A Different ‘Lens’

When I made my first visit to Ohio this year to visit my friend Dave Levingston, it was a weekend at the end of April. The photos of Sarah Ellis that I posted last time were made on the first day of that trip at the home of some people that Dave knows. The second day we were at Dave’s studio in Dayton as it was still a little too chilly to work outdoors.

That second day just happened to be April 29 – which this year also happened to be Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. This is an event that Dave had decided to partake in by making some photos with a pinhole lens on his digital camera. You can see some of his photos on his blog at http://exposedfortheshadows.blogspot.com/2007_04_01_archive.html .

As for me, I had no pinhole camera or pinhole lens, so Dave was kind enough to make one for me. He went out and bought a lens cap for the Pentax 67 (the camera I use), drilled a hole in the middle of it and then taped on a pinhole he’d gotten from a kit. I now had my own pinhole lens. The question was: how do I use it?

The first problem is that the pinhole opening is so small that the effective aperture can be hard to deal with. In this case, the effective aperture of my pinhole (according to the documentation) was something like f/256, if I recall properly. That’s a pretty slow lens (to put it mildly!) and requires a very long exposure with the ISO 320 film that I use. The other problem is that, even though I was using an SLR, the aperture was so small that not enough light was coming in to allow me to see anything through the viewfinder!

I tackled that problem by using my 55mm wide angle lens (like a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera)to frame the image, as the pinhole supposedly yields a wide field of view. Once I set up the image and did this, I removed the lens and put on the pinhole. The other thing I did was to take a light meter reading of the scene. Of course, my light meter doesn’t go up to f/256, so I had to take a regular reading and then we had to calculate what that exposure would be for f/256 – and, as Dave suggested, take into account reciprocity failure (the need to increase exposure above the meter reading for very long exposures). As I recall, the exposure time we came up with was somewhere between two and three minutes!!!

This would normally not be a problem for landscape photography, as it normally isn’t a problem to expect a mountain to stay motionless for several minutes. When dealing with people it’s not that easy, so I had to come up with a pose that our two models, Jackeller and Nemesis, would be able to hold for that long. I ended up taking four different exposures and both girls did an excellent job of staying motionless for that long. (I counted down every ten seconds and they said that helped, too.)

The next thing to do was to develop the film, but getting hit by a car just five days later and having my fingers broken put an end to seeing the results any time soon thereafter. It was a question of not just how the photos would turn out but also if they would turn out to be anything. (At one point, Dave said that I’d probably just get a blank negative, so I figured it might that or a totally bulletproof negative.)

Well, the film was finally developed yesterday and – lo and behold – I actually got something pretty decent for a pinhole. The exposure was essentially correct, with the negatives being slightly darker than the photos made with my regular lenses. Not too bad, I think – and you can see them here so you can judge for yourself.

On the other hand, though, the images are rather soft. It might not look that way seen in a small size here, but when the larger scans are viewed it’s pretty obvious. As a point of comparison, I’m posting at the end here the photo made with my wide angle Pentax lens. You can see that the pinhole has an even wider angle of view and is, of course, softer than the Pentax.

So, my first pinhole odyssey is now complete. It was an interesting experiment to try – and as I still have the pinhole lens, maybe I’ll try it again. Want to try it again some time, DL?

About Dave Rudin

Dave Rudin is a fine art photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. He specializes in art nude and travel photography, using black & white film and making silver gelatin prints in a darkroom.
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