Category Archives: Blog
I met Alain a few years ago after he contacted me to meet to talk about my pinhole cameras. Since then we meet up regularly to have a beer and talk photography, go shooting or try out some new technique in the darkroom . He’s extremely knowledgeable on conventional and alternative processes and after 50 years still has a child-like fascination with photography and experimention with the medium.
I’ve included his original words and added an english translation along side. Enjoy!
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Pourquoi vous tirez au sténopé ? / Why do you shoot pinhole?
Faire du sténopé c’est remettre en question notre démarche de photographe classique. Cela permet d’aller à l’essentiel sans aucun artifice de materiel ou de post production digitale.
Pinhole calls into question the approach of a classic photographer. It allows you to reach the essence without any hardware or digital post-production trickery.
Juste une boîte, un trou et du film… Avec l’âge et l’expérience, j’ai travaillé beaucoup de sujets avec différents matériels de prise de vue, du tout petit ou très grand format argentique. Mais le sténopé m’offre la possibilité d’explorer des pistes inconnues ou plutôt de retrouver mes yeux d’enfant…
Just a box, a hole and some film… With age and experience, I have worked on many subjects with different equipment, from very small to very large film formats. The pinhole camera offers me the possibility of exploring unknown avenues or rather finding my childhood eyes again…
Qu’est-ce que tu aimes là-dedans ? / What do you like about it?
Souvent les artistes et plus particulierement les photographes ont un ego assez démesuré, beaucoup de“pho(faux)tographes” n’ont jamais entendu parler du Stėnopė par manque de culture. Pour d’autres c’est plutôt la peur de ne pas voir ce que l’on photographie, etc. Le Stėnopė c’est sortir de sa zone de confort, d’avoir une approche plus frugale, plus poétique, refuser la perfection et espérer obtenir des “accidents heureux”.
Often artists and more particularly photographers have quite excessive egos, many “fauxtographers” have never heard about ‘Pinhole’ due to lack of culture. For others it’s more fear not to see what we are photographing, etc. ‘Pinhole’ means getting out of one’s comfort zone, to have a more frugal, more poetic approach, to refuse perfection and hope to obtain “happy accidents”.
Pratiquer le Stėnopė c’est peut-être ne plus rien avoir à prouver à soi et aux autres : la “slow
photography” en quelque sorte…Le sténopé devrait être obligatoire dans les écoles de Photo.
Practicing Pinhole is perhaps no longer having anything to prove to oneself and to others: the “slow photography” in a way…The pinhole camera should be obligatory in Photo schools.
Où tirez-vous ? / Where do you shoot?
Une vie de photographe c’est souvent quelques minutes (l’addition des de centièmes de
seconde…) le Stėnopė par ses poses longues me permet d’allonger ma vie ! Donc, pour
répondre à votre question je fais des photos n’importe où dès que la lumière me le permet.
A photographer’s life is often only a few minutes (the sum of the hundredths of seconds…) ‘Pinhole’ with its long exposures allows me to extend my life! So to answer your question – I take photos anywhere the light allows me.
Utilisez-vous plusieurs caméras ou une seule par sortie ? / Do you use many cameras or just one per outing?
Lorsque je fais une session photo je ne prends qu’un seul appareil en général. Je me dis, aujourd’hui allons découvrir la vie en 6×6, ou bien en 6×9, ou encore en plus grand en 4×5, en 5×7…
When I do a photo session I generally only take one camera. I tell myself, today let’s discover life in 6×6, or in 6×9, or even larger in 4×5, in 5×7…
Parlez-nous de vos appareils photo sténopé. / Tell us about your pinhole cameras.
Je suis un manuel, plutôt un ingénieux qu’un ingénieur Et j’adore donc fabriquer moi-même mes appareils, sans plan et à l’inspiration… J’utilise donc mes propres boîtes, du canister au 8×10. Il y a quelques années j’ai rencontré James, nous étions voisins et nous sommes devenus des amis. Il m’a fait l’honneur de me prendre un peu comme testeur de ses nouvelles créations et l’utilisation de ses modèles est juste du grand plaisir ! Beauté, efficacité et simplicité en quelque sorte, tout est extrêmement bien étudié. Et, cerise sur le gâteau on voit très distinctement les numéros des vues dans les fenêtres de ses caméras ! Je n’ai pas besoin de faire de publicité à James, mais très souvent les gens
m’interpellent pour me demander qui fabrique ces jolis objets.
