Bristol (and oranges) through a pinhole

26 Feb

Last year I was given a ‘make and shoot’ pinhole camera kit for my birthday, and a few days ago I finally got around to trying it out. After wrestling with tiny bits of cardboard for the best part of a day, I managed to assemble the pieces into something that looked vaguely camera-like:

DIY pinhole camera

Et voilà, a pinhole camera! This is essentially just a lightproof box, with a tiny hole pierced in the metal disk at the front. The film (I used a standard Kodak 35mm one) runs across the back of the box. To take a photo, the cardboard flap across the pinhole is moved to let light in (equivalent to opening the shutter), and the light passing through the pinhole forms an inverted image on the film. The nifty feature of this particular camera is that the film can be wound on, so lots of photos can be taken without having to open the box.

I tested out the camera on a trip to Bristol. When the film was finished, I dropped it off at the local Boots and came back two days later to be handed my photos in a bag marked ‘customer may not want’. Not the most promising sign, but then I was pretty chuffed that any of the shots came out at all. The first photo I took was of a pyramid of oranges, as you do:

Orangey orbs (left: pinhole, right: digital)

The pinhole photo may not be a match for the digital version shown on the right, but it’s not a bad result for such a simple contraption. These is no focusing lens on a pinhole camera, so the images tend to be blurry. Around and about Bristol, the camera fared rather less well. Choosing the right exposure time was trial and error, and a whole load of shots were either completely overexposed or mysteriously missing from the final film. Nonetheless, there were a few near-successes; squint and you can make out some of Bristol’s sights:

Bristol through a pinhole: car park (top left), high-rise buildings (top right), and the Clifton Suspension Bridge (converted to B&W afterwards)

In March 2010, Justin Quinnell, a pinhole camera expert, began the ‘Sunrise Project’. This involved placing over 400 pinhole cameras (made from empty cans of beer and Red Bull) in gardens and secure areas around the South Bristol area, for a duration (exposure time) of three months. The resulting images, showing the apparent change in the Sun’s path between the spring equinox and summer solstice, have recently been published in a book:

I find these time-lapse images (see them all here) really beautiful…the traces of the Sun look like they’ve been painted onto the night sky. In fact, there’s something quite charming about pinhole photography in general. Using a pinhole camera may be a lot more time-consuming and risky than taking a quick digital snap, but there’s a grain and rawness to the pinhole photos which make the high-gloss sheen of many digital photos seem superficial. Although I won’t be trading in my digital camera just yet, this project was a fascinating insight into the mysterious world of DIY photography, and I can’t wait to have a second (and hopefully more successful!) attempt.


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