Pinholista technique guide

Pinhole Portraits – not as simple as you’d think

For a long time I have been fascinated by portraiture in photography. This fascination mainly derives from my own limitations; I’m not good at asking people to allow me to make a picture of them, and I’m sure I’m not good at setting my subjects at ease (which probably stems from my own concerns). Nonetheless I’ve challenged myself to take more pinhole portraits, and here are some results.

Firstly, I should acknowledge that A has appeared in more pictures that I’ve made than anyone. She suffers for my art (or my attempts at art) and for that I am truly grateful. Fortunately A likes a stone circle so this picture of her in the mist in Scotland was pretty simple to make.


I also made a number of images in Amsterdam during our WPPD photowalk. I meticulously planned these shots in advance, working out the angle of view of my Zero to ensure I was at the right distance…I wasn’t! So apologies to Lorraine (above) and Inge and Moni (below) for photographically scalping them. Hopefully the experience wasn’t too painful and when we next meet I will do a much better job.


The results of my attempts in Amsterdam did at least help me learn a few things (apart from stepping back a little). Firstly, background matters. I kinda of knew that from marvelling at the incredible work of Niall McDiarmid whose Crossing Paths project is a lesson to anyone that its not just about the person but also about the place, thanks to Niall I’ve got a much better appreciation of that.


Amsterdam also taught me the importance of trying to blend movement with static. For the Amsterdam shots I had a static background with the subjects moving (intentionally or not, it doesn’t really matter). I also wanted to see what could happen if the subjects remained relatively stationary. I found that with a static background you get what is almost a relatively straightforward portrait (with unintended echoes of a well-known UK pop act), but the pinhole still adds it’s special something to the image.

Jon and Gav do Chris and Neil

However, when the background moves you can get a result that (at least in my eyes) is almost magical. I love the image below of Jon and Gav. This (and the shot above) were part of a series of shots made for online store NoKipple, and as an aside I also made some lens-based images for them, samples of which you can find on my portfolio site.

Under the trees

I included the context “Not as simple as you’d think” to the title of this post to reflect the beginnings of my own journey into portraiture. The technical aspects, which I am beginning to get a handle on, are just a drop in the ocean compared to the huge education I still have to give myself in interacting with my subjects (or should I call them sitters, friends…I don’t know but I guess I’ll figure that out as well). Its an education I shall be embarking on with gusto so you can expect more portraits at some point in the future.

Chasing Waterfalls

Being from Norfolk there is an argument that I should have stuck to the rivers and lakes that I’m used to…but I didn’t. As my long suffering love knows I love a good waterfall, it could be almost the perfect pinhole subject, and here’s why.

Firstly, the motion, the movement the energy. I mean what’s not to like, a waterfall, like Ashgill Force above, is an amazing source of energy. Motion in a pinhole image is a wonderful thing. Subjects that move can become ghosts, or in the case of water can either smooth out or become emulsified like the creamiest milk (jings, I must’ve become romantic for just a second…I’ll get that fixed).

Ashgill, from the back

Waterfalls also give you surprising and wonderful opportunities, as shown in the shot above which was made behind Ashgill Force. Yes, in this case I was actually able to stand in the cave behind the fall, just touching distance away from the torrent. Until recently I had not had that experience, and I’m delighted that I’ve been able to have that pleasure, it was on my bucket list!

High Force

Waterfalls also give you the opportunity to make images which illustrate the flow and motion of the stream below the fall, as in the shot of High Force above, which incidentally is one of the most impressive falls in England and has been visited by such luminaries as J.M.W. Turner.

The Reekie Linn

The Reekie Linn, which is an easily accessible waterfall on the River Isla in Angus, Scotland, is almost as impressive as High Force. Unfortunately the Reekie Linn illustrates another of the problems inherent in waterfall pinholing…access. The Reekie Linn can only be shot from above or from a distance (at least in my experience) due to the sheer sides of the glen that the river runs through. With the wide-angle of a pinhole this can make it difficult to really access a falls unless you are willing to get your feet wet…generally I am not.

Zero Milkfall

Sometimes though, it is possible to get close…and that also brings the advantage of being able to see how man has harnessed the power of the water. Lumsdale is now a peaceful valley near Matlock in Derbyshire. There was a time though when the valley would’ve been filled with the sound of industry. Indeed, Lumsdale is one of the most impressive sites of water powered industry in the UK, which you couldn’t tell from the shot above.

Zero Eau Chaud

So now we find that waterfalls can also be deceptive. For example, you would never have guessed that but a short walk away from the peaceful scene above is a hot spring filled with cavorting naked hippies. OK, I may be exaggerating a little but springs that fall down the side of the valley near the spot above are a favoured bathing spot. Prats Balaguer, a small hamlet in the Pyrenees, is blessed with this hot spring, a small church, and not much else.