I’m someone that works with their hands, more of an ingenious than an engineer and so I love making my cameras myself, without a plan and by inspiration… I use my own cameras, from the canister to the 8×10. A few years ago I met James, we were neighbors and we became friends. He did me the honor of using me a bit like a tester of his new creations and using his models is just great fun! Beauty, efficiency and simplicity in a way, everything is extremely well thought out. And, cherry on the cake we can see clearly the frame numbers through the windows of his cameras! I don’t need to advertise James, but very often people call out to me to ask me who makes these pretty objects.
(Don’t get Alain started on the barely visible frame numbers printed on modern films).
Quelles pellicules préférez-vous ? / What film stocks do you prefer?
Je n’ai pas particulierement de préférence, comme je travaille essentiellement en noir et blanc j’aime la Foma en moyen format car on distingue bien les numéros des vues dans la fenêtre rouge… Souvent je charge du film rapide 400 iso car travailler au sténopé sans trépied est un peu contre nature.. mais c’est une transgression que j’aime.
I don’t particularly have a preference, as I work mainly in black and white I like the Foma in medium format because you can clearly see the frame numbers in the red window… Often I load fast 400 ISO film because shooting pinhole without a tripod is a bit unnatural.. but it’s a transgression that I like.
Vous agrémentez souvent vos photographies de dessins, de peintures et d’écritures manuscrites ? / You often embellish your photographs with drawings, paintings and handwriting?
J’ai débuté ma connaissance de la photographie dans des Photo-Club, ou l’enseignement dans les années 70, 80 était très classique et où l’on ne parlait pas du tout de Stėnopė, nous apprenions les règles, le cadrage, la netteté, l’alphabet de la photographie, mais pas la poésie de l’image. et comme j’ai toujours aimé la transgression, ajouter des lignes et des mots imaginaires à l’encre sur mes images c’est est un peu les enrichir d’une nouvelle histoire. Ajouter quelques ratures, pliures et déchirements au tirage lui donne de l’imperfection heureuse.
I began my knowledge of photography in Photo-Clubs, where teaching in the 70s and 80s was very classic and where we did not talk about Pinhole at all, we learned the rules, the framing, the sharpness, the alphabet of photography but not the poetry of the image. As I have always loved transgression, adding imaginary lines and words in ink to my images is a bit of enriching them with a new story. Adding a few scratch-outs, folds and tears to the print gives it happy imperfection.
Enjoy the fantastic pinhole landscapes of UK based ‘pinholer’ David O’Brien…
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Hi Dave! What’s your background in pinhole photography?
I’ve been shooting film pinhole for over 10 years but my passion for photography (and film photography in particular) has been present for over 40 years. Coming from a traditional landscape genre, I was keen to combine my passion for the outdoors with the way a film pinhole camera could view the landscape. I was always interested in colour and black and white film photography but seeing the world through the optical quality only an expensive camera lens will bring.
Although, like many others, the clean/sharp images of digital photography had an allure, I was reluctant to abandon the qualities of film emulsions for my landscape work; with differing amounts of grain (depending on one’s choice of emulsion) and a reproduction of colour unique to a film type, I felt digital landscape photography simply couldn’t replicate why analogue photography appealed to me. And, in my mind, there was lots to like! Film pinhole photography was a natural evolution of my interest in capturing the landscape in novel ways; a film pinhole camera will always be in my bag.
But why pinhole photography and film pinhole photography in particular?
With no lens or viewfinder, film pinhole is perhaps the simplest form of photography; the capturing of light in a light-sealed black box. Unlike with digital cameras, there is no immediate feedback – the delayed gratification of seeing the film negative results still creates a buzz today.
