A few weeks ago I was contacted by Elvis Halilović, the man behind the ONDU Pinhole camera company, asking me if I'd like to try out one of his handmade, wooden pinhole cameras. It's not the sort of offer I'm likely to decline. Last week my entirely gorgeous 135 Pocket Pinhole arrived through the post. On Monday I took advantage of glorious sunshine and the flourishing abundance of the allotment and headed out with a few rolls of film to see what the camera could see. Today I collected an envelope of developed images from the shop in town.
How did they turn out? Actually not all that brilliantly. The film was expired, which has resulted in all of my photos having a rose pink cast. Despite the very useful exposure guide provided by ONDU, judging shutter speed was a very hit-and-miss affair that was counted in pink elephants and almost everything is over-exposed. My little Lollipod stand is a perfect match for the ONDU pinhole, but I've not mastered opening the shutter without disturbing the camera, and of course the longer exposures means motion blur, so everything is hazy. And without a viewfinder, you're guessing at just what the camera can see, so what's in the frame isn't necessarily what I'd anticipated would be there.
But the truth is, none of that matters. What matters is that I'm proud of these pictures and that I had fun taking them. I enjoyed experimenting with exposure times and attempting to determine what the camera could see. I recalled the anticipation of my childhood, when I'd send films off to be developed and have no idea what would be sent back to me. It was, in fact, the most fun that I've had with a camera for a very long time.
I won't deny that I had a few frustrations, but they weren't enough to deter me. The ONDU requires you to tape the film onto the receiving spool and count one-and-half rotations to wind on between frames. Loading the film was a bit tricky and I succeeded in breaking one roll with a heavy-handed winding action. There were a couple of unintentional double-exposures, too. No one said this was going to be easy, or indeed fast, though.
Perhaps the best tip that I have is to head out with a notebook when you're shooting, to record the lighting conditions and exposure time for each frame. When I go out next time, if the lighting conditions are similar, I'll know to open the shutter for a fraction shorter duration. If the conditions are different, I'll be making more educated guesses. Whatever the light, I'll be having more fun.
Pinhole photography itself is intuitive, with the requirement to judge and estimate and guess. It's also visceral and plays on your emotions of surprise and vexation. The more that you practise it, the better you'll become, not just at pinhole photography, but at the general discipline of photography. It pulls you back to the founding principles of expose and compose: a simple concept but with a nuanced practice.
The opportunity that a pinhole camera gives you is to play with light in a box: photography in its most deceptively simple form. If that doesn't intrigue and inspire you, and remind you what's wonderful about taking pictures then I'm not sure what will. Get hold of a pinhole camera and go back to basics; you won't regret it.