Backyard Pinhole Photography: Diptych

Sunday, April 30, was Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. Anyone who takes a pinhole photograph on WPPD can upload one image to their gallery which hosts over a thousand images from 53 countries. There is no entry fee, no judging, no rights grabs, no advertising, no prizes. Just a celebration of lensless photography.

It’s been five years since I participated, not for lack of interest but because I didn’t have the necessary chemicals on hand or the weather was not conducive. This year was different. I selected a camera, had paper to produce negatives and developer and fixer for processing. While it was overcast, it was bright enough to produce a good exposure and it wasn’t raining.

I had a box of 8×10 paper that I cut in half and loaded into 4×5 film holders. Not only was this economical but the large paper negative could be contacted printed, or scanned and inverted in Photoshop. Another option would be to peel the emulsion from the backing and print the negative using an enlarger.

Another advantage to making paper negatives is that processing can be done in trays under a safelight, using only developer; stop, fixer and a short water wash. As you can see the image coming up in the developer you can quickly evaluate both exposure and composition. The paper was outdated so I added a bit of liquid orthozite to the developer to minimize fogging.

As I hadn’t shot paper negatives in a while I limited my subject matter to the backyard. By staying close to home I could leave the camera set up while I ran into the darkroom and processed the negative. If that negative wasn’t quite right I could go back to the camera and recompose or vary the exposure time.

Determining pinhole exposure times can be tricky as the apertures are tiny and the photographic paper has an ISO of around 3. I took readings with a handheld light meter. Using a pinhole exposure slide rule, I found the suggested exposure for my f/419 pinhole, 8 minutes! 

4×5 Speed Graphic Pinhole camera

The Speed Graphic is perfect for pinhole work. It produces a large film or paper negative. It can zoom from wide angle to telephoto depending how far I extend the bellows. It can be used in either horizontal or vertical orientation. I can load multiple film holders and stay in the field as long as I like. The flip-up eyepiece and wire finder aids in composition. It folds up for easy transport and with the exception of the bellows, is anything but fragile.

I purchased laser drilled pinholes from The Pinhole Resource to remove any doubt concerning the quality and size of the pinholes. I also bought two additional lens boards from eBay so I could have a choice of 60mm,160mm or 240mm focal lengths.

Unfortunately, the cloth shutter stopped working shortly after I purchased the camera. I now use a refrigerator magnet as a shutter.

If you participated in W.P.P.D either this year or at some time in the past, leave a comment with a link to you image. If you haven’t participated yet but would like to in the future, just remember it’s always the last Sunday in April.



I didn’t participate in “World Wide Pinhole Photography Day” last year. I don’t remember exactly why, maybe the weather was lousy or maybe I was too involved in a project around the house to go out and shoot. This year was different. My wife and son left to visit relatives, our recent house guests returned to Maine and the cloudy skies and rain of that morning had given way to a warm, sunny afternoon.
I had forgotten WWPD was the last Sunday in April. But was reminded after reviewing  my  Google alerts. This year, because Easter falls on the last Sunday as well, participants have the option of shooting the Saturday before or the Monday after and still be eligible to upload their image.
My darkroom is a mess, more a storage closet than a room for making photographs. I had no Dektol to process paper negatives, no  D-76 to process film so I decided to use the pinhole body cap I had made for my digital cameras. While searching through various boxes for the body cap, I came across my NPC instant film back for my Canon F1 film cameras. The back still had film in it, not a full pack but hopefully enough to get one good photograph. Even though the film was several years out of date, I had faith it could still produce an image. I wasn’t concerned, that due to it’s age, the color might be off. I’d be scanning the print and could  make color corrections in Photoshop. I kept digging until I found the Polaroid 100 camera that I had converted for pinhole use.
I love the Polaroid 100 for pinhole for several reasons. According to The Land List, Polaroid made 1,200,000 of these cameras. They have little value to the collector and can be bought cheaply at thrift stores, yard sales and flea markets. They use relatively inexpensive pack film that can be purchased in a variety of  emulsions, both color and black & white. While Polaroid has ceased production, Fuji instant film is easily obtainable. Expired Polaroid pack films are also available from places like The Impossible Project.