With a wider field of view, image framing is much more difficult – the pinholer’s mantra of “Get Closer!” is very true, and particularly for landscapes. An exposure of several seconds or, in fact, minutes, can transform the landscape. Pre-visualising that final pinhole image and getting everything right in-camera is always an enjoyable and challenging part of my image-making process – the movement of clouds and water look very different, of course, when exposures stray beyond a couple of seconds. With many film pinhole cameras having a flat image plane, image vignetting as a result of light fall-off is likely and another pinhole quirk to be embraced! It is all a continuing learning process where patience, practice and experimentation can pay dividends and, in time, predictable and consistent results can be obtained.
Can you tell us a bit more about your landscape photography?
Although I am in awe of many other pinholers and their unique way of seeing the world with their pinhole camera, I settled, almost exclusively, on using my pinhole cameras for landscape and seascapes. As we know, film pinhole photography will not generate a “sharp” image (there is no lens) but it is this dreamlike, almost impressionistic analogue “look” that has drawn me into this particular branch of film photography and which gives film pinhole imagery an unique feel.
I already owned a Hasselblad 501cm, so I had gotten used to seeing the world in square. But adding all the variables of pinhole photography added to the challenge. The enjoyment stems primarily from finding solutions as to how to present a landscape image but the lack of predictability of film pinhole and how a multi-second or minute exposure can “translate” the view in front of me adds to that initial difficulty of even finding the right composition!
Where do you shoot – do you travel or shoot close to home? Which cameras do you use and do you have a preferred film stock?
I am fortunate to travel regularly with my film pinhole cameras to capture the wonderful coastal landscape, both at home in the UK and occasionally abroad. Coming from a traditional landscape genre, I aim to produce images with a strong composition but enhanced by the unique way a film pinhole camera views the world. Whether it is recording the fading Victoriana of our seaside resorts or the protected remnants of our industrial heritage, there are plenty of subjects which are well-suited to the “look” of pinhole photography. The coast of Northumberland features heavily in my portfolio – a family favourite, many of the images remind me of the highly enjoyable family holidays we have spent there over the years.
When on a landscape shoot, I take too many cameras! I just can’t help it. But my workhorse film pinhole camera is the robust RealitySoSubtle 6x6F, a camera which can withstand all the elements of the UK weather and with the sweetest “pin” that gives me the desired sharpness (or lack of it) for my landscape work. I will regularly work at the coast in the rain (we have no choice in the UK!) and this camera allows me to do so. I will regularly use the filter holder (mostly for ND filters) to extend exposure times. On occasion, I will use the RealitySoSubtle 6×17 but I am envious of the fantastic work which John Farnan manages to pull from this camera! I am yet to “get my eye in”.
Film stock is almost exclusively Ilford Delta 100. I sometimes use Ilford Pan F and for colour work, Kodak Portra 160. But for exposure latitude and fine grain, I find Delta 100 to be the most suitable for my landscape needs. I process all my film at home using either Kodak or Ilford “soups” and use a Canon Pro-1000 printer to print the finished work. Controlling the workflow from image making to final print gives great satisfaction.
Spotlight on Dutch pinholer Danny Kalkhoven – I’ve known Danny online since 2006 when we used to frequent the F295 Lensless Imaging forums.
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Hi Danny, can you tell us why you shoot pinhole?
Back in 2002 I attended a photography course, the teacher spotted my G.A.S. and challenged me to try pinhole to make me concentrate on content rather than technical stuff. I didn’t know what pinhole photography was and had to look it up. I built my first pinhole camera out of an old Agfa Silette 6X6.
That approach to photography immediately suited me and my interest in “what to photograph”: mundane everyday thing and situations viewed a bit different than normal…or something like that. Anyway, from that moment on I was hooked on pinhole. In a year or two all my lens cameras were traded in for pinhole cameras, books, lots of film supply etc. I never looked back, although I regret a bit that I even sold my Hasselblad 500C (it was bought secondhand). G.A.S. is not completely cured, I have about 10-15 pinhole cameras in all formats including anamorph…but at least it is a lot cheaper than lens gear. Somehow the unique properties of pinhole fits me like a glove. The ultrawide angle, the endless depth of field and especially the long exposures and the unpredictability of the process attract and amaze me time and time again. In my old “lens days” I hated to lose control but with pinhole I welcome it. I think the English word is ‘serendipity’.
