View Full Version : How to compose with a pinhole camera

alex from holland
22-Aug-2008, 15:01
Hi All,

I am new to this forum. I live in the netherlands. Fully on digital, but want to go back to pinhole, just for fun . So back to the basic

At the moment i am planning to buy a zero image 4 x 5 camera and want to start with a sinar zoom filmback. First i want to learn to expose properly and don't want to spoil lots of 4 x 5 film in the beginning.

BUT, i was wondering : How do you compose with such a pinhole camera ??
while surfing i have seen some perfect composed pictures with 25 mm FL

Thanks for your help

Alex from Holland

Greg Lockrey
22-Aug-2008, 16:03
Since your will be using a 4x5 pinhole, what I have done was cut out a 4x5 rectangle from a piece of stiff cardboard and place it next to the camera at the front and place my eye at the film plane in the rear. This gives me a very close approximation of what the camera "sees". A more complex way is to have a sheet of frosted glass to serve as a ground glass and a larger pinhole (1/8") to use as a viewer. Compose the picture, remove the ground glass, change the pinhole and take your picture. BTW, Zero Image will come with a viewer.

Dave Wooten
22-Aug-2008, 16:15
Use a graflex or other camera with ground glass and focus with lens, then replace lens with appropriate focal length pinhole.

Walter Calahan
22-Aug-2008, 16:33
Back in the day, I used Polaroid tests to sight my image.

To get into the ballpark, I drew sight-lines on the pinhole camera box to approximate the angle of view. Using a straight edge, draw a line from the outside edge of your film opening to the point of the pinhole. You do this on two sides of the camera box, thus drawing four lines. When the camera is set up on a tripod, look down the lines to see the outer edge of the image the pinhole will make on your film.

Here's how precise you can be, none of the pinhole images on my web site are cropped. http://www.walterpcalahan.com/Cheers/Portfolios/Pages/Washington_DC.html

Greg Lockrey
22-Aug-2008, 16:40
Nice pinhole images, Walter. ;) Isn't your handle "pinholer" or some such on one of the other popular sites?

Walter Calahan
22-Aug-2008, 17:43

Yes, it is a joke to myself. Most people think I actually think I'm a master. HA! Little do they know. The bottom line is, if you can master a pinhole camera, you can master pretty much any camera made.

Thanks for the kind words about what I've done with these amazing boxes. They make my brain sweat.

Glenn Thoreson
22-Aug-2008, 18:04
Sight lines can be very accurate. For more "normal focal length cameras I use viewfinders from various old junk folding cameras and Polaroid cameras. For very wide angle cameras, the sight lines may work as well as anything else. For shooting a principal subject that will pretty much fill the frame using wide angle, I just put the camera a couple of feet in front of it, level it and shoot. I can get my subject and objects up to 50 feet+ off to the sides doing this with a 65mm focal length on 4X5. Pinholes are not an exact science, though some folks try to make it one. Pinholes is fun! :D

23-Aug-2008, 11:56
My 4x5 pinhole field camera is a simple design made from plywood, but has a removable viewscreen (same size and thickness as a cut film holder) and a removable 'viewing pinhole' in front, which has a diameter around 3mm; small enough to see a soft version of the image under a dark cloth that's adequately sharp, and bright, for composition purposes [remember with pinhole there's no focussing so critical viewing isn't necessary.]

However, the camera also has 'viewing dots' arranged on the top and sides, which form a forward-facing triangle, with its apex at the position of the pinhole aperture, and the two back vertices of the triangle even with the edges of the image area at the film plane. This method of composing is surprisingly accurate, and works equally well for objects extremely close to the camera, something that external wireframe viewfinders can't do well, due to parallax issues.

To use the viewing dot method I level the camera on the tripod with the horizon; then get the horizontal position set first using the dots on the top of the camera; then view the dots along the sides and see where I want to place the horizon of the landscape, for instance. In July I spent a week in Arches NP, near Moab, Utah, where I used this system extensively. I found the viewing dots to be just as accurate as the view screen and quicker in operation. Highly recommended. And you can add them to just about any camera. My wooden box uses little brass pan-head machine screws for the dots, but just about any small, round, raised object that can be attached to the camera will work.


PS: Links are here (http://www.f295.org/Pinholeforum/forum/Blah.pl?b-cc/m-1217010712/), here (http://www.f295.org/Pinholeforum/forum/Blah.pl?b-cc/m-1217011724/), and here (http://www.f295.org/Pinholeforum/forum/Blah.pl?b-cc/m-1217018520/) for pinhole images from that trip (shot onto paper negatives), and the camera I mentioned is here (http://www.f295.org/Pinholeforum/forum/Blah.pl?b-cm/m-1182385882/).

katie cooke
24-Aug-2008, 01:13
Like Walter and Joe, I use sight lines. But unlike almost everyone else, I use them the other way around (I'm contrary like that). So rather than having the point of the triangle at the front, above to the pinhole, I make a point at the back opposite the pinhole, with the lines going out to the front, opposite the outer edges of the film. This is not accurate for very close up images, but seems to work for me for everything else, and I find this way round much easier to use (starting off using my hands/arms to frame the angle, or a darkslide to check the edges.)

alex from holland
25-Aug-2008, 13:40
Thanks all for yout input.
It must be me (and my bad englisch) but i don't understand how to use those sight lines.
Can i find some more (visual) info about it somewhere ???



Frank Petronio
25-Aug-2008, 13:54
I like the idea of a $1200 Sinar zoom back used on a $79 wooden pinhole. The Swiss camera designers are doing somersauts. In their graves.

Send us a pictures of your rig.

Greg Lockrey
25-Aug-2008, 16:42
I like the idea of a $1200 Sinar zoom back used on a $79 wooden pinhole. The Swiss camera designers are doing somersauts. In their graves.

Send us a pictures of your rig.

Don't underestimate those pinholes. Especially when you get one on the sweet spot. DOF is amazing. ;) ;)

alex from holland
26-Aug-2008, 11:58
I like the idea of a $1200 Sinar zoom back used on a $79 wooden pinhole. The Swiss camera designers are doing somersauts. In their graves.

Send us a pictures of your rig.

Not if you buy a used sinar zoom :p

C. D. Keth
26-Aug-2008, 17:49
The last time I made a pinhole camera, I figured out the angle of view and made a sport finder out of wire and attached it to the top. It was just a little loop and a rectangle. You put your eye to the little loop and the rectangle marks your frame.