Placid Pool

Splendid isolation, then, is also a possible feature of a waterfall. But not in the case above, which was just off the path towards the ropeway taking you to the top of the island of Miyajima in Japan. Patience was key here as the light was beginning to fade leading to a very long exposure. Metering can be a bit of a challenge with a fall. They’re often situated in the depths of woods and valleys so careful metering, adjusting for reciprocity, and patience is key.

Zero Utsue 4 - the top

Patience is, of course, not a problem for the dedicated Pinholista, but we also rely on the patience of others. On so many occasions during so many holidays I have taken A on a trip to a waterfall, or two, or three…or in this case forty-eight! The Utsue waterfalls near Takayama are, for me at least, almost the ultimate falls. You get to travel by various means of transport to a path and a rest area at the foot of a mountain. Then you climb, climb and climb some more, whilst passing 48 individual falls. As you can imagine, this takes a little while for a dedicated Pinholista. Then you have to head back down again, only to meet 5 coachloads of Japanese pensioners all walking up the path (which incidentally is only wide enough for a single person to pass safely). Whilst there could be some worry that you’ll miss the transport links the cheery calls of konichi-wa will nurture you on the descent.

So there we have it, chasing waterfalls will give you many fine experiences, and with careful metering so pretty fine images as well. Happy Shooting Pinholistas!

I did a bad thing!

As a result of a discussion on the most recent pinhole podcast I have to confess that I did a bad thing. If at this point you are wondering what a pinhole podcast is then I suggest you check it out immediately (and then come back here). So now you’re back, you might be wondering what the heck I have done…read on Pinholista.

San Francisco 2

As a general comment, I am of a view that the method used to create an image should always be secondary to the image itself. It doesn’t matter hugely to me whether an image is made on paper, film or digitally. I shoot film as a rule, but that is largely an aesthetic choice as I am hugely interested in the additional characteristics an emulsion can add to an image, more of which later. So when my fellow poddies started discussing digital pinhole I tried to provide a balanced view, though not a ringing endorsement. Really though, I was speaking from a place of ignorance, I knew I had to try it for myself.

San Francisco 1

I have a Skink pinhole body cap, which I purchased to use on M mount cameras, really as a way of trying to cut down the number of cameras I travel with, a not entirely successful endeavour. When I’ve used the Skink I’ve been fairly happy with the results, wideish angle and nice and sharp…just like a pinhole should be (the non SF shot is an example for you). I also have an M-mount adapter for my X-Pro1…you can guess what’s coming next.

Skink Woods

I’ve recently been on a business trip to the US (from the shots I hope you can guess where). One of the pains of which (and in some ways pleasures) is the early rising due to jet lag. I took advantage of that to shoot some digital pinhole of the bay, as I had no film pinhole to use.

The process of image making was a little different, for a start I could use the camera’s level to get my horizons straightish. The biggest difference though was immediately being able to view the results of each shot, which meant I could use the Force to get the exposure time and then confirm it with more terrestrial means. I could also play with ISO to change the exposure times. So far so interesting, although I have to say I didn’t like being able to review the images, I was able to take a number of shots and that beautiful serendipity that comes with film was lost (as well as the tension being shooting and developing).

San Francisco 4

I guess that’s OK though, it’s just a different technique, and that doesn’t make it bad. What was bad though was the softness of the images. I can’t explain whether that is due to the nature of a digital sensor, something to do with use an adaptor that changed the focal length or what (I’ve ruled out bad technique, I like to think I have a small idea about what I’m doing). Regardless, the softness surprised me and immediately made me think about the subjects for my images.

Then my battery ran out! I’d made about 14 images and that was it. I couldn’t tell you if it was fully charged when I started, I mean it’s not something I normally have to check when shooting pinhole. So, with a film camera I’d also have a limited number of images but surely one of the points of digital is the ability to take a lot of shots.

San Francisco 5

So it goes though, and I went back to my hotel to load the images onto my iPad. I did this for archival reasons but also to see if the images were as soft as they appeared on the camera’s LCD. I wasn’t prepared for what I found though…dust spots! Every image was riddled with dust spots. Now I know you can clone them out in post (and I did except for one example) but seriously, what a  drag.  With film of course you can get scratches and the like but not freaking dust spots on every image. In many ways this probably means I need to keep my sensor cleaner but honestly it’s not something I’ve ever had to worry about. By that I mean I’ve made a ton of images with my X-Pro1 including long exposures and have never had that problem…must be a pinhole thing!

Overall I don’t mind the results of this experiment. Sure they are not the greatest pinhole images ever made but that wasn’t the point. What you do lose with digital is those beautiful colours that come from selecting the right emulsion for the image. I mean, imagine if these shots were made on Portra or Reala! I tried to rescue them through post-processing to black and white…hmmm!

