If you haven’t read Part 1 you can catch up here to see how my daughter and I constructed our own DIY pinhole camera. Also there is a template to download if you wish to take part.
Preparing for Exposures
With the construction phase complete now it’s time to load the photographic paper. For this I have opted for Ilford’s Harman direct positive paper meaning there will be no need to invert the colouring by scanning, in fact when it’s developed & dried it can be mounted/framed. To load the 4×5 paper I have to do this either in a film changing bag or under a red light in a darkroom. A single sheet is placed inside the lid of the pinhole camera, ensuring the emulsion side is facing outwards and not against the card. Once happy the paper is flat I carefully slide in the main body of the pinhole camera and for added security I use to 2 elastic bands to prevent the lid from accidentally coming away from the main body. We’re ready to head out and make an exposure.
If you’ve never done pinhole photography before you need to be aware that exposures are going to be incredibly long, more so with photographic paper as it has an ISO 1-3. On the Ilford website it recommends the following exposure times if you don’t have a light meter:
- Bright sunshine (summer) = 1-2 mins
- Bright (not direct) = 2-3 mins
- Overcast (mixed sun/cloud) = 4-5 mins
- Dull/cloudy = 6-10 mins
- Interior = 1 hr
However, if you have an iPhone I can recommend a free app called “Pinhole Assist” which has been pretty accurate for my other pinhole work. With the app you can input the pinhole’s technical details such as the aperture (f/225) & focal length (90mm). Remember to set the ASA value (previously referred to it as ISO) to a value between 1-3. For this I’m going in between so 2. Don’t worry too much about film type as we’re not going to take into account any reciprocity failure.
With pinhole photography you have to embrace imperfections, there’s no filters to help balance the sky with foreground so with scenes with a high contrast you’re going to have either blown highlights or deep black shadows. I tend to aim somewhere in between those exposures with film as it has a good latitude that allows some recovery in post-processing but that’s entirely different to what we’re trying to achieve with photographic paper.
For a trial run, we headed out to make a pinhole image. Here we secure the pinhole to the top of a tripod, you can handhold for more interesting results as the slight movement will be captured or you can rest the pinhole on the ground if you don’t have a tripod (careful if it’s breezy, lightly rest hand on top). Composing an image is pretty much guess work as there is no viewfinder, but as an aid you can put your eye against the back horizontal edge of the pinhole and look to see if your subject lies in between the front corners of the pinhole, repeat this along the vertical edge. With the subject composed with our pinhole we now need to take a light meter reading of the scene. Using the above app, it’s telling us the subject requires an exposure of 14mins so I hit the hold button and then the stop watch button. This automatically sets the count down. When ready Evie slides the shutter to the open position and I start the count down, once the exposure is complete the shutter is moved to its closed position. Don’t worry if you accidentally go a couple of seconds over as it’s not going to affect the final image much due to the length of exposure, it’s pretty hard to go 1 stop over. The next step is to setup a temporary darkroom in which we can remove the photographic paper and develop it.
Having never done any form of chemistry in a darkroom I had to do some research to understand how to correctly use these chemicals and do a trial run before showing Evie how it’s done (rather than how it’s not done and ruining the magic). From what I understood temperature is critical so I ensured the water for mixing the chemicals was at 20°C. I set up the temporary darkroom in the utility room with all the chemicals already made up to start using. To make the room light tight I covered the window with cardboard and taped the edges against the wall with some gaffer/duct tape. Before turning on the darkroom safe light , I allow my eyes to adjust to the dark before checking for any light leaks. Satisfied there are none I turn on the darkroom safe light. The darkroom safe light is a purpose made one for darkroom photography and is a must when you’re retrieving the photographic paper from the pinhole otherwise the paper will be exposed to strong light and will be useless. With everything set I proceed to remove the exposed photographic paper from the pinhole. Simultaneously setting the stop watch away on my iPhone (set backlight on phone to minimum) and sliding the paper into the ‘developing’ bath ensuring the liquid covers the paper I start to agitate it by rocking the tray. It doesn’t take long before the picture starts to come through (approx. 30secs) and after a 1 min it’s about done. Resisting the urge to whip out the paper I keep it in watching the shadows and remembering that in the red light everything seems darker. After about 4 mins I take it out and allowing the excess developer to run off before sliding it into the ‘stop’ bath and timing for 2 mins, again agitating it. The ‘stop’ bath, as the name suggests, stops the image from developing any further. After the 2 mins it is then removed and placed into the ‘fixer’ bath which ensures the image is permanent and light-resistant, again agitate regularly. After 2 mins in the ‘fixer’ bath I turn on the main light and remove the print and under a running tap rinse off the residual fixer. The print is hung up dried naturally.
Here is the result from the trial run.
The first thing that threw me was the image was flipped, naively I forgot that with it being a positive as I’m so used to scanning negatives the correct way. The clarity of the image is amazing, there was a slight light leak (at the top), which may have been caused where the tripod head pushed on the card (remedied with a drinks coaster as a base on pinhole). The field of view was pretty much as I expected. Overall a successful trial.
‘Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2016’
Finally the big day arrives, both of us eager to get out and play, I had to ask grandparents if they’d look after the little one for a couple of hours. That sorted we headed to the coast. Arriving at Saltburn, a place that’s perfect for pinholing, we headed for the famous Victorian pier. It wasn’t long before Evie said she wanted to take a picture so I talked her through it and we set about composing and taking light readings. Happy with the setup she operated the shutter whilst I rested my hand on top of the pinhole so it didn’t blow off the bench. Whilst I was changing the paper, Evie went onto the beach to have a play. Now I’m used to curious glances from people passing by when using a pinhole, but I did get some strange looks when I had my arms inside a film changing bag swapping out the paper for a new one. They must have thought I was performing a puppet act, a bad one at that 😉
A couple of pictures each later, Evie with wet feet and both of us feeling hungry (damn you fish & chip shop for those lovely smells!!) we headed home for our Sunday dinner.
Below are the results from our trip.
I was really pleased Evie enjoyed the whole process of making a pinhole camera and seeing how an analogue image is made from start to finish. Initially she was convinced there would be an image on the paper when it was removed from the pinhole, and it wasn’t until the room was filled with red light that her wonderment started. To her I’m sure it was like a little magic trick and when the picture started to come through in the developing tray I heard a gasp and the words “I see it!”.
Please check back as I will be uploading scans of the images. Thanks to everyone who has followed this project. Evie and I are already looking forward to next year #WPPD2017 😉