Pinholes in Poland (or how I discovered the perfect way of counting seconds) // Retrospective Entry


Anyway, I had one of those critical-thinking moments just over a year ago, in the very early hours of 2010:
‘All good things begin with the letter “P” don’t they?’ I thought. ‘ Photography for a start. Philosophy. Popcorn. Parties. Psychology. Pizza. Pictures. Prehistoric beasts. Planes. Pancakes. And Pinhole Photography, Cameras and Images’ Hooray again!
Pinhole photography, the ‘Holy Grail’ of the photography world, the heaven of the art of painting with light – the bestest of the bestest. And somewhat quite scary, almost unreachable, nerve-racking, beautiful, stunning and just plain awesome. ‘Lisa’, I concluded , ‘you must try pinhole photography as soon as possible!’
After careful pondering of the given situation, I reached the verdict, that indeed 2010 should be the year I jump, feet first, into the wonderful world of pinhole photography.
As you could have probably predicted, I had been observing all these great pinhole photographers from afar, sitting quietly in the corner and wishing I was able to play with those camera as effectively as they do, hoping somehow somewhere someone will invite me into the great club of pinhole picture making. ‘I knew the time had finally come when I ought to use one of these magnificent machines’. Little did I know it would be the 30th of December 2010 and I would be in Gdańsk, Poland, when I took my first wobbly steps towards this fantastic medium … but hey, better late than never and “WOW!” doesn’t even cover the emotions! Armed with a Holga WPC, the 6×9 mask inside, a tripod and ten rolls of Fuji NCN400 I was ready to go.
What can I say, apart from “boy, do I love this!”. I never felt quite so happy and cheerful as I did that and the following day, walking around carrying a plastic box on a tripod, stopping at random places, receiving weird looks from passers-by and taking pictures.
Yes, the often dreaded ‘what-is-that-weird-person-doing-over-there-with-that-weird-thing’-expression, followed by either the ‘oh-dear-she-has-lost-it’- headshake or the ‘let’s-just-move-on-and-ignore’-wave. Familiar? Hmm, or maybe it is just me… moving on swiftly.
The Holga WPC was just the right camera for the job, with a super-wide view that extends up to 120 degrees! And thanks to the handy guidelines and the spirit level on top of the camera, you even know what you’ll record and can compensate for tilted horizons if you wish to, before you take your picture. The pinhole is 0.3mm which creates an aperture of f135, which essentially means you get infinite depth of field – everything is in focus, if used correctly on a steady tripod or placed on flat ground I should say.
The Holga comes with two masks, a 6×12, for six shots on medium format film and a 6×9, for eight frames per roll, which on the downside can be rather pricy! On the upside, having negatives which are 60mm by 120mm wide and 60mm by 90mm respectively is something worth spending your hard earned cash on! An almost hypnotic outcome, if you ask me, something so overwhelmingly cool and all without a lens – still trying to get my head around this – but I guess that might also depend a great deal on your subject.
Going back to the roots of photography – waiting for something to happen – learning how to see the world again – no rushing around – enjoying every single second – it all was just pure bliss!
How often do we run around, knowing we are often a few minutes behind our daily schedule, trying to fit extra hours in a day? If you go out to take pinhole pictures, you can appreciate the time you spend taking pictures. I have been engaged with waiting for over a year now, investigating the act, the interval and definition of waiting, and I believe I have found the perfect way of remaining, resting, stopping and pausing: counting the seconds for an exposure! Now, that is awesome!
New Year celebrations happen to involve counting the seconds until the “Big Moment”, the end of one year, the beginning of another and quite often, the smaller moments seem to go unnoticed. We all wait for the clock to finally strike twelve and the New Year begins, but how often do you celebrate and count the seconds ticking away during any other day?
Ok, maybe your birthday is tomorrow and you just cannot wait to be another year older, or it’s the other way around and you just want to hold on to the last few seconds of a beautiful day…but apart from those occasional moments in one’s life, when does one actually sit down and count time passing? My point exactly, and this is when my new found love for pinhole photography comes in. Only with the appreciation of the time spent, does the art happen or something like that anyway. If you want some advice for the year to come, count some seconds once in a while. It is actually rather calming and beautiful and almost beneficial in the fast-paced landscape of today…so take your time. Or, even better advice: get a pinhole camera and enjoy your seconds!!
Pinhole cameras record the world in such a lovely way, there is almost nothing I don’t like about them. Well ok, apart from the fact, that those lens-less machines need steady ground under their feet. A fact that is obvious, but not always achievable. If you, for example, find yourself on a somewhat wind-exposed bridge and all you have is a small tripod, you have to make a decision: blurred image or no image? Granted, you should be more prepared, after all, you’re not out point-and-shooting your surroundings, you are actually taking pinhole pictures, but hey, that is life and sums up my experience in Poland. I did take a tripod with me, but it wasn’t one of the steadiest ones (GorrillaPod SLR), and unfortunately, I also forgot to pack my light meter… Doh! So instead of mounting my Holga on a sturdy tripod, composing my shot, knowing how long I’ll leave the shutter open in order to get a wished-for result and actually achieving all this, I pointed the camera at the scenery and counted my seconds, depending on the shot between seven and fifteen seconds, usually in my head, but on occasion even out loud… a scene for some weird looks again….
Watch out for snow and bright scenes as the extra light can throw your exposure off, another obvious point to be honest, but worth mentioning. Most of my white-stuff-depicting images are very over-exposed, but the use of a light meter can cure this in an instant. Note to self: Never go out shooting again without the little gadget.
Same goes for the opposite end of the stick: if you find yourself in dark areas or you’re taking pictures at night, you want to adjust the exposure time accordingly and leave the shutter open for longer. I haven’t taken any night shots yet, but definitely will give them a go, who knows, I might produce some of my best photos.
This is not to say that I don’t like any of my photos from Gdańsk. They might not be the sharpest or perfectly exposed ones, but nevertheless I took them without a lens just by counting some seconds. In my book, this is awesome!!
Plastic camera medium format pinhole photography (phew, long name) is very low budget (compared to the professional kit available) but captures huge amounts of detail and whilst it follows the fundamental manual basics of camera and photographic technology, there is in fact only one variable – time. Hence, this way of photographing might be technically orientated, due to the light situations, but I believe that it is also very unique to the camera (especially when using a Holga), the user and the moment in time. As with almost everything in life, you have to find the right balance for you and your camera. There is no real right or wrong when it comes to experience. There is a huge difference between a seven-second picture at midday and at dusk, between a ten-second shot and a thirty-second exposure. In order to find your feet, you always have the option to sacrifices a roll or two for test purposes and shoot the same subject with varying exposure times. Working out the way the camera suits you and your photography comes naturally once you start playing with it and you’ll reach the point in time when you don’t want to leave the house without a pinhole camera!

