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Taking a Pinhole Gallery

I have looked before at pinhole photography, see all the articles in the Pinhole Photography   section, and this time I set about a slightly different project to find out what just could be taken on a typical day out to produce a gallery of photographs using just pinhole techniques, that is without a camera lens at all, but a blanking plate and small pin hole.

This article looks at what I did, and why, with enough detail that you could use it as a guide to have a day out yourself without a lens.

We put a day aside in our diary and decided whatever the weather conditions this would be our day for the experiment, it turned out to be an overcast, but dry day. The place we decided to visit for the test was a place we had been before, Britain's second largest stone circle Stanton Drew in Somerset. In many ways England's most impressive stone circle, in my view more interesting than Stonehenge   or Avebury in Wiltshire, and still in its original form, rather than reconstructed like most others. However it's off the beaten track, not commercialised and has very few visitors, its car park will hold only 3 or 4 cars and while we were there on this visit there was just a couple of other people present for a part of the time. You will find we have a feature guide on the Stanton Drew Stone Circles but before did not have a gallery. On this trip we had two photographers both with identical Nikon cameras each producing a gallery, one taking photographs for a gallery with a Nikon lens on the camera, and the second, me, with no lens, but using a pinhole. The gallery with the lens was also to use some photos we had taken on previous trips. See the Stanton Drew Stone Circle - Pinhole Gallery Stanton Drew Stone Circle Gallery and to see the images we took.

We chose Stanton Drew Stone Circle  for this, in part because we wanted to add a conventional gallery for this location, but also as with slow exposures for the pinhole photos, I did not have to allow for people moving and stones never do, except in the movies.

The pinhole I decided to use for this day was the pinhole adaptor from the Pinhole Factory. When I last wrote a number of articles on pinhole photography, I had only just managed to get this and had not had a chance to try it out fully. I decided to use it on its own rather than with a tubes set to get telephoto effects, so these images are the widest that I could get with this device. I also wanted to see just how easy or hard it would be to take photos, given that I could not use the viewfinder with a pinhole in place and didn't want to swap lenses to adapters back and forth on a locked tripod for every shot.

The method I used was to put the camera onto a tripod and use the tripods spirit level to level the camera in all directions and then just point it in the direction of the subject. Moving backwards or forwards and just occasionally tilting the camera up or down to get the images I wanted. I could then see what I had taken and make an adjustment to the camera position and direction if necessary. Using a Hoodman Loupe  made looking at the images I had taken far easier. The camera was fired using a short cable release.

Colour Balance left on auto, but images taken in RAW so I could, if I wanted, change this after.

I set the ISO at 640, for no specific reason, slightly faster than I would have the camera routinely set, but still in the mid range. Using a high ISO would not have got me off the tripod and in any event I could not see what I was shooting, the pinhole image in the viewfinder being too dim.

A few experimental photos allowed me to get the exposure variation from the Exposure on the exposure meter, and once this was known I was then able to take all the photos using the cameras exposure meter,  and an offset exposure variation. In practice I set the camera to the pre-setting I had for a manual f9.5 lens, and put an exposure variation of +5EV, the cameras maximum and then used the meter to go to one EV overexposed. I could have, in a few seconds, created another setting for the camera with a far nearer f value and then just used the variation to get it right, but I was in the middle of a field and keen to get on and take photos and this produced exactly the same results. With hindsight I should have made a note before leaving home that the pinhole is said to be f167, and perhaps have set up a camera setting and worked out the variation under test conditions, but my more messy way out in the field got the same results in a minute or two.

As the aperture of the pinhole is fixed, I was in manual mode and just changed the speed, and speed ranged from a quarter to an eighth of a second, the most common being a fifth of a second.

So what could we expect to get

Pinhole photographs appear sharp when viewed near to the size that they are taken, so if you had a pinhole on a large format camera, for example an old plate camera with a cut sheet adaptor using film, it would at the plate size appear sharp. With a small camera sensor and at the size the image is on the back of the camera unmagnified it appears sharpish, as we start to enlarge it, we find the image is softer than we are used to having with a quality lens, and the larger we take it the more noticeable this becomes. The quality is not much different to that produced by cheap cameras with plastic lenses. Some may like this and perhaps we could say its artistic.

A little experimenting since has shown we could fill a large screen and view this from some feet away as you would a painting, or for website use perhaps the image size of around 400 pixels wide is about the limit to go to. Very many website photos are far smaller than this and if we reduced them we would get what would appear to be a sharper photo.

The top image, right, shows the photo as taken with no editing.

A brighter day with more light and contrast would have made it appear sharper, so the second image has enhanced contrast, and this time I have shown it as a black and white image.

However if we want to make it look more like an image from an antique camera, then perhaps it should be a sepia image, and the third image is shown with a sepia filter.

Digital cameras do quite a bit of image processing including sharpening, but without a known lens this is not undertaken.

From this you can see, you could be amazed that you can get reasonable photos from a camera with no lens, or disappointed the results don't match that of a high end quality lens.

You could also see the potential to produce some historic looking photos, or decide this makes no artistic sense whatsoever to you.

I have included two more photos in unedited form, and the full gallery can be seen at Stanton Drew Stone Circle - Pinhole Gallery.

At Stanton Drew there is a large circle with a second circle within it, and nearby the remains of two further stone circles, with another stone feature not far away. For the pinhole gallery I just concentrated on the main circle with its second circle within it.

You can compare this with a gallery of the same location taken using a lens on the camera in the Stanton Drew Stone Circle Gallery.

Further Information

Pinhole Photography Section

Topic Index - Pinhole Photography 

Pinhole Photography Doorway


Introduction to Pinhole Cameras

Pinhole Adaptor

Stone Circles Section

Topic Index - Stone Circles

Stanton Drew Stone Circle, Somerset

Unedited photo

with black and white filter and enhanced contrast

as above with sepia filter


By: Keith Park

Section: Pinhole Photography  

Page Ref: Taking_pinhole_gallery Topic: Pinhole Photography  Last Updated: 03/2011

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