Pinhole photography is the most basic form of photography possible. If you want to remove everything between you and your subject, a pinhole camera is it. I love my digital cameras with a great number of buttons, but I also love the simplicity of my old analog cameras. But it is now time to go a bit further down the simplicity spectrum.
I have been looking at Ilford's Obscura camera for some time and finally found one during a recent trip to Perth Australia. I purchased it as quick as I could and brought it all the way back to Jakarta. I then put it on my shelf and began thinking what to use it for. I picked up my Edward Weston book and decided to try to photograph some peppers. Let me explain why, but first some of the technology employed.
It also comes with a wheel exposure calculator with simple diagrams of different lighting conditions. I have also downloaded an iPhone app called "Pinhole Assistant" which uses the iPhone camera to measure the light. Amazingly both the wheel and the application gave the same result.
If you want to give an artistic person the perfect gift, I would HIGHLY recommend the Ilford Obscura, a film changing bag and some developer, stop & fixer. Below I explain what I used. This will give them everything they need to make some amazing art in a unique and hands on way.
Now let me explain the story of the Pepper. It all began around 1930 (don't you just love stories that start that way....) when Edward Weston had followed his muse/lover to Mexico. Edward was taking some amazing nude photographs but his lover pushed him to shoot some still life as well. I am sure she was sick of posing for him.
He shot some of his most famous work including an image of a pepper that is, in my humble opinion, the best photograph ever taken. Below is a the image in question, and it is called "Pepper #30". You see, Edward was working hard on capturing the image of a pepper perfectly and had made various attempts with different peppers.
He finally got his hands on a wonderful pepper, and put it in a funnel to direct light evenly. He was using a view camera, which is problematic for close up shots because it has a very shallow depth of field. In order to get the entire pepper in focus, Edward had to stop down the lens beyond what it would normally do. He modified it and dropped it down to an f/260 to 300.
So his image required an exposure of 4-6 hr! It too a few attempts to get it right and below is the result of the endeavor. The worlds best photograph of a humble pepper.
People have tried to read into the photography as if it was a work of modern art. The issue is that Edward was in his "straight" photography phase and he just wanted to take a wonderful picture of a pepper. The great news is that he wrote in his journal about his time in Mexico and explained the origin of the pepper and how the picture came to be.
Fast forward 87 years, and there I sat in Jakarta Indonesia with a pinhole camera wondering what I should shoot. I decided to capture a pepper, not in the same way Edward did, I tried that for years and never succeeded, but a different pepper and a different goal. I want an imperfect image of a pepper.
I used Ilford FP4 film with a rated ISO of 125. This is not the film that came with the camera, but it is a box that was already open. Using the exposure dial that came with the camera I estimated a exposure time of 30 minutes. Using the application it came to an exposure of 28 minutes. Spot on if I do say so myself.
I set up a timer and set everything up. I flipped the shutter and started the timer. The great thing about a 30 minute exposure is that the error is small. So as long as I was close, the image exposure should be fine.
Everything should be in focus so the only thing that can go wrong is the framing of the shot. I decided that even if the framing is wrong the image might still work. So without too much hope took the shot.
I use BTZS Development tubes in my 4x5 development. They are not ideal, they are over priced and frankly a pain in the ass to use. But they work and other methods are just as painful. If you are going to shoot 4x5 just understand that development is not a fun part of the process (unlike 35mm and 6x6 film).
The tubes allow you to "develop in daylight" which is a bunch of hogwash. You need a darkroom plain and simple...but a dark closet works just as well.
In terms of timing, I used the Massive Development Chart application. For FP4 shot at 125 Exposure Index it asks for 11 minutes development time.
And here is the final result. I cropped this in a little bit but I have the full image below. This is how I had imagined it would come out. This shot was a full 30 minute exposure, and while the negative was still a bit flat, I believe I could have exposed for another 3-5 minutes, it is still a very workable image.
I am extremely impressed that a pinhole camera can produce such images, no lens to concentrate the light, no filter to enhance or remove characteristics, just a simple hole and.a sheet of film!
The shaft of light coming from the top is confusing. I am unsure where that element came in. Apparently there was a leak somewhere along the lines, but I believe it does not detract one bit from the image. Pinhole is not about perfection after all!
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.