Naturally, the Polaroid 100 can be used as a pinhole camera with the bellows drawn all the way out, as with traditional picture taking . This yields an image with normal perspective. It is also possible to make pinhole photographs with the 100 by not extending the bellows at all, by doing so you are shorting the focal length ,yielding an ultra wide view. The only caveat is that you need to change the pinhole to match the shorter focal length. I tape this smaller aperture to the removable plastic front cover so I can switch between the two focal lengths.

The Model 100 has a flip up viewfinder that is accurate enough for normal shots and even when shooting ultra wide it helps to at least determine the center of the frame. There is a tripod socket which is a must for the long exposure times necessary due to the tiny apertures. The lens can be removed with out too much difficulty or special tools.

The Image above is of The Manayunk Bridge over the Skuylkill River. Based on the design of a Roman aquaduct , The bridge is the symbol of Manayunk, a Philadelphia neighborhood. Once a railroad bridge now an icon, soon to be bicycle path. I’ve lived here 20 years and had never photographed it until yesterday. My inspiration came about a week ago, after viewing the web site of another local pinhole photographer Mary Agnes Williams. I have never met her but perhaps I should.


There’s still time to make your pinhole photo, if not today, maybe tomorrow. Happy Easter!

Yesterday, Sunday April 26th was the ninth annual, World Wide Pinhole Photography Day. WPPD is an international event created to promote and celebrate the art of pinhole photography.

Participants from around the world are asked to make pinhole images on this day and upload their favorite image to an online gallery. There is no fee, there are no judges and there are no prizes, only the satisfaction of participating and seeing your photograph in the gallery.

The image above was taken with a cylindrical, cardboard, ice cream container loaded with a sheet of 11×14 photo paper. It was actually too large for my flatbed scanner so I had to scan it twice and combine the images using the photomerge feature in Photoshop.

The car is a 1964 Volvo PV544 owned my neighbors John & Sandy. They are converting it into an “Art Car” by covering it in marbles!

This is the second year I have participated in WPPD. You can see my post from last year here.

To find out more about WPPD click here.

Pinhole photograph of two girls

Pinhole photograph of two girls sitting in backyard made with paper negative in ice cream container.

During his long summer vacation, we enroll our son Wynn, in several, week long camps. They’re usually nature study or soccer camps. We’re careful not to over do it, leaving at least a week between camps for unstructured leisure time at home. We urge him to do some math or reading or to practice playing the piano or his new electric guitar. He usually complies but after a while we find him on the couch watching Sponge Bob or the home and garden channel.

Remembering that I had an empty 5 gallon ice cream drum in the basement, I asked him if he wanted to do some pinhole photography. His response was an enthusiastic, “Yes.” I had taught pinhole photography at his school as part of the aftercare program and he was involved but he had to share me with several other kids, now it would just be him and me.

We cut a hole in the container and spray painted the inside flat black. We cut a small square from an aluminum cooking pan then bored a tiny hole in it using a pin like a tailor or seamstress would use. I sanded the opening with some emery paper to remove any burrs. We taped the aluminum square behind the hole inside the container. Next we attached a piece of black gaffer tape on the outside over the opening to act as a shutter. Lastly, we taped an 8.5 x 11 sheet of photo paper inside the cylindrical container opposite the pinhole. I sent Wynn off to make an exposure while I cleared out the long neglected darkroom and mixed fresh chemicals.