What do you like most about pinhole, do you think it is suitable for all kinds of photography?
After twenty years of pinhole photography I am still not sure if the pinhole effect should be very prominent in the image shouting out to the viewer, or a subtle effect that gives a mysterious extra to the image. Sometimes I like it when the movement of people or water immediately show “it’s pinhole!”, but not always.
Pinhole can be used for every type of photography, from landscape to portraits. But it always challenges the photographer to really think about what you want to show. And in way, for me, that is why pinhole has brought me so much: concentrate on content, on the story you want to tell.
In the beginning I used pinhole mostly on objects and still life situations, but in recent years more and more people come into the pictures. And often I pose myself, as a partially transparent ghost in the picture. I know that when you are static for about half of the exposure, you will become a ghost.
Which formats do you use, and what is your workflow?
My favorite cameras are the RSS66 with two pinholes, a 6X12 camera from a long gone brand, and the anamorphic cameras. Occasionally I use the RSS35R (it works great with that clicker) and sometimes a 6X9 camera made out of driftwood. I also have a RSS 617 with curved plane, but that isn’t used much, although it gives great panoramic images. Maybe I should take it out more?
Almost always I use color film and have that developed by the lab. Then I scan the negatives with my Epson V600, and do a little processing in Photoshop Elements. Mostly things like “auto color correction” and “auto levels”. I’m not that great with Photoshop, in my day job I am working with computers and software and processes a lot, so I want to keep it as simple as possible.
How do your family react to your pinhole photography? in both the making/taking and
them seeing the results.
“Dad has a hobby, but it’s not dangerous”. That is the attitude in the family HaHaHa. But they can appreciate what I’m doing and they show up when I have an exhibition. Two images have made it to the walls of our living room, printed on acrylic glass. That really makes the images stand out. One is a square RSS66 shot of people entering a attraction at a pier and the other is an anamorphic image of a library hall.
Why did you choose the RealitySoSubtle cameras? What do you like about them and
what would you like to see improved?
My first RSS camera was the 617. Beast of a machine but I don’t use it enough. After my first home made 6X6 camera became a bit shaky at the tripod connection I needed a new go-to 6X6 camera.
I ordered the RSS66 camera. That camera has not let me down. It is compact and sturdy, the film transport is good, and the extra pinhole is very convenient. I love the wide-wide-wide angle. Images come out fine, so nothing left to wish for…the only thing is the shutter, I sometimes get fiddly with opening/closing it with short exposure times (1-3 seconds). Nowadays I simply open the shutter with my finger in front, then position the camera, and use
my finger as the shutter. Works fine!
Danish photographer Neils Hansen shoots the RealitySoSubtle 6x6F (central pinhole and filter attachement) and 35P (35mm Panoramic).
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I have been an art photographer for around 35 year and have exhibited my work around the world.I started
with pinhole 4 years ago,and was hooked at once,the way the pinhole rendered the light was amazing!
It was often dreamy, surreal and not seldom spooky as well!
I started out with an Agfa isola I hacked, but after 3 months I bought a RSS 6x6F and that has been my main camera during the first years, it is lightweight and makes wonderful images, thanks to the superb pinholes made by James.
I often rebuild old 6×6 and 35 mm cameras to pinholes and I often use the 0.2mm pinhole from RSS – they are sharp and make “controlled” light beams against the sun (many other pinholes looks like snowstorm against the
Like all other forms of photography it is important to work in the right light often morning and evening
are the best,people often ask : how do you get these fantastic clouds,well I get it by looking at the
weather forecast when I plan a photo trip. Is there sun, clouds and a bit of wind? Then there are a good
chance of decent clouds, I always use a yellow or orange filter to give more contrast in the sky.
