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Let the light in: World Pinhole Day

Phil Coomes | 10:54 UK time, Friday, 23 April 2010

Cape Kiwanda on the Oregon coast by Gretchen Hayhurst

Photography is simple. At least, the kit used to capture an image can be. What is a camera but a light tight box with a hole it?

Sunday 25 April is the 10th Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day and in terms of the technology, you can't get simpler than that: some film and a small hole.

Today, however, there are many ways to shoot a pinhole photograph, from a beautifully hand-crafted wooden camera through to the addition of a pinhole body cap onto the latest digital SLR.

Worldwide Pinhole Photography DayWhatever route you take, there is something compelling about the idea of just letting the light fall on the recording device, be it film or chip. The results can often be surprising.

My own pinhole use is fairly limited, from a home-made camera using a biscuit tin in a science lesson at school about 30 years ago to more recently the use of a pinhole body on a film camera for a couple of frames of my Kodachrome project, this being one of them.

So I thought I'd seek out a couple of pinhole enthusiasts to see what it is about the method that inspires them.

Gretchen Hayhurst, who took the photograph at the top of the page, uses a beautiful wooden pinhole camera to create her pictures. She is an accomplished photographer and for her, the pinhole is but one way of working, she told me:

"As for why I like to use the pinhole, I'd have to say that my favourite part about it is that it captures a passage of time. Instead of a quick snapshot, the pinhole shows movement. I especially like to use it around water and people, two things you see in that photo.
"I use a Zero Image 2000 6x9. I also own the 6x6, but prefer the wide-angle view. I am attracted to the simplicity of the camera, the workmanship and the feel of the wood.
"I use other film cameras too, and not knowing exactly what you will end up with intrigues me. Although I try my hardest to look at a scene and imagine my shot, sometimes I am surprised at the finished photo.
"When I took this photograph, it was a very stormy day. I saw the two photographers from my workshop out there trying to capture Haystack Rock at Cape Kiwanda. I knew they would be standing still just long enough that I would be able to capture them with the long exposure, but I also knew I would get some movement from them. I believe they give some scale to the photo."

It's this "not knowing" that attracts many to shoot on film, the idea that you won't know exactly what you have until it's developed can mean that you enjoy the moment more; indeed, it can just mean you don't get the shot you wanted, but you may get something better.

At the opposite end of the technology scale, Barry Fryer uses a pinhole body cap on his Canon DSLR:

"I really like pinhole work because it takes me back to the simple origins of photography. With no lens and nothing to focus, you pretty much record whatever you point the camera at - provided it's not moving, that is. But that's exactly what original photographers had to contend with - exposure times in minutes or hours - not the thousandths of a second we can now regularly achieve and expect.
"Some of the early photographers used to point their camera at a street scene and leave it so long only the buildings recorded as an image - anything moving through the picture did not appear, the emulsions were that slow to react to light.
"There are so many people interested in pinhole photography - it's amazing. Three people stopped me this morning to ask about the camera with no lens and how I was making the images.
"Also with a pinhole it has a soft, impressionistic, pastel watercolour look to the images - almost like a painting. There are no hard edges - not quite like Monet but along those lines.
"The pinhole images certainly have that luminous colour and subtle diffused light that Monet used to strive to achieve in his work."

Photo by Barry Fryer

Barry is holding a pinhole walk on Sunday in Portsmouth in the UK. The details of the group can be seen on Flickr, and the event details are on the World Pinhole Day site.

Barry said:

"We are all a great bunch of friendly, helpful photographers and anyone is welcome to come along and join in if they wish. We've got people travelling over 100 miles to take part in our day - so the interest is there to enjoy on the day."

Barry Fryer's cameraSo why not try it for yourself? If you don't have a pinhole camera and fancy making your own then there are instructions here.

Once you have done that or if you have already shot some pinhole pictures then send them to with the subject line "pinhole" and I'll run a selection of them in this blog in the coming weeks.

The World Pinhole Day site is also seeking your pinhole pictures; details can be seen here .

Good luck and enjoy the light.

You can see more of Gretchen Hayhurst's work here and Barry Fryer's work here.


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