If you’ve stumbled upon last month’s feature on Dutch photographer Gregor Servais, then you must be curious about his impressive pinhole works. Whether you’re a pinhole aficionado or someone new to this craft, read on and find out more about the pinhole master in an insightful interview!
Just in time for World Pinhole Photography Day last month, we came across the work of Gregor Servais, who takes amazing pinhole photos by the beach when he’s not doing commissioned shoots. As mentioned, many of us most likely never thought about taking our pinhole cameras to the beach, but after seeing the Dutch photographer’s ethereal seascapes, we’re sure we gave everyone an idea.
Among the questions he most likely gets asked all the time regarding his pinhole work would be, Why take pinholes of the sea? Gregor once wrote a simple yet interesting answer on his blog:
“Unlike the subjects for my portraits the sea has always plenty of time. It never comments, is never unwilling, has no retouch demands. Only one thing: it just can’t sit still. Everything moves, all the time. Even the clouds on their way to somewhere don’t pause.”
With this insight, we simply had to learn more about Gregor and his inspirations, motivations, creative processes, and beginnings in shooting pinhole photos. So, we recently got in touch with him and asked him a handful of questions:
Can you tell us something about yourself and what you do?
I’m a Dutch photographer who graduated from the Royal Art Academy in The Hague. I mainly do portraits, mostly editorial but also commercial and corporate. In front of my camera appear actors, singers, writers, politicians, CEOs, etc. Quite hectic sometimes but great fun.
When did you start taking pinhole photographs? What made you decide to venture into this kind of photography?
My first pinhole try was a couple of years ago. To be honest there wasn’t a lot of thought behind it, just an experiment. I had a nice white wall in my house that I wanted to decorate with a landscape photo, as if it was a window. Last year I picked it up again when I bought the Zero 6×9 and started to make more seascapes.
Do you still remember/have the first pinhole photo you took? If so, can you tell us something about it?
I wasn’t sure what the aperture of my modified Agfa Clack was in the beginning. So I had to experiment a bit with exposure times. I think it took a couple films before I had something of a clue what the aperture might be. The first photos were not so exciting.
When we speak of pinhole photography, people don’t usually think of doing it at the beach. What made you decide to take pinhole photos of the seaside?
The sea seemed perfect for a “landscape photo” and I was curious how the sea which is always moving would look with a long exposure. It’s easy to get addicted by it. My normal photography shoots can be quite hectic and stressful. Staring at the sea is a nice contrast, maybe even therapeutic… I like the fact that with these long exposure times everything — water, sand air, clouds — get mixed together.
We’ve heard that you shoot with a converted Agfa Clack and a Zero handmade 6 × 9 pinhole camera, and usually with Kodak Ektar 100 or Fuji Pro 400H films. Have you figured out which pinhole camera + film combination works best for you? Are you thinking of trying out other films for your seaside pinholes?
At the moment I am using only the Zero 6×9 in combination with Kodak Portra, either 160 or 400. For now I stick to this combo in order to get consistent results. These days it’s getting harder to get hold of film as when I started photography. Before the digital era there was so much choice in film, nowadays you never know if the shop even has some stock, the film-fridge can be almost empty.
Working with a pinhole camera (especially a home-made one) isn’t something photographers these days do — what preparations or precautions do you make to ensure that you get the results you have in mind?
That’s the reason why eventually I bought the Zero. I wanted to know exactly what aperture I had in order to get perfect exposures. And after some experimentation I stick with the Kodak portra films. I know more or less how they respond to light and colour now. The Kodak Ektar is also good but I found that it’s sometimes harder to get the colours more natural. Before I head to the beach I usually check a beach webcam to see if conditions are good. It can be overcast and cloudy here in the city while at the beach the sky is blue. It’s only 20 minutes or so on bicycle but still the difference in weather can be big.
Do you see yourself taking pinhole photos somewhere else aside from the beach? If so, which would be your top three places for shooting pinhole snaps?
For now I’m still happy to go to the beach but I am thinking of going other places too. I need places that have movement — could be traffic, people, trees. Or some place that changes when captured with long exposures.
What do you consider to be the most challenging aspects of working with pinhole photography? What about the most rewarding?
The funny thing is that when I’m at the beach doing pinhole photos I try to predict as much as possible how my photo will look. I try to get the waves at the right place in my image. Even with exposure times over 8 seconds I still try to time it in such way that everything will be perfect. But at the same time, I also hope to get surprised by the results. When I scan my films I want to have that wooow feeling, “it came out amazing!” The camera has no viewfinder and it’s not digital, so until I scan my films I have no clue how things turn out.
Lastly, do you have any tips for anyone interested in pinhole photography and maybe even those who want to build their own pinhole cameras?
All though I understand it is part of the fun for some people, personally I’m not so interested in building a camera, it’s the photos that matter to me. A simple pinhole body cap on an existing camera could be a great starting point for somebody who wants to give it try. There are handy apps to help calculate exposure time. I use Pinhole Camera Design Calculator from Xsonus.
Thank you so much, Gregor, for taking the time to answer our questions and share your thoughts with us!