I like to make surreal images and pinhole is really great for that. I often make images against the sun to use the
light-beams as an element. In the images why not use it if you can control it? With the help of these simple
cameras I think I have made the best work of my photo life.
Last year film prices was very high because of the war in Ukraine, and I started to buy bulk 35mm film to keep expenses low. I converted some old rangefinder cameras to pinhole and I also bought a RSS 35p to make images that gives a panoramic image where you are using the film area with sprocket as well. This camera’s images are nearly medium format quality thanks to that!
This summer I have also been working with paper negatives in a 4×5 camera and I have been able to make images look more pictorial and it has been nice to do proper darkroom work again. My process with film cameras – I develop the film, take an image of the negative with a DSLR in raw format – that gives in my opinion full control of tones and contrast in photoshop. I print with pigmented ink on cotton paper and I also make cyanotype prints of some of my pinhole images.
This year I have shown my work on photo festivals and juried exhibitions in USA,Poland,Ukaine,Japan and Argentina. In February I started a Facebook group called:pinhole photography light and form. We have now 1800 members and I
have been so lucky that James Murray, Vicent Sebastian, Yulia Belska and Miroslav Randomski have agreed
to be co Administrators that gives super global diversity to the group.
Joe shoots the RealitySoSubtle 6x17f (the 6×17 with central pinhole and filter attachment) and the 6x6F (central pinhole and filter attachement). Film stocks : Fuji Acros, Ilford Delta 100, Kodak Ektar, and Kodak Portra 160.
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Hi Joe, can you tell us why you shoot pinhole rather than regular lensed photos?
First, I love photography. It’s such a wonderful creative medium, with a lot of different practices. I started my photography journey by making lensed photos like many photographers. Yet after some time, I started getting consumed by making ‘clean’ and technically correct images. Then I discovered pinhole photography. That discovery was liberating for me in so many ways. I was suddenly able to be more present as I made photos. I was free from the prison of making ‘perfectly sharp photos.’ And in the long run, pinhole photography has allowed me to more deeply explore my relationship with the world around me.
Your work features your family prominently. Can you talk about why you shoot them with a pinhole camera? I really like that the pinhole has rendered them anonymously due to the longer exposures/movement.
There’s an old belief in photography that you should make pictures wherever you are, and thankfully I am almost always with family. I wouldn’t be able to make many photos if I waited for those few moments where I am off on my own. Initially, I always had a lensed camera when I was out with the kids – hoping to get those fleeting moments of childhood. But, I found the lens distracting. Constantly thinking of settings. Constantly protecting the lens. It ultimately created a separation between me at the moment that I wanted to soak in.
Pinhole photography rescued me from the trappings of lensed photography. Photographing my family with the pinhole suddenly reframed my entire connection with time, memory, and childhood. The pinhole challenged everything that I thought was foundational, and photographing my family in this way created a constellation in which I could orient my own being.
Do you shoot the square format and the pano together in the same sessions or are you a one camera kind of guy. Tell us about your work-flow.
I work predominantly with the square format because it’s easy to carry and allows me to take a lot of photos. I love working the 6×17, but it typically takes extra effort to make it really sing. So, I don’t always have it in my bag when I had out. When possible, I do like to travel with both cameras assuming I have the space. I don’t really like being out and thinking ‘this would be a great image with pano’. Both cameras also allow me to use a filter, which I do use pretty regularly.
How do your family react to your pinhole photography? in both the making/taking and them seeing the results.
My family has been very supportive of my pinhole work. Although, I think they still wonder what they’re looking at when they see the final image. The atypical qualities of pinhole can challenge what one might expect from a photo. Pinhole photography can also be liberating for people that I photograph. People are no longer burdened by how they look, and the kids certainly appreciate not being constantly told to ‘stand still and smile.’ The whole process creates this curious intersection of anonymity and familiarity. You might not be able to see someone’s face, yet we can often find meaning in that special moment depicted through the pinhole.
Why did you choose the RealitySoSubtle cameras? What do you like about them and what would you like to see improved?
