Shoebox pincam update

The shoebox pincam comes of age. It’s a keeper!

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Making images with the shoebox pincam is a slow process. Four sheeets of paper or film have to be taped together then loaded together into the camera in the darkroom. Once exposed, the camera has to be returned to the darkroom for unloading and developing of each sheet. Getting to and from a previously scouted location takes time, the camera has to be set up and of course a pinhole exposure, especially on paper, is never done in a fraction of a second! As a result, it is likely that only one exposure can be made on any one day!

It’s almost two months since I idly picked up an empty shoebox and had the thought that it would be cool to convert it into a pinhole camera. That thought has turned into quite a project with teething problems to challenge me, lessons to be learned and only now can I say that I’m beginning to get a feel for what it can do.

The camera records a panoramic image covering about 145ยบ horizontally, undistorted due to the constant radius curved image plane. The vertical perspective is similar to that of a ‘standard’ focal length 35mm camera, so is not the typical wide-angle view of a typical pinhole camera. So far I’ve used it to record river scenes, mainly because I like the effect that long exposures give to the movement of the water.

Here are four ‘useable’ exposures made so far. As each image comprises four sheets I’ve mounted them on board to ensure they are flat and accurately butted together. Unfortunately the assembled images are too large for my scanner so I have had to photograph them instead which doesn’t reproduce them as well, particularly for shadow details.

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This first ‘successful’ image was considered so for the reason that I had overcome the safelight fogging problem that had dogged my first few exposures. I was being overoptimistic for the Direct Positive paper’s ability to record such a high contrast scene with one river bank in direct bright sunlight and the other in deep shadow!

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For my second image I tried to cut down on exposure time by using film. I used Ilford FP4+, each sheet being subsequently contact printed onto Ilford MG Art 300 paper. While I achieved the aim of reducing the exposure time, the reduction was only slight due to accounting for reciprocity failure. Using film created its own challenges. First I had to tape together four sheets of film and load them into the camera in total darkness, then I had to determine a print exposure to be applied to each sheet when contact printing. To ensure accurate registration of the joined together contact prints, each negative had to be 100% accurately aligned to the paper. It was a tricky task and I spent rather longer in the darkroom than I had anticipated! Once again contrast was an issue but I’m pleased with the result and would give more thought to the camera position and lighting in future.

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This is probably about one stop underexposed and I knew it at the time I made the exposure. It was a fifty minute exposure started about two hours before sunset and to give another stop in fading light would have added well over an hour for very little benefit. As it is there is very subtle shadow detail that doesn’t show up here and I absolutely love the wispy shapes formed by the water in the darker regions of the print. I’m not at all disappointed with this one. It’ll probably go into a frame, at least temporarily!

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Finally I have this. I’d say I got the exposure just about right at 25 minutes or so, with good shadow detail in the actual print as well as here. I could have framed the shot better to take in less shadow area on the left and a better ‘flow’ downstream. The setting sun is directly in the picture and it’s path can be traced in the sorarisation that causes a ‘black sun’ effect from which the diffraction flare is seen. I quite like that and from time to time will set up a pinhole shot just to get that effect although that wasn’t my primary purpose with this one.

So there it is. I’m getting the hang of this ‘chance’ pinhole camera. It has a quite different perspective to any other pincam I have and I need to find the right subject matter to make the most of it. But it’s a keeper for sure!