I was standing at the top of the stairs in the Suzzallo Library on the University of Washington campus, looking down at my phone when someone tapped me on the shoulder from behind. I turned to see an older gentleman who gestured towards the hardwood box resting on the handrail of the stairway.
He asks, “What are you doing there? Is that a camera?”
“Yeah, it’s a Zero Image 6×9 pinhole camera that I bought on a trip to Portland this summer,” I explain.
“Oh, so that shoots film?” he says while inspecting the camera from a safe distance. “Where do you get film for it? That’s really cool.”
Then we launch into a conversation about pinhole photography, local camera stores, film selection and photography labs while standing at the top of the stairs.
I love these chats with onlookers and curious passers-by. Six months ago, when I bought my pinhole camera, I had no idea it would become such a conversation starter, though I’m more than happy to answer questions and encourage people to shoot film. The pinhole camera has become my obsession, though the Zero Image wasn’t my first.
My first faulty attempts at pinhole photography began with my Diana F+ with the lens removed and the cable release adapter. Although the adapter had a tendency to pop off the camera body, I experimented with long exposures of the shoreline along the beach at Lincoln Park.
I liked the images, but disliked shooting with the flimsy Diana F+ so I purchased a used Holga 120 WPC off a friend. This was Lomography’s 6×12 Holga pinhole camera which had some great features and ultimately convinced me to purchase a Zero Image.
After considerable research, I bought the Zero Image 6×9 deluxe edition which comes with an exposure scale, cable release adaptor and bubble level. At $250 USD I felt it was a bit of a splurge. After all, this was a beautifully crafted teak wood and brass camera, but at the end of the day it really was just a box with a hole in it. Right?
I loaded a roll of HP5+ and headed to the park to shoot a roll. I developed the roll, scanned it in and as I went through the images frame by frame, ideas started to form in my head. I quickly loaded another roll into the camera and headed out again. I got hooked on pinhole photography immediately.
Part of what attracts me to pinhole photography is the lure of the unknown. I’m not just shooting analog film, I am shooting a lensless camera without a viewfinder. Over a duration of time, it captures an incredible wide angle of view with beautiful detail and a kind of focus without sharpness.
Most of the time, I have no idea what the final image will look like, but I eagerly anticipate seeing the results. Sometimes I succeed and surprise myself. More often I recognize the error in my attempt and try again. Each roll inspires new ideas in my head and I continue with my experimentation.
Currently I am working on capturing movement through a pinhole. I am obsessed with vehicles, public transportation, holiday carousels, automated conveyor belts, shopping carts and lazy susans at dim sum restaurants.
I’ve recognized a recurring theme in my work, pinhole or otherwise, where I look to create interesting abstractions from everyday things. I experience my modern city and see the environment around me in an entirely different way through my funny little box with no lens.
If you’re interested in shooting pinhole photography, here are a few tips.
- Always, always use a tripod or a flat surface to balance the camera. It can also be helpful to add some additional weight to keep everything steady.
- Meter for your important shadows and make necessary adjustments. Reciprocity failure of your film is also a consideration. I learned a lot by going through online forums and large format discussion groups. Ask your #BelieveInFilm friends. Do your research.
- Use a cable release and/or be cautious when opening and closing the shutter. Don’t knock your carefully placed camera from its position.
- Keep a pinhole kit in your camera bag. Mine includes painters blue tape (low tack and I’m cheap), a small level, a sharpie, a light meter and a timer.
- Experiment and try new things. It’s a totally different type of camera, so have fun with it.
Whatever you’re shooting, keep going and challenge yourself.
About the author: Jana Uyeda is a film and pinhole enthusiast based in Seattle, Washington. Visit her website here and her Flickr account here. This article was originally published here and was republished with Uyeda’s permission.