Spotlight #5 – David O’Brien

Enjoy the fantastic pinhole landscapes of UK based ‘pinholer’ David O’Brien…

(click images for larger view)

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.

Thanks Dave!

Intragram: @filmpinholephotography
Instagram: @dobphoto

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