RSS cameras have a lot to offer. Mutliple formats and features. Reliability and useability are important to me. Honestly, I put these cameras through their paces. I occasionally drop the camera. I get them wet. I get them dirty. The kids knock them over. And the RSS keeps on working. I can easily put my 6x6F in my pocket when I head out. I regularly use filters with my B&W photography. All aspects that are helpful for me. I don’t have much to offer in terms of improvements, but it might be fun to see some anamorphic cameras in medium format.
Thanks Joe! You can follow Joe on instagram : @ditchphoto_pinhole
A new feature on the Blog.. a regular (weekly if possible) Spotlight on the work of RealitySoSubtle customers. First up is John Farnan.
I asked John about his pinhole photography and feature some of his work with the RealitySoSubtle cameras. I love John’s panoramas made with the RSS 6×17 dual pinhole camera. He seems to be perfectly in tune with the camera. He also shoots the RSS 4x5z, 35P, 35R and 4x5C.
Thanks John!..and ‘Stoat’ about – love that!
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Hi John, can you tell us why you shoot pinhole rather than regular lensed photos?
I got into pinhole photography a few years back, a friend gave me a loaner. I have never looked back since.
There is something about the direct connection between whats inside my head and the view without lenses that just clicked with me. I adore the way it is so basic and without anything other than the pinhole and me.
Your work consists of mainly landscape and street/architecture. Can you talk about why you shoot those subjects with a pinhole camera?
I live in a built up area and this is what I am surrounded by, I have always been drawn to architecture with lensed cameras but I was never able to capture the wide vistas I saw in front of me, even with my 17mm lens. So I bought myself a RealitySoSubtle 6×17 with 2 pinholes. This literally turned my photography upside down, its ability to present the expanse of a city whilst conveying the height, using the top pinhole to draw down the buildings was remarkable.
I have never looked back since. Pinhole adds an element of the ethereal to my photography, people are either slightly out of synch or just not present at all. You can feel their presence but can’t always see it.
Do you shoot several cameras together in the same sessions or are you a one camera kind of guy? Tell us about your shooting style and work-flow.
That’s a difficult one to answer. I sometimes take a single camera / format with me and other times I take multiple. I used to think it was easier to stick to a single format but now I am so used to my cameras that I see the scene and bring a camera out for it, with practice you get used to judging what the best camera is for the scene you have.
Shooting style: I stoat about with a camera and a small tripod. I see things and I make images.
Years ago, someone gave me a bit of advice. Stop looking and start seeing. I give this same advice to aspiring and experienced photographers who are stuck in a rut. What it means to me is, rather than looking everywhere for something to shoot, just be more in tune with what’s around you, keep your eyes open and you will see the opportunities.
There is no such thing as perfect light, there is the kind of light you have in front of you, see the opportunities it has rather than worrying about the ones it doesn’t.
If you think you could revisit at a different time or season for a different light, then great take a few phone snaps with geo-location on so you know where and what it is. My workflow is simple I see it I frame it in my head, I work out the exposure and I hang around till the exposure is complete.
How do your family/friends react to your pinhole photography?.. in both the making/taking and them seeing the results.
Ambivalence probably. They on the whole don’t care about process, cameras, film or anything else. Just the end result looking good and making me smile!
My wife kinda puts up with my continual carrying of a camera when we are out, though I am not a daft guy I know my limits and don’t push it. I try to shoot my pinhole work if we are together only when she is doing something else.
Why did you choose the RealitySoSubtle cameras? What do you like about them and what would you like to see improved/introduced?
Initially by accident I suppose. I got my first RSS camera and was hooked, that was my 6×17 twin pinhole.
I have since purchased a fair few of them in various formats, I like the simplicity and reliable way they just work and produce stunning images every time. Anytime I have spoken with James on modifications or improvements to the cameras he’s always been very receptive and accommodating.
I am also a massive fan of supporting small businesses like my own.
Improvements: A 3 hole 6×17 made from solid wood J but that’s super niche. (Super challenging but maybe one day!)