Before I forget, I would like to say a huge “Danke” to the great people I was with that and the following day. They waited very patiently in the frosty wind and snow, on bridges and in dark streets, hungry and cold, while I was having the time of my life -so “Thank you”!
Oh, and what about the actual location? I should add that Gdańsk is one beautiful city with incredible architecture and impressive sights, lovely people and definitely worth a visit. My favorite moment was when a whole huge flock of pigeons lifted up in the air and flew in formation through all the tiny side alleys and tall buildings. The sound of the wings in the air was just incredible, and I stood there in admiration, unable to move, just enjoying the moment. Unfortunately, the whole thing happened far too quickly to get my Holga out in time… shame really, would have loved to share this with you, maybe another time. I can, however, show you some results of my trip, my first baby steps with a pinhole camera, but please be gentle, I’m still exploring.
To be honest, I’m not sure why I didn’t try pinhole photography much, much sooner?!There was so much fun and excitement involved, I hardly can wait to go back out there and shoot more! Let’s talk cross-processing, expired films, sprockets, different developing chemicals, redscale, multi-exposure ….the possibilities are endless!
Well, except for the fact that I once again ran out of medium format film… again?!….

[Originally published on the 5th of January 2011 on ]

written by futuregirl on 2011-01-07


  1. buckshot
    buckshot ·

    Love your enthusiasm, Lisa/futuregirl, but did I miss somewhere the nugget of information ("perfect way to count seconds") that lured me to this article? I'm guessing it was something along the lines of "1, Mississippi, 2, Mississippi, 3, Mississippi..." used by Americans in schoolyard games? Still, I did enjoy the article (and checked out the shots on the linked site). Thanks for posting this - it does inspire me to go out and experiment some more with the pinhole option of my Diana F+.

  2. futuregirl
    futuregirl ·

    Thanks so much =) Yeah, you got the idea - counting the seconds while waiting for the exposure to happen! Haven't used the camera in a while, so might pop out today and have a play :-)