Focus Editor Philip catches up with photographer Will Gudgeon on his astonishing pinhole photography series, and discusses what drives him to create this type of work
What is pinhole photography?
Pinhole photography is a technique that involves capturing images using a camera with a tiny hole instead of a lens. Light passes through the pinhole and creates an inverted image on photosensitive material, such as photo paper, which is then developed (and in this digital age usually scanned too) to get the final image.
Pinhole photography is really quite different from other types of photography, and has some unique characteristics. It offers a dreamlike appearance, unlimited depth of field, but it requires much longer exposure times. It is widely seen as a creative and experimental medium, and one that has gained popularity for its simplicity and analog charm.
Photographer Will Gudgeon has produced a spectacular series of pinhole images, and we discuss with him the thoughts and processes behind his series, and what drives him to get these shots.
What was it about pinhole photography that first got you interested in the medium, and do you have a general technique for getting your shots?
I was more forced into trying pinhole photography than anything else. I spent many years shooting digital and absolutely loving it, until one day my computer failed on me and it was the start of a long series of problems lasting months. After all my memory cards were eventually full, no reliable computer and a few weeks out from taking pictures, I was starting to really get the twitches to get back out with a camera, I decided to resort to a pinhole camera kit I was bought as a gift a few years previous.
On a Saturday morning on August 2nd 2014 I headed out with my little wooden box held together with elastic band and took my first pinhole exposure, went home and developed it, it was one of the worst photos I had taken, but I loved every minute of the process.
"...it was one of the worst photos I had taken, but I loved every minute of the process."
Since then, I became more interested in film photography and spent a few years exploring various film cameras but always found I most enjoyed pinhole photography. I had been obsessed with digital and trying my best to get the sharpest images I could, but now here I was, with a wooden box, a roll/sheet of film and certainly not getting sharp images.
What I discovered about me in this process, was that with the constraints from a pinhole camera, the more I had to work for each photo. I found this enhanced my creativity and the creative challenges of making a pinhole photo "work", this has been one of the main things I love about the process.
Where do you get inspiration for your work?
There is a wonderful community of pinhole photographers and pinhole makers around the world, podcasts and YouTube channels, I've found this community to be amazingly friendly an endless source of inspiration, there is even a Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day which is held each year on the last Sunday in April.
Will's YouTube channel:
See more of the stories behind will's images on his dedicated YouTube Channel.
What are your favourite pinhole photos you’ve taken so far? What are your favourite subjects to photograph?
Favourite pinhole photo is a hard one, different images have different emotions attached for various reason, some images are my favourite because I love the composition and the “pinhole look” has worked really well for that image, but some are from times where I was just having fun and experimenting strapping the pinhole camera to my skateboard, bike, kayak or paddle board and love the results from them experiences.
One image stands out, it is off the Belle Tout Lighthouse which sits on Beachy head (below) the image isn't particularly amazing but it was the result after many failed and not so good pinhole images, it was the first image which I had taken that I really liked and felt I could really push my pinhole photography into something more serious.
Being near the coast I've always found I venture there the most with my photography in general, the long exposures you get from a pinhole camera are always nice with the waves crashing in. But a subject I have found I have enjoyed since getting involved in pinhole photography is trees, or more particularly the lone windswept trees which I find over on the local downland near my home, for me something about the pinhole look seems to work well with these.
For photographers looking to get started in pinhole? What's your top advice for them?
Be open minded, the results can take some getting used to at first. Pinhole cameras have an infinite depth of field, so you can get low and get really close to your subject, also a wide pinhole cameras can be really-wide, with an average f-stop of around f/120-f/180 you're going to get some nice long exposures, so look for movement in the scene, trees, long grass, crowds of people, the sea.
Personally, I love being out with a pinhole camera on a stormy day, lots of wind, dark skies and a bit or rain is no problem when you have no lens to worry about getting water droplets on.
Enjoy the experience, no viewfinder, a fixed aperture, no need to focus, no settings to worry about. Just being there wherever you are in the moment. working on a composition which you can only imagine in your head, I find it really slows you down and you need to think very differently about your image compared to a using a lensed camera, it's a very freeing experience. I occasionally get out with my digital and film cameras but there is something special about being out with the most basic camera you can get.
"...there is something special about being out with the most basic camera you can get."
Do you also have any technical tips, advice or gear recommendations for pinhole photography?
Pinhole gear can be as simple as a drinks can with a pinhole in the side or I even did some photos with a chocolate easter egg pinhole camera () , sometimes making your own camera is the most fun and rewarding.
There are now a wide range of people making and printing pinhole cameras, ONDU and Zero Image being some of the bigger names creating beautiful wooden cameras by hand, but also smaller companies like MIA pinholes which 3D print some amazing pinhole cameras.
If making your own camera and you want the sharpest image’s you can get, the thinner the material with the pinhole the better when it comes to image quality. Different focal lengths will require different pinhole sizes, lots of calculators online to help. Companies like RealitySoSubtle supply laser drilled pinholes which are 50 microns thick (0.002″) with pinholes ranging from 0.1mm to 1mm.
A tripod is almost an essential piece of equipment, the small aperture on a pinhole camera will lead to some long exposures, from a few seconds to a few minutes is more than normal, sometimes a lot longer, so a chair can be handy.
A light meter and film reciprocity failure calculator is also very handy along with a timer to countdown your exposures, thankfully most of this is now available in a single app or two, which makes life easier.
What are the limitations with pinhole photography?
Pinhole cameras certainly work better with close-up subjects, things on the horizon will lose a lot of detail, if you're taking it to a sports game it will definitely be a struggle, but it’s a different tool to capture things in a new way, a way in which other cameras cannot capture things, you will have to look at things differently. Like they say “You are only limited by your imagination”.
Do you do much in post-production to your images to get the final result?
I do try and limit my editing, I find after I scan the film the images can look a little flat, so a few minor adjustments and spot removal are normal, sometimes a bit of dodging and burning help with things.
Have you any further plans to expand this series in the form of books, exhibitions etc?
I have planned for a long time to put together a small book, either following a series or just covering my pinhole photography in general, but like most things I get so far and have never fully committed to it yet.
More pinhole photography by Will Gudgeon
See more of Will's stunning pinhole photography, along with other photo series, in his Picfair Store.