Back to Basics – Pinhole Photography

For some time now, I have said that I really want to gain some understanding of the darkroom.  I had film cameras as I was growing up, of course, but they were of the point and shoot variety and the film was always developed by a store.  When I started taking photography more seriously, I used my DSLR, processed the images on a computer and gave little thought to the mysteries of the darkroom.  I don’t know when that changed, but somewhere along the line I came to the conclusion that a greater knowledge of non-digital methods would help my photography and would encourage me to think a little more about what I was doing and why I was doing it.

A few months ago, when the theme for our photography club meeting was black and white, I decided to use a simple pinhole camera and develop my own negatives.  I bought a cheap kit, the kind that comes with a camera that you build yourself, some photographic paper, trays, chemicals etc. and set everything up.  It quickly became apparent that the camera – essentially a wooden box, held together with elastic bands, with a black paper sleeve inside, leaked light.  Parcel tape solved that problem and I was able to successfully take a few shots, develop negatives, scan them and invert them in software.  The problem, though, was that I could only load one piece of paper into the camera at a time, and the parcel tape became an increasingly messy and frustrating thing.

Now, thanks to a generous Christmas present, I have an Obscura by Ilford.  The camera is held together by magnets – no parcel tape needed here! – and has a chemically etched pinhole.  It takes 4×5 inch paper or film and will fit onto a tripod, essential for long exposures.  By taking part in a workshop at Photofusion in London (definitely recommended), I learnt how to load the camera, how to calculate the correct exposure time and, most importantly, how to develop negatives and create contact prints.

It’s early days, but I am looking forward to experimenting and working out exactly what is possible, both with the pinhole camera itself and in the basic bathroom-darkroom that I am in the process of setting up.  Watch this space!

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