Category Archives: Aesthetic

Your Best Work is Yet to Come

When I started pinhole, you could say it was a reaction to everything else going on in my photographic life. I had been building a commercial photography practice and was doing well in digital photography. That was, until the great recession swallowed my practice in what felt like an instant.

As 2008 came to a close, I had a heap of ashes that had for years been one of my deepest passions. Life had put me in a position where I could do nothing but self reflect on what went right and what went oh so wrong. I quickly realized that I had developed an obsession with pixel perfection. I was in desperate need of an antidote. I knew “everything” about the mechanics of photography – ratios, numbers, formulas – but was losing perspective on the importance of photography.

I’m not sure I shot a single photo in 2009 or 2010. I didn’t even own a DSLR. But in 2011 I dug out some old pinhole cameras that I had just started to play with years before. My incredible wife and son gifted me my first Zero Image at that time as well. Having kept myself away from the art long enough, I started to pull at the old heartstring again.

One of the best ways to keep moving forward in your personal growth is to jump into things that make you a rookie again. While pinhole is photography, the “rules”, mechanisms, and aesthetics are so different from digital photography that it really is a different art. The first rolls came out so boring. Pinhole’s lack of detail quickly showed everything that was going wrong with my digital photography. For this reason, making pinhole my only photographic tool has been therapeutic in clearing out the creative blockage.

In sports, athletes often isolate a technique in order to focus on improving. For me, pinhole has acted in much the same way. By freeing myself from pixel perfection and techno features, I’ve been able to focus more on the creative side of things.

Elliott Bay at Dusk
[singlepic id=484 w=600]Shot around the time that I finally started figuring out this pinhole thing. Elliott Bay at Dusk, ©Kier Selinsky 2016[/singlepic][spacer height=”20px”]

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” -Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Up until a month or two ago, I hadn’t shot a DSLR in years. I’m trying to bring my photography back into balance now. While I still shoot plenty of pinhole, I’m using the DSLR again. I’ve found that this time around, I’m able to see better much better. I check more angles, concern myself with light and movement more, and my ability to previsualize is greatly improved.

I won’t be dropping pinhole. Not now, not ever. It’s too important to me to have that reminder of what this art is about. That’s what ƒ/D has really been about. If pinhole is your only photographic practice and you’re happy with that, great. But for many of us, it is important to have a reminder of what’s important. Like getting out into the country for some fresh air – your soul needs this.

Work the pinhole process. Shoot a lot. Challenge your boundaries. No matter what you shot yesterday, your best work is yet to come.

12 Shots to Stretch Out

Summer is basically over, and if you’re like me, you’re damn happy for it too! Something about the steady march towards winter sets the senses alive. So let’s capitalize on the sense of invigoration.

Here at ƒ/D, we’re all about inspiring you to reach for the pinhole camera and gain perspectives you didn’t have before. In that vein, I have assembled an assignment, if you will, for pinhole newbies and vets alike: 12 shots to stretch out your creative brain! Why 12? Cause there’s 12 exposures on a 120 roll when shooting in 6×6. (As editor I reserve the right to be arbitrary haha!)

Don’t try to do all of these on one roll. Unless you hate yourself. Or you’re just so creative you make the rest of us sick. Cheers!


Have you been using a tripod all the time? Or always setting your camera on a sturdy surface? You don’t know what you’re missing! Examples: Lena Källberg’s Decisive Movement

[singlepic id=470 w=600]Mickey Skipping Stones, ©Kier Selinsky 2016[/singlepic]

Double Exposure

Double exposures can be completely unpredictable, at least until you get a good amount of practice in. But they’re always joyful! Look for highlights in one shot to fill in the shadows of another. Examples: On Travel – Markus Kaesler

Stepped Exposure

Do you ever feel like you’re wasting an opportunity when you progress the roll one whole exposure? Sometimes, you’re right. To execute a stepped exposure, advance the film a fraction of the distance to the next frame, take another exposure, and repeat until your film indicates you’re at the next frame (don’t forget to advance to the next frame!). This technique often works well with cityscapes and other scenes with lots of lines. Example:

[singlepic id=469 w=600]City Step, ©Kier Selinsky 2016[/singlepic]

Sun flare

Sun flare is a truly unique pinhole effect. The refraction of sunlight causes a ring of light on the film that can be very flattering to some scenes if used right. To get the effect properly, get the sun off to the side, just at the edge of the frame or even just outside the frame. If you shoot the sun straight on, you’ll get a starburst, but not a flare. Example: Get Inspired – Poppies & Flare

Relative Movement

Moving the subject and camera in relation to each other can create an extremely dramatic scene. In a previous article, I described it as a way to get depth of field in your pinhole photos. And Howard Moiser has built a fine catalog of such imagery. Example: Howard Moiser – Relative Movement

Free Movement

Contrary to relative movement, free movement is where only the camera or the subject is in motion. I suppose they could be both in motion so long as they’re not moving together. In any case, the effect is lots of linear streaking. Examples: several fine examples in the May 2016 Gallery

Light painting

Light painting is a technique that is applied very often in other forms of photography. One bonus of pinhole is that it’s easier to pull off light painting during the daytime, which can bring a whole new suite of possibilities to your light painting desires. Example: Get Inspired – Pinholeshot

So Close

With a near infinite depth of field comes a remarkable ability to get up close. In addition, many pinhole cameras have a super wide angle, exaggerating the close up effect. Use this perspective to your advantage to find new ways of looking. Example:

[singlepic id=343 w=600]Smoked Ribs, ©Kier Selinsky 2016[/singlepic]

Yet so far away

Create a big sweeping landscape or seascape with that wide angle pinhole and details just wash away. It’s a great way to achieve zen like simplicity and concentrate on major shape. Example: Paul Bender’s Bear Creek Lake Park shared in Inspiration Week of 5/16


Multi-lapse is a technique I’ve written about before. See, pinhole is what many feel is a sort of time lapse format due to the long exposures. In multi-lapse, you break up the exposure into fractions. This can take an exposure where the people would normally disappear and time your fractional exposures so that people are in the same general spots every time, creating a clustering of movement instead of a disappearing act. Examples: Technique: Multi-LapseStudies in Motion – Jean-Christophe Denis


Portraiture is something that often gets left by the way side with pinhole. I’ll admit it’s tough – you have to ask people to stay still, and if they’re at all camera shy, they tend to really not like what a pinhole makes them look like. But there’s definitely some great room for experimentation here. Examples: photos by Bernie Vander Wal and Victor Senkov in Inspiration Week of 8/8

Your favorite lensed photo

Surely you’ve taken some lensed photos. Probably a lot of them. Take a handful of your favorite ones and see if you can recreate them with pinhole. If at first it doesn’t seem like you can, try mixing in techniques like multi-lapse and relative movement. Or try a pinhole take on the subject, bend the “rules”, and get creative! Examples: Send us yours!

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Book Review: Letting Go of the Camera

“Letting Go of the Camera” is the second Brooks Jensen book that I’ve read. Like the other book, Creative Life in Photography, this is a collection of essays and ruminations. But this time he’s turned his attention more towards the meta of creativity in photography.

He’s touching on a lot of concepts in creativity and photography that, honestly, are what led to my taking up pinhole in the first place. It’s been nearly a decade since I built my first pinhole camera (outside of a photo class) and fell in love with the process. Pinhole for me was a response to the rising trend in DSLR shooting and perfection. At the time, there was so much volume in my shooting. I was filling memory disks like mad. But there was rarely time that I was taking to see. Like a junky, I was voraciously consuming, and the DSLR gave me a fix.

So it is in that spirit that pinhole provided a very needed detox from this habit. Suddenly I wasn’t shooting bursts of photos but rather waiting seconds or minutes for a single exposure. I wasn’t obsessively composing but rather guesstimating based on angles. And I wasn’t filling memory cards but rather mindfully choosing compositions to use precious film on.

