition. Last year they were 3,517 participants from 70 countries.

More and more photographers are realizing that whatever pinhole camera on hand, whatever the level of their technical ability, the world seen through the little hole is timeless, silent, enchanted; and the photographic result is magical. The suspended and rarefied atmosphere that reigns on the lens-less images is the result of a very special relation with time: this is the photography of patience, of meditation, no more anguish for a 'badly turned out' photo. The fortuitous interferences of the turning world, as a blur or an unexpected light intrusion, are accidents that pinhole photographers consider, they accept them, more, they appreciate them as the chance contribution to the artistic creation. Praise to the controlled inaccuracy, philosophy of the respect for the world order!

WPPD stems from the enthusiastic work by dozens of volunteers scattered worldwide. Their efforts are directed by an international coordinating team: Tom Miller, USA (Team Leader); Nick Dvoracek, USA (Support); Chuck Flagg, USA (Education); Lena Kallberg, Sweden (Translations); Gregg Kemp, USA (webmaster); Patrizia Di Siro, Italy (Publicity); and Justin Quinnell, UK (Publicity).

More information and the full program (constantly updated) can be found at

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