Pinhole Photography with SAINT MESA
Taking photos with a Lensless 4×5 pinhole camera.
by phoxy | published February 4, 2019
Pinhole Photography is based on the Camera Obscura concept. In short, if you poke a tiny hole in a dark box you will get a really basic camera. The light from outside the box converges on the tiny hole and projects an upside down image into the box. This concept was around for hundreds of years before we even had the ability to record images. It was originally used to observe the sun (fun fact: it's still the most common way to view solar eclipses). Once scientists figured out how to capture light on film the pinhole camera was born.
I've wanted to experiment with pinhole cameras for a long time, but I had no idea what to shoot with it. Then the perfect opportunity came up: shooting with the musician SAINT MESA. His style, both musically and fashionally, is super organic. He recorded his last album in the jungles of Costa Rica. He loves finding new sounds from nature and he hates shoes. Who better to photograph with the most analog camera ever made?
There's just one important obstacle: instant 4x5 film has been completely discontinued. I tracked down a dealer with some old Fujifilm FP-100C, but we only have 10 chances to get a cool photo (the film comes in a 10-pack).
We're using a Lensless 4x5 Super-Wide Pinhole Camera made out of Baltic Birch. It's an antique format, made out of classic materials, but this camera is brand-new. You can pick them up new from B&H Photo. If you want to save some money you can make one yourself with just about anything, even a taped-up shoe box.
Instant Film Back
With most pinhole and 4x5 cameras you would load film into the camera in a darkroom, take your photos, unload the camera in a darkroom, and then send the film off to be developed. I respect the labor of love, but I don't have the patience for that.
The Fuji PA-145 is a discontinued 4x5 instant film back. You load instant film into the holder, expose the image, then simply pull the film through the rollers built-in to the film back. I found the holder from a Japanese camera dealer on Ebay. If you're doing the same it's worth spending a few extra dollars for a like-new example as the finicky internal rollers make a big difference in the outcome of your image.
We're using Fujifilm FP-100c instant color film. This film was discontinued in 2016, but there are still some dealers with left-over stock. You get 10 prints per pack, and as of this writing each pack is $40-$50. Since the film is expired you're likely to get some odd color artifacts in your photos, but they just add character.
Not pictured above, but absolutely necessary is a tripod. Pinhole cameras require really long exposure times ranging from 5 seconds in direct sunlight, and up to several minutes indoors. Hand-holding a pinhole camera is impossible, so make sure you've got a tripod of some sort.
There are several unique traits to keep in mind when shooting with a pinhole camera.
- The equivalent f-stop is around f/150.
- Your exposure time in daylight is about 10 seconds. Holding still is extremely hard.
- Your depth of field is infinite so everything will be in focus (or kinda blurry).
- You don't have a viewfinder, so you've just gotta guess. The wide angle helps with this.
We had a great time messing around and finding ways to get the most out of the camera. The photos are terrible compared to a modern DSLR, but that's not the point. The images are organic, unique, and most importantly they are inherently scarce. No matter what, only one original copy of those images will ever exist. You just don't get that with digital.