About Pinhole Imaging


It was on 1986 when I met Pinhole or Stenopeic imaging. I was assigned to urgently substitute a Photography teacher in a College subject showing to the students the variety of possibilities the photography offers. With no time to prepare my own vision about, I took the syllabus already prepared and begun experiencing with pinhole cameras. The group was very participative and both students and me discover some amazing properties from the pinhole imaging capabilities.

Nevertheless, my work as a professional photographer continued on the field of commercial and industrial photography working mainly with 4x5inch view camera. In parallel and being interested in landscape, I took regularly some pinhole images of mountains, woods and beaches using always the view camera equipped with the intended pinhole from Pinhole Resource of Eric Renner and Nancy Spencer (Fig., 1 and 2). In any case, partly imposed by assignments and partly chosen by my aesthetic preferences, photography with lens and accurate detail was always my most important body of work.

Figure 1. Banyoles Lake, Girona, Spain. Sinar P 4x5inch camera with Tri-X film and a suited pinhole from Pinhole Resource (click on the image to access a larger view).
Figure 2. Banyoles Lake. Sinar P 4x5inch camera with Tri-X film and a suited pinhole from Pinhole Resource (click on the image to access a larger view).

One assignment of a client on 1993, rebirths my interest on pinhole imaging. The proposal was a series of still life images to illustrate the books cover of a new editorial project. I prepared three images with pinhole camera and three very similar others with classic lens technology. Finally, the editorial project was aborted and no one of those images came to light. Being the images done, at summer of the same year, I decided to participate in the Lux Prizes of Professional Photography. Those prizes are even today the most important event of this kind in Spain. As sometimes one is a lucky man, the image shown in Fig., 3 won the Gold Lux Prize in Advertising Photography.

Figure 3. Gold Lux Prize 1993 in Advertising Photography. Sinar P 4x5inch camera with Tri-X film and a suited pinhole from Pinhole Resource. Lighting is performed by studio electronic flash strobes (click on the image to access a larger view).

Some other examples of this series of still life are the shown in the Fig., 4 and 5.

Figure 4. Still life. Sinar P 4x5inch camera with Tri-X film and a suited pinhole from Pinhole Resource. Lighting is performed by studio electronic flash strobes (click on the image to access a larger view).
Figure 5. Still life. Sinar P 4x5inch camera with Tri-X film and a suited pinhole from Pinhole Resource. Lighting is performed by studio electronic flash strobes (click on the image to access a larger view).

Few years later, on 1994, I met Jaume Escofet, teacher and researcher at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) Optics Department because of my new position as an Image Technology teacher at the UPC. Beside other main activities we developed on the Image Quality Measurement area for almost twenty years, his interest on pinhole imaging renewed my former practice of this kind of images. A fruit of this collaboration and research is a brief booklet entitled “Imágenes Estenopeicas“, traying to explain the basics of pinhole imaging formation both on film and on electronic sensors of the so called digital cameras. Also some posts on the same subject can be found in this blog: Imágenes estenopeicas (I) – Teoría, Imágenes estenopeicas (II) – Imágenes sin cámara y Imágenes estenopeicas (III) – Imágenes con cámara optimizada.

Along this period of time, from 1986 until today, there have been some questions I often asked to myself. Is pinhole imaging adequate for any kind of photography? Does it have some unique contribution to photography body of work? Looking at the pinhole still life shown in the Fig., 3, 4 and 5, I have today serious doubts about if it was “necessary” to afford the work using a pinhole camera. The lack of resolution of detail can be also obtained by some filter in front of the camera lens or even using some antique “soft” lens. Conversely, the landscapes of the Fig., 1 and 2 show some aesthetic aspects which cannot be easily obtained with a lens camera. Long exposure time of several minutes forced by the small pinhole aperture provides a clear evidence of the wind on trees and reeds. The same cause is related with the loose of the texture on the water surfaces. A similar effect could be obtained with a heavy neutral density filter in front of the lens of a conventional camera, but the lack in resolution of detail helps, in the case of the pinhole image, to focus the observer on those described features, the wind, the motion and the water like a mirror.

Following with this kind of analysis, may be pinhole imagery is more intended for those situations or subjects where detail is not relevant, but the shape and/or volume. An example of that is the image in Fig., 6. In the three compositions, the objects are basically formed by smooth white surfaces. Consequently, there is not any texture we can expect to see. The border lines between surfaces are the descriptors of both shape and volume. How light is absorbed or reflected in those surfaces is the basis of these images construction. How shadows hide or show those borders of materials contributes both to the object description and the picture composition. Then, there is not necessary a lens with its resolving power. There is nothing to resolve but the shapes and volumes.

Figure 6. “À table” series. Three individual images taken with a Sony Alpha 7II camera body equipped with a suitable pinhole (click on the image to access an enlarged version).

Another example of that is the image shown in the Fig., 7. The stationary waves formed on the surface of a river can be synthetically registered beyond the texture of a classic landscape. In both cases, the simplicity provided by the pinhole camera helps to focus on the wave shape. The observer cannot be distracted by any other image feature.

Figure 7. “Waves#1”. Two individual images taken with a Sony Alpha 7II camera body equipped with a suitable pinhole (click on the image to access an enlarged version).

Obviously, all the above expressed are only the opinion and thoughts of the author and the former expressed questions cannot be solved in a such simple way. Nevertheless, I find specially interesting a derivative from previous reasoning. A possibility is to consider the pinhole camera as a tool to be added to our already existing equipment, better than a simple toy to play with. Discussion is open.

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4 Replies to “About Pinhole Imaging”

  1. Bonsoir Carles Merci pour ce très intéressant article prints are marvelous, really I immediately sent the link to Marie Noêlle Leroy a friend to Sylvie and I From several years Marie Noëlle is engaged in pinhole photography and participate to worldwide pinhole day organisation. I remember she speaks spanish fluently.

    I hope eyesight problems are solved now. Concerning my eyesight – DMLA – I’m happy, it’s not cured but naturally stopped, I ‘ll have only a yearly control now.

    Bien amicalement

    Jean-claude

    >

  2. Interesante disquisición sobre la fotografía estenopeica. En mi opinión se podrían añadir algunos elementos más al análisis, especialmente la variedad inmensa de posibles cámaras estenopeicas con formatos dificilmente “asequibles” con cámaras convencionales (aunque reconozco que no soy ningún entendido en el tema).
    Un abrazo!

    1. Gracias Jesús. Efectivamente, hay muchos otros aspectos a tratar. Sólo me he ocupado de los que he ido aplicando en mis espaciadas incursiones en este terreno. Salvo en aquella primera experiencia con los alumnos del Instituto, no he hecho nunca pinhole sin una cámara que controle la exposición de la misma forma que trabajando con lente. Supongo que soy un poco obsesivo con el control de la gama tonal. Bueno, seguramente con más cosas, ja, ja, ja…

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