When Wynn enter the darkroom, he removed the paper from the container and placed it in the developing tray. To our mutual surprise, his first paper negative was perfect. It had good exposure and was very sharp. It also had a bit of distortion due to the curved film plane. All in all, it was a very nice pinhole image. Wynn told me that making pinhole photographs was a lot more fun than watching television. He wanted to try it again. I had plenty of paper left over from the pre digital days, so I told told him to use as much as he wanted. After helping him with his first exposure, he was able to go out and shoot on his own and I was able to get back to work in my office.

Wynn spent the entire afternoon outside, taking photographs. He even walked with me to the barbershop, so he could make an image in the park on our way home. When the shop owner asked, “What’s in the can?” Wynn was silent, and then another patron said, “I bet it’s a snake!” Wynn then explained that he was making photographs with it. From the look on their faces it would probably have been better to let them think there was a snake inside and just leave it at that.

Later in the afternoon one of Wynn’s friend’s Meagan and her friend Melissa were curious as to what Wynn was doing. He explained he was making pinhole photographs and asked if he could take their picture. They posed for the 90 second exposure then followed him into the darkroom to watch, as he processed the paper negative. After washing and drying the negative he made a contact print for each of them.

I use a paper cutter to crop my negatives but this edge treatment was Wynn’s idea.

Pinhole photograph of ride at carnival

Pinhole photograph of ride at carnival, Roxborough section of Philadelphia.

In case you had forgotten , I just thought I’d remind you that today is World Wide Pinhole Photography Day. If you ask me, Hallmark is really missing out on this one. Each year, on the last Sunday in April, Pinheads around the globe make photographs with lensless cameras and upload their best shot to the official W.P.P.D online gallery. It is not a contest, there is no judging and no prize money. There are no predatory rights grabs either like so many photography contests these days. They ask only for the right to include your image in the gallery. Be sure to read the terms and conditions before submitting anything to a contest. They should claim only limited rights and then only to the winning entries, not all entries. Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day was created to promote and celebrate the art of pinhole photography.

The weather here in Philadelphia was lousy, heavy clouds and cold, so I thought I’d just take some quick pinhole images of Gus’s old Dodge and upload one to the gallery. Then I remembered the carnival was still in town, the whirling rides, lights on at dusk, would be perfect pinhole fodder. After crossing several chores off of my wife’s honey-do list, I sealed my fate by asking my son if he wanted to go back to the carnival.

After parking the car. I handed Wynn a twenty dollar bill and we parted company, him off to buy ride tickets and me to make pinhole images. I walked around and took photos with a Canon 20D, fitted with a D.I.Y. pinhole body cap, mounted on a Bogen tripod. I had been shooting for about an hour when I heard “Sir, excuse me Sir” from behind me. I know I’m in trouble when someone calls me “Sir.” I was being followed by two Rent-a-Cops, one male and one female. The male cop told me the owner didn’t want me taking any more photos of the carnival. My mind raced as I tried to think up a clever defense. I needed something like the closing remarks of Alan Shore (James Spader) in L.A. Law, but all I could up with would have sounded more like something Denny Crane (William Shatner) would blurt out. Not wanting to make a scene, I said “Okay, folded up the tripod and walked out of the carnival. To tell the truth I really wasn’t sure what my rights were in that situation, or the carnival owner’s rights or the rights of the church who owned the property. There were plenty of other people taking photographs with point and shoots but by using a tripod (necessary for all but the most impressionistic pinhole photos) I stuck out. Maybe it’s time for a high resolution, compact camera like the Canon G9.

I was down but not out. I retreated to the sidewalk. A public side walk, where I knew I had a right to shoot from. I set the camera and tripod down and looked up the street as if waiting for a ride. With one eye on the Rent-a-Cops, I pointed my camera at the twirling Zipper and pressed the shutter, turning away for the 15 second exposure. I glanced at the LCD screen and saw I had cut off the top of the ride. I recomposed and press the shutter again. Fifteen seconds later I looked down at the LCD screen on the back of the camera and I could see, I had it. I found my son, bought him some French fries and we headed for the car.