Pinhole photography is a wonderful sport. It’s a bit of an extreme sport, but not of the flashy, quick sort. On the contrary, sometimes it takes months to produce only one picture. But unlike snowboarding, anyone can do it, even I!
You’ve probably all seen an article on extra long exposures, like this one, or one like it. Great, huh? When I saw this picture, all I could think of was: I want this picture, how can I do this?
Browsing the internet, I found several tutorials on how to produce such a solargraph. I short: take an empty can (a soup can, a film canister, a soda can, anything goes, as long as it’s more or less weather proof), puncture it or tape a pinhole to a larger hole, put in photographic paper (not the stuff you put in your printer, but the stuff you use in the dark room, obviously), and leave it out for a few months.
Since I had some photographic paper lying around from when I used to make my own prints, I thought, why not? So I made a few pinhole cameras and planted them outside. One got taped to a drain on my roof, another taped to the inside of a window, another one taped to a fence near my vegatable plot. The one I was most excited about was the tiny film canister camera I taped to the gate of a public park.
Then came the hardest bit: waiting. The whole idea of this type of pinhole picture is that you leave the paper to get thouroughly overexposed. In the end, you won’t have to develop your paper, the image will be almost burned into the paper, so to speak. After about ten weeks, I noticed that the camera I had taped to the window had fallen down. It seemed like a good time to open it, since it was now pointing at the ceiling, which isn’t very interesting. This was the result:
It’s not quite the Toronto skyline, but you do see the streaks made by the passage of the sun. I also like how the paper had turned pink due to the overexposure. It’s actually black and white paper… A good start, I thought, especially considering it had fallen down after a few weeks.
The next camera I opened, was the one I had put up in my garden. This was a slightly different design, just a tin can punctured with a nail. Not exactly a pinhole, but one online tutorials mentioned this, so what the hell? When I opend it, I noticed the inside of the camera and the paper were wet. The larger hole had allowed rain or dew to get inside the camera. No problem, I guess, since there still was an image on the paper:
Totally different from the first one, this one was actually black and white. Very unsharp, but I tell myself, you can actually see the divide beween land (dark) and sky (light). Perhaps a fuzzy line of trees on the horizon? And is that ten weeks of sun in the sky, or just a stain? Hard to say, but the picture intrigues me none the less.
Next, I opend up the tiny cam at the park. This was a slight disappointment. The camera had been opened before. A concerned citizen worried about tiny bombs? A scavenger hunter hoping for a geocache? At least they had put back the paper and closed the camera again… But the pictures didn’t show anything recognisable.
Well, by now my patience had run out, so I opened the last one as well. After the first three not quite recognisable pictures, this one took my breath away. It worked! An actual picture! Recognisable trees, definite sun streaks, the outline of the rubber tiles on the roof! My faith in solargraphy had definitely been restored.
Plus, it made me realise that I had interpreted my second picture (the black and white one) upside down… In a case of “oh yeah, I knew that” I realised that a (pinhole) camera produces a picture upside down. Since the sky in my last solargraph turned out darkest, this must also be the case in that other picture. Making the stain that I mistook for the sun streaks probably the freshly ploughed plot of the neighbors.
So, were these pictures what I had expected of them? Well, yes and no. Of course, being a realist, and knowing my previous experiences with pinhole photography (not great), I had been prepared for failure. But secretly, I had of course hoped for something as spectacular as the Toronto picture. Still, the results are good enough for me to want to try again. As I write this, I have already filled up my cameras with fresh paper, and made some more mini cams out of film canisters. Who knows, in a few months time, I’ll be telling you about my succesful second batch! Meanwhile, I’d love to hear about your experiments in solargraphy.