Cougar Mountain (Holga Pinholes)

Old railroad tracks and river at Cougar Mountain

Pinhole photograhy always fascinated me. To strip down all he bells and whistles and simply be left with a container that is otherwise light tight, apart from the light that enters through a hole that was made with a pin, and to be able to make images from such a primitive apparatus, is pretty effing cool. We don’t need lenses to make a photography, we just need patience.

See, because the hole a light must pass through in a pinhole camera is so small, patience is a must when shooting. Exposures in bright light can take 4-7 seconds, low light can take up to 20-60 seconds, ad night photography? Well, that’s whole other ball game. If you are lucky, your pinhole might be comparable to an f-stop of 64 (you can generally achieve this by using a beading needle if you are making your own pinhole camera) and you could use a light meter to get a estimate on your exposure time. Sadly, that’s not often the case and exposure times can be a bit of a guessing game.

Perhaps later we shall discuss the mechanics of making a pinhole camera, but today I simply wanted to share my latest adventure. I finally took the plunge and started shooting color in my Holga pinhole. Don’t ask me why I’ve only been shooting black and white film all these years, I really have no answer… but when the first really nice day of late spring hit the Pacific northwest, my wife and I went out to Cougar Mountain to hike the old railroad, which has long since fallen back into natures clutches, and is barely discernible. We hiked for 3 hours, and went less than a mile. That’s patience.

Waterfall at Cougar Mountain. The orange is from the iron in the area left over from the railroad work.

The Golden Rules

I wasn’t ever going to write a post about practical advice on taking photographs, but, like all rules I set up for myself, I’m breaking it. There are a few golden rules in photography that I have learned over the years…the rule of thirds, flat lighting in studio portraits can sometimes be more effective than dramatic lighting, the sharper the pin = the sharper the image, match your equipment to your subject (ie- a pinhole camera at a sporting event may not be the best choice…) and “look at something differently” (ie- flip the camera vertical, get on eye level with your subject, climb a tree and see what something looks like from above, etc), are just a few I have rattled off to myself and anyone else that would listen through the years. Yes, rules are meant to be broken, and I have broken every single photography rule I have ever learned, at one point or another, sometimes to find a little magic, and sometime to encounter a disaster. But there are a few tips… errr… I mean “rules” that I should probably just have tattooed on my arm so I don’t forget them, as every time I ignore them I am never satisfied with my shots. Here they are:

If it’s Not Good Enough, You’re not Close Enough!

This is actually a lot harder than one might think, but it’s also a universal truth of “good” photography. Often, the subject we want to show in a photograph is so small and surrounded by unnecessary visual information that what we, as the photographer, wanted to show, just ends up getting lost. But in order to get close to a subject, you have to break down your barriers and step outside your comfort zone. Diane Arbus never got a compelling portrait of a circus performer from the sidelines, and you probably won’t either. Sometimes it takes getting to know people you may not have otherwise talked t, and sometimes it might take jumping a fence, but the results are usually worth it. Oh, also, I do not mean slap a telephoto lens on your camera and get close that way, especially if you are photographing a person. If you are uncomfortable with your subject, the viewer most likely will be as well. If your subject isn’t even aware you are taking their picture, well, the audience will know that as well and the voyeurism will shine through. But don’t take my word for it...

Don’t Shoot! (…unless you have a reason)

In the era of digital cameras, everyone has gone trigger happy. Why not? I mean, it’s not like it costs anything more if you shoot one frame or one thousand. There’s nothing wrong with shooting this way, but you still gotta remember to pay attention to what you are shooting and have a reason for snapping the shutter in the first place, otherwise you’ll probably just end up deleting the photo from the card and sending it into cyber oblivion anyway. For those of us stuck in the analog era, unless we feel like spending gobs of cash getting shitty pictures developed (and yes, I am speaking from experience) we’d do right to only shoot when we have a reason. P.S., while “it was pretty” and “I had to use up the roll of film because I really wanted to see those first few frames I shot” are reasons in themselves, they are reason’s that most of the time won’t provide a decent picture. So slow down, breathe, meditate on the subject, the perspective, and the reason you want to photograph something. I tell myself this all the time and still forget, but the best results come when I slow down enough to practice my own advice.

This photo intrigues me and engages me. It makes me question the story of what is happening, but also engages my eye to move about the frame. I was close to the subject, and cared about what was happening in the scene at the time. I find it much more compelling than the other shot shown here.

This photo, while not the worst image, certainly isn't the best. The subject is far away, in the middle of the frame, and altogether not very interesting. I was testing my camera and not passionate about the subject at the time, and I believe that shows in the carelessness of composition and subject matter

Oh yeah, and one last thing, if you like your photograph (or writing, or painting, or what ever else it is that you do) I promise someone else out there will too. There’s too many people on this planet for no one to have the same taste as you.