The result, for me at least, is that pinhole photography is a much more meditative process than any other form of photography. Several days ago I was at the West Side Market in Cleveland making an indoor exposure that, once corrected for reciprocity, took 18 minutes. That was 18 minutes of observance that I could do. Looking at what to shoot next. Watching the crowds. Observing how people shopped. Seeing. It was 18 minutes of the compassionate observance that David Foster Wallace described in “This is Water”. If I had shot that with a DSLR, I would have cranked up the ISO and opened the aperture enough to get me 1/60th exposure and just moved on.

So what the hell does watching people for 18 minutes have to do with “Letting Go”? Brooks Jensen is asking us to take this time, so that we may be better photographers. He’s not only a photographer, he’s also the publisher of Lens Work magazine, and the host of a number of workshops. In these workshops he’s seen tons of work, but “rarely see photographs that relate to [photographers’] lives, thoughts, feelings, or experiences.” Throughout the book, he’s practically begging us to take a little extra time and look at things differently.

Brooks argues for mastering the craft of photography so that we can let go as, “the true master is one who, indeed, has total control and then lets go and allows an accident to happen.” That’s practically a mantra for excellent pinhole photography. He challenges photographers to photograph what you feel, so that you “let go of yourself and let your subject speak directly to your audience.”

We all know that travel to an unfamiliar place can help spur the creative spirit, but Brooks challenges us to be better in this regard as well, noting that:

It seems that photography presents us with a choice unique in the field of art. We can work to find something new that has never been photographed before and claim it as our unique photographic turf or we can accept the challenge to use our tools as merely tools and realize that the real task of being a photographer is to develop ourselves as conduits for the inspiration that creates artwork. One path leads to tomorrow’s clichés. The other path leads to artwork that seems to endure. One eventually is easy; one is profound.

Brooks absolutely pulls no punches in this regard, also noting that “a great deal of what passes for fine art photography today is not based on vision, talent, or craft; it is based simply on access.” This is a notion that I identify with strongly, and am also toiled by. In our daily lives, hustling about with work and family duties, it can be extremely hard to develop a vision in the seemingly mundane.

However Brooks too understands this struggle, and provides guidance there. Noting examples such as Sudek and Wynn Bullock as great examples of photographers that have realized that “the key is to integrate our art into our life, not the other way around.” Even so, shooting over and over the same areas of our lives can be drivel, right? But no, says Brooks, noting that “Weston took 29 photos of peppers before he finally took his famous Pepper No. 30, and he may have taken many more afterwards.” Brooks expands to note that:

The paradox is simply this: repetition of what has already been done is a useful technical exercise but rarely produces artwork of merit. Repetition of your own creative vision however, leads to refinement, increased depth and sensitivity, and generally does produce better artwork.

It’s that refinement of craft that he’s really driving at. It’s this level of dedication to a topic, and staying to what you know, that is so readily apparent in the wonderful collection that Andy Adams curated in “Looking at the Land”.

There’s so much more to this book then I could possibly cover here. Brooks has been through the ups and downs of a photographic career that has spanned just about every perspective in photography, and has done an excellent job of compiling the many perspectives that come with that career. This is a great read for any photographer – pinholer or not. I encourage you to give it a read – it’s an easy and accessible one – and pursue your photography with increased passion and mindfulness.

“Letting Go of the Camera” is available at Amazon ($5.95 Kindle edition/other formats available)


Book Review: The Creative Life in Photography

In photography, perhaps more than other visual arts, it can be very easy to slip away from what makes it an art. We spend so much time analyzing films, chemistry, physics, and gear (all the glorious gear!) that sometimes we don’t leave any time to think about why we may have gotten into this mess in the first place.

So today I wanted to take a moment to discuss a photography book that left all of that behind. Not only is there not a single paragraph detailing technology in Brooks Jensen’s The Creative Life in Photography, there’s not even a single photograph! In many ways, this is exactly the photography book that many of us need.