San Francisco 6

However, I guess I still think there is a place for digital pinhole. It could be a good way to introduce someone to the delights of becoming a Pinholista as long as the limitations are clearly understood. But that might be the main problem, if you were experimenting without that understanding then the whole process might be off putting. For that reason, whilst I agree there is a place for digital, I have come to a conclusion. I may have done a bad thing, and I may pay for it with bad karma, but at least I can now say with certainty that for my own personal use and pleasure digital pinhole sucks!

2013 Solargraphs

Finally, the results of my 2013 solargraphs are in, and I’m pretty happy with them. Before I present the shots though, here’s another quick plug for the great pinhole shirt from  Lucia Joglar…you know you want one!  The exposures were started at the end of February 2013, and collected at the end of December, approximately a 10 month exposure.

2013 Solargraph 1All of the images were exposed at my mum’s house in the middle of Norfolk. The first (above) was taken overlooking the meadow behind the house.

2013 Solargraph 2

At this point I guess I should talk a little about the technique. The images are made by exposing standard black and white paper in a pinhole camera (made from a can, and old film canister or similar). At the end of the exposure the paper is scanned and then inverted in an image processing software (Photoshop or similar). No processing of the paper is required and yes, you do get a colour image from black and white paper (these were all Ilford RC Multigrade). You can find more on the technique on Diego Calvin’s excellent site.

2013 Solargraph 3The second two images in the post were taken in the garden. I kind of like the variation in colour, but I couldn’t explain how that happened. Just one of those things.

The last image however is a little different. This is an anamorphic exposure, in that the pinhole is perpendicular (or the other plane) to the paper. A little like Jana’s camera but as a solargraph. I really like this last image, particularly the way the sun trails seem to march away from the viewer…this is something I shall do again. Again this was shot in mum’s garden, you can see the trees.

2013 Solargraph 4 (Anamorphic)

Solargraphy workshop in Spain


Today’s post is about one of the more (to my mind) interesting aspects of pinhole photography…solargraphy. Solargraph exposures are measured in days, months or even years, and are designed to show the path of the sun. I shall post some of my own solargraphs in the future, but for those of you who want to know more immediately, there is a solution…and here it is.

Diego Calvin and Slawomir Decyk are two of the masters of this technique, and they are running a workshop in Spain in January for those who are keen to know more. The workshop will be held at Totestiu in Sumacarcer, just south of Valencia.

As I understand it, this first workshop may be mainly in Spanish so if you want to join and would be looking for an English language workshop then I suggest you get in touch with Diego and Slavo first. I’m told that there will be another workshop for the summer solstice next year, which may be in English!

Anyway, as well as kindly agreeing that I could share the image in this post (which is their copyright), Diego and Slavo have also agreed that I can post a translation of the details of the workshop…so here it is. All words beyond this point are not mine (and are the result of the use of a translation engine)!

The Workshop

Delivered by Diego Lopez Calvín and Sławomir Decyk. Two of the creators of “Project Solaris,” which names and popularizes Solarigrafía.

Full Workshop on Solarigrafía technique where we learn to build pinhole cameras can withstand years of weathering, supporting any negative climate and produce rich tone and contrast. Learn to treat well exposed photo paper and make correct scans or reproductions thereof. The workshop will combine traditional photographic processes in relation to other current digital technology. Work on techniques derived from pinhole photography and other relationships with experimental photography, which uses non-aggressive elements environment.

With slow Solarigrafía rehearse, learn to wait and forget, to get to see things that the naked eye can not. Perhaps as they would the stones or trees if they had eyes.

WORKSHOP PRICE: €270. Includes materials, accommodation and full board.

TO RESERVE: it is necessary to make a deposit in advance of €100. Request your assistance email: and give you directions. Places are allocated in order of booking.

Maximum number of participants: 15 people of all ages and does not require prior knowledge of photographic technique.

INFORMATION on the technique:

SCHEDULE guidance of the workshop:

Thursday January 2

  • Presentation and introduction to Solarigrafía.

Friday January 3

  • Construction of apparatus for Solarigrafía.
  • Walk to collect cameras placed six months of exposure especially for this event Xuquer River Dam and Sumacàrcer Bell. Cameras will post also built by the workshop participants.
  • Colloquium.
  • Scanning and processing of negatives obtained with the negative of the dam and the belfry.
  • Projected job obtained.

Saturday January 4

  • Preparation of camera obscura in an abandoned construction near the dam on the river Xuquer . Experiment with it to get an image on paper.
  • Solar Drawings.
  • Preparation of a pinhole camera to collect a single image during the course of a “Solar Walk.”
  • Audio Projection Solarigrafía related visual.

Sunday January 5

  • Solar Walk. Walk carrying a camera specially designed for this type of performance.
  • Collection and scanning of cameras placed by the participants.