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Dave's Pinhole Camera World Tour 2021. Leg 1 (Part 3)

The amazing pinhole camera has now continued it's round the world tour and this post chronicles its last few days with me. I had had a very difficult week (for photography) with pressure of work and some stuff going on at home which took up much of my time and left me wondering if I would be able to get through the last 6 sheets of film I had loaded.

I had 3 double dark slides loaded with Fomapan 100, a fairly budget friendly medium speed traditional black and white film, and was very keen to shoot all six sheets over a weekend as I knew I had to ship the camera and holders onto James who was next in line to "have a go". Having learned from the previous 12 sheets what had worked for me, I knew Saturday would be the best day as Sunday was due to be overcast and dull and I wanted to expose all sheets of the Fomapan "into the sun".

I headed down to the woods at Henllan Bridge and was delighted when I got there (about an hour and half's walk away) to find that the sun was popping through a more broken cloud layer than I expected and lighting the leaves in the woodland with strong direct summer light.

Still unsure about estimating the exposure with a F250 pinhole, I initially set up just upstream from the bridge, looking downstream at some slowly drifting bubbles, meandering with the slow transit of the river Teifi under the arch of the stone bridge.

I made this image with my iPhone after I took the light measurements and ..... the darker part of the rock face where I wanted some detail came out as EV 5 , which equates to a not unreasonable F22 @ 4 seconds....but at F250 this works out as 8 minutes......... which when you apply reciprocity failure gave me a whopping 6 hours and 15 minutes exposure ! I would have to move back out into the light !

Once I had reached the main woodland a few minutes later, I realised that conditions were very favorable for the pinhole and my plan to point it upwards and into the light with the sun blazing through the tiny hole onto the film. The woods were alive with light and contrast, not conducive to what I normally photograph as the contrast was very extreme, but for these pinhole shots I was trying to do something different and almost willing the camera, pinhole and film combination to do something completely unusual....again.

I literally was wondering around under the tree canopies saying "wow" under my breath at the intensity of the light and made 4 exposures in quick time. (that meaning, there wasn't much of a gap between one 14 minute exposure and the next 18 minute one etc )

Of the 4 I made in the woods, one is to me quite unusual, in that I saw something remarkable when I developed the sheets. I simply did not recognise where the image was taken as it had certainly been a sheet that the camera did its wonders with.

Of the 6 shots I made over this weekend only 2 really "worked" but they all taught me something. I made an exposure of a very big tree that I often pass when walking through the woodland at Henllan but with my widest lens I could never get enough of it in without severely pointing the camera up and letting everything lean into the middle of the image. With the pinhole I placed the camera about 8 feet away and calculated a 13 minute exposure. Bright sunlight was playing around the top so my exposure was such that the shadows at the bottom would be quite dark in the final image.

After about 10 minutes of the exposure, the sun completely disappeared behind a cloud and taking measurements of the shadows again I decided to leave the film exposing for another 10 minutes...thinking that this would build the shadows up a bit.

I think as it turned out I needed to leave it open a lot longer than an extra 10 minutes ! Looking at the notes I made, in order to have the shadows, with detail on a zone III, the exposure when the sun went in would have been in excess of 2 hours, so the extra 10 minutes didn't really make a lot of difference. The negative is very very thin at the bottom of the tree and even with a loupe on a light-box, I can't see a lot in there so, ....dark shadows they will remain.

Black Sun

The image, that I didn't recognise was, I initially thought the last one I made but it turned out not to be the case. I made the image in the woods at Henllan but the negative was so whacky that I couldn't decipher it initially. Having now made a proper scan it showed me two things.

  1. The pinhole was letting light through for enough time for the sun to move in the image and leave an "arc" on the film

  2. The negative in the area where the sun was , received so much light that it reversed in that area and left a white arc on the negative where the suns transit is recorded. (Solarisation - the first time I ever read about this was in Ansel Adams' - "The Negative" book)

My initial iPhone scan did not pick the arc up but obviously I knew the sun had gone black on this one !

The above is pretty much a straight scan of the negative and my confusion as to where this was taken is understandable I think.

A close up of the bit of the negative where the sun was. Showing that it had turned the negative bright whereas turning it black would be anticipated. Also showing the sun as a lozenge rather than a circle as it moved through the duration of the exposure which I think was 7 minutes. Unfortunately my note keeping went by the wayside as I ran from image to image in the beautiful light. OK. so if it was a 7 minute exposure ....I could have used that time to make a note but at this point I was trusting a timer app to save the note, but it chose this day to fail on me !

A fairly quick rendition of the final image above, but this is one I think I will spend a little time on and possibly re-scan.


I certainly learned and relearned a few things with the use of the camera and rather than the stuff relating to how to use it, the more generic things that it taught and re-taught me were:

  • Go out and use it no matter what the conditions. Don't wait for perfect conditions - previously I would often postpone going out as conditions were not "what I wanted" but this camera taught me to just go and do it and make the best of what you have. Perfect conditions for a perfect shot will come with patience so go and see what you can find while you wait !

  • Experiment - I had no idea what to expect with this camera and no way of anticipating the outcomes. I didn't take anything with me that would give me an idea of the coverage or what would be recorded on film. Although using a "normal" camera doesn't have this "limitation", I will go into my next phase of photographing with a renewed sense of the unknown ....and I will experiment again !

  • Don't be afraid of the light ! Many of the images I made, work because of the high contrast involved (along with the ethereal quality of the camera). Using a view camera I am usually very selective with what I do and I understand how my film and developing work to control the final negative. I rarely push the boundary to see if it works and that is something I will now do with both FP4+ which I love, and Fomapan 100 ...which I have to say impressed me with these first six sheets I have used. When I respond to a scene and would normally discount it as I don't think the film will work with it, I am going to expose a sheet anyway and learn from it !

The camera is now with James who has embraced it so much that he now shoots with a borrowed medium format camera and a newly acquired medium format pinhole camera! I am expecting another 4 sheets from him ....soon..... to develop and so far his shots have been very good ! I have no idea what the colour ones will look like but hope to see them soon.

I have a 4x5 pinhole camera now and I will use it. Predominantly in the summer where I tend to shoot a lot less than the other seasons, it will give me an outlet and some more experimentation time. I really don't expect to see the amazing things that Dave's camera gave me. I think this camera will turn out to be unique, maybe the pinhole is imperfect and this is where it creates it's magic...maybe I was just lucky a few times.

But if it turns out that the pinhole isn't perfect then for me it will be what makes the whole camera ...............perfect !

You can follow the journey of the camera at #DPCWT2021 on twitter and also Dave Whenham has written a few excellent blog posts about it at:

I am sure there is much more to come on the subject !!!

Talking of Dave, he very kindly let me have a few sheets of Rollei IR 400 to have a go with, 4 of these I exposed yesterday ....and am itching to develop. More on that next week !

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