Theme: Serendipity

Another camera club theme night – this time the theme set was Serendipity.

I took this as en excuse to do something a bit different to normal, inspired by the early pioneers of photography who experimented with various combinations of equipment and chemical processes to try and create a clear and fixed image.

I wanted to take the basic, simple elements of photography and use them to make some images to show. My serendipity would be getting any image at all.

I decided to work with a pinhole camera and build my own lens from a plastic bodycap, some tinfoil and a needle. I experimented with this setup on my DSLR for worldwide pinhole photography day last year so I sort of knew what I was doing. With the lens built and an approximate F number calculated I needed a light-tight box to hold the film in place. I chose a Nikon F5, partly because I wanted to make the world’s first 8fps pinhole camera, but mainly because it had multiple-minute shutter speeds so i wouldn’t need a stopwatch.


For the film I wanted something super slow, so a decade expired roll of Ilford Pan F 50 was the perfect choice, rating it at ISO 25 to account for it spending 10 years in a warm cupboard. With long exposures you need to correct for reciprocity failure of the film, so with a little extrapolation of the graph in the Ilford data sheet for this film I figured out some correction factors (around 4x the exposure needed!).

And with that I had my simple setup.


There were some issues…. you can’t see through the viewfinder as the f200ish aperture is way to dim, and my handheld light meter only goes to f90 so I had to make a crib sheet to convert meter reading to camera settings. But it wasn’t all guesswork as the focal length was about 40ish mm (literally the distance from tinfoil to film plane!) so I could guess at the angle of view pretty well, and with a hotshoe mounted spirit level I was hopeful of getting level horizons.

So out I went to shoot some images and hope for the best.


The basic process of making an exposure consisted of setting up the tripod, pointing the camera in the right direction, levelling it on the spirit level, taking an incident light reading at f90 on my handheld meter, correcting that to an actual exposure (about a minute in sun, two mins in shade), tripping the shutter, and waiting. At least the motor-drive of the F5 would wind-on to tell me the exposure was complete!

And these are the images. I processed the film normally as ISO 50 and the negatives came out moderately well exposed (not bad for a lot of guestimating!). There were scanned and then processed in Lightroom to clean them up and split tone them.

I like the final set of images a lot. It took a lot of trial and error to make a decent tinfoil pinhole lens that could render a reasonably sharp image, and while 2 minutes of exposure is usually going to give you some kind of image, I had a series of frames that were sharp enough and well exposed but with a nice soft feel, especially the water images which have that nice long exposure glow to them.

While this is certainly not any kind of pioneering photography from first principles, it is a nice exercise in how images can be made from the most basic of elements brought together with some basic photographic knowledge to create some interesting images. It definitely felt like I was making something.


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