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Sunday
Apr292012

Pinhole Camera Day 2012

In a world of mega-pixels and battery-life, it's quite a treat to go super low fidelity and make a camera from a Pringles potato chip can. It's about as far away from how we take photos these days as a person can get without a time machine!

But when it comes down to it - whether you have a top of the range dSLR or a $10 toy camera - taking photographs is all about the light. The fact is, if you don't have enough of it hitting your camera's light sensitive medium - you're just not going to get a photo, regardless of the technology.

Our Sunday morning started at 10am at the lovely (and now we're all jealous because it was such a gorgeous space to live and work) Minnie Street Studio in Eden Terrace, Auckland. A generous group of friendly photographers, associated with the Capture (a photoblog) over at the Public Address website, had organised the day so we could participate in Worldwide Pinhole Camera Day 2012.

Capture (a photoblog) contributer, Jackson Perry, organised and wrangled the event; instructions on camera-making provided by the knowledgable Petra; while Sophie and Jonathan worked their developing magic and exposure advice in the darkroom. We were very luck to have this intrepid support as we set forth to make our funny little green cameras, and take our unpredictable but charming photographs.

These little cans were poked, and lined, and light-proofed before being loaded with photographic paper ready to be exposed to the muted light of a grey Auckland day. It's strange to think that there is some good to come from high calorie, androdroginaised potato chips. 

My first exposures were of buildings and the sky. The first attempt was under-exposed and didn't carry much detail at all - but the second worked out quite a lot better. Pressing the camera-can against a powerpole, and pointing the tiny, round hole at the rows of villas on Haslett Street for 40 seconds, I hoped I had a better result as I took my second attempt back to the darkroom.

Each camera load is good for one photo, so after exposing the film, it is trotted back to the studio and the darkroom to be developed. It is only then that exposure times and framing is actually discovered. Nothing is instant in this form of photography. I was lucky this time, and my Haslett houses turned out great. 

Onwards and upwards - or more to the point: downwards - as I decided to forsake the vistas and the villas for a pair of abandoned sand shoes on Minnie Street.


Sitting the pinhole camera on the footpath in front of the shoes, I used the stopwatch on my iphone so as to expose the film for same amount of time as I had for the Haslett houses - afterall, they'd turned out great, right? Super fast, my photo was "in the can" and back to the darkroom to discover extreme underexposure of my sand shoe subject.

Here's the thing I had forgotten - my eyes can see heaps better than the tiny aperture of the pinhole. Advice from Sophie and Jonathan for a much longer exposure time, and a reloaded Pringles can, I set back to the street shoes with a plan to expose the film for two whole minutes. 

Turns out that wasn't enough either. I increased the exposure to three, and then to four minutes. That fourth attempt was a corker - but I thought I could do better with composition. 

Fifth time the charm! as they say, and so I thought. So back I went - placed the can further back from the shoes, and timed the exposure for five minutes. And I did it again - I forgot about how important light is (it is easy to do in all the excitement) and between the fourth and fifth exposures, the clouds had lowered, it was drizzling, and I had significantly less light. 

To be fair I had noticed the light, and thought the increased time would be enough - but it really wasn't. In the end, my fifth attempt turned out even more underexposed than my first, 40 second one. Oh well. I called it a day as I had a couple of really decent photos. You can see all my sand shoe photos, and the Haslett Street one too, in the slideshow at the end of this post.


Using photographic paper inside the pinhole camera creates a reversed, negative image. After scanning these into the computer, inverting and flipping them, I could see much better what had worked and what had not been as successful. It really is surprising just how much detail is caught on the paper. 

Pinhole Day website will be showing photos taken on 29 April 2012 to celebrate the humble pinhole camera.

I had such a wonderful day. Neat people, some really excellent photos that you can see over at the Capture photoblog on Public Address. A really great way to spend an overcast Sunday in Auckland.

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Reader Comments (3)

A nice overview of the day Michelle. For me the outside experience was broken up into fragments as we peeked at your results in the developing trays. I learned a lot too - about light and eyes. When I did venture outside for outside participant support I was amazed at how blind I was in the darkroom again under the safelight groping for implements. Enjoyed every minute of it, lovely to be part of a group of people exploring creatively and having such unbridled fun.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSophie

Hi Michelle - what a great post - good to have that as a record. Really nice to meet you. cheers, sonja

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSonja Yelich

Thanks Sonja and Sophie - I really did have such a lovely day - and getting to meet interesting people like you two made it even better :)

Now.. how to turn that spare room into a dark room...

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

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