If you’re not familiar with Brooks, he’s the founder and editor of Lenswork magazine, a publication I’ve respected greatly over the years. He’s also a very accomplished photographer in his own right. Although he’s not a pinhole photographer (nobody’s perfect), his years as a professional photographer and curator of photography have given him some very valuable insights into how to be a better photographer and how to be a successful photographer (whatever that means for you).

In Creative Life in Photography, he’s collected for the reader a number of his editorial essays from Lenswork over the years. This makes the book exceptionally easy to read – 15 minutes gets you through an editorial to think about for a day or two before you return for the next one. What follows are some of my favorite excerpts from the book. Not to worry – I left plenty out for you to discover and explore yourself.

On making great artistic accomplishments:

Great art always works on multiple levels. It appeals to the sophisticated aficionado, the superbly trained and appreciative peer, and at the same time to the masses who have less appreciation of the intricacies, but nonetheless respond at a level appropriate to their training. I am reminded of the portrayal of Mozart in the fictionalized movie Amadeus. His work was appreciated (well, actually despised ) for its fine subtleties of genius by his peer Salieri, and at the same time enjoyed by the masses for its sheer enjoyability and accessibility.

On the importance of art teaching us to see that which we overlooked before:

Landscapes were just background until artists taught us to see them. Those monks who crossed the Alps in medieval times didn’t look to the hills as beautiful examples of nature. They thought those mountains were a burden and would have liked to flatten them out into nice rolling plains that would be easier to traverse. Now we look at the Alps and say they are beautiful precisely because the artists have taught us to see them as beautiful.

On discovery and seeing:

One of my favorite quotes is from Nobel Prize winner Albert SzentGyorgyi: “Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.”

On finding great photographs within your own surroundings, and resisting the temptation to find greatness in unfamiliar lands:

Could it be that the great photographers make their great images because they spring from their life, whereas the majority of “amateurs” fail to make great photographs because they are too busy trying to photograph someone else’s life, someone else’s landscape, someone else’s experience? Perhaps instead of going out looking for subject matter, we should simply try to clearly see our life as it is and find the images of significance that surround us.

One passage I found particularly interesting was about his process when he does go to a new place. He found that, like myself and I’m sure many others, he would have a hard time seeing beyond the straightforward and obvious. For a time, this frustrated him. Eventually though he learned to cope with this tendency – he now sets about getting the obvious shots out of his system. He indulges the urge to get the first 10 or 20 obvious shots out of the way. This accomplishes two things.

First, it allows him to move past the obvious, rather than spend the mental energy to fight the urge. Second, he uses these shots to get more familiar with the place, so that by the time he’s done with these shots, he’s got a better understanding of what he’s seeing. Pinhole takes some time to do these photos, especially if you know you’re going to not like them later. So I adapted his process – I shoot these photos with my phone. This way I get to see the obvious, explore for the less than obvious, and get a quick check on my exposure settings.

Over the years, I’ve learned that such obvious compositions are an important part of the “loosening up” phase of my process, like limbering stiff joints after a long drive. I photograph with self- indulgent patience, but universally find these images of little use. They are too predictable.

The final piece of his book that really got me was his discussion of artist statements. He’s read a lot of artist statements in his day, and in a nutshell, detests most of them. If you’re a serious artist, his discussion on artist statements alone is worth the few bucks for the book.


Technique: Controlling Depth of Field in Pinhole Photos

In this article, I’m not going to show you anything new. Rather, my goal is to help us think of an existing technique in a new way.

I imagine the knee jerk response to the title of this article is a chorus of befuddled pinholers worldwide shouting in unison, “CONTROLLING DEPTH OF FIELD IN PINHOLE PHOTOS?!?!”

Yep, we’re diving in, with incredulous abandon. But rest easy, we’re not going to change the physics of light. Rather, we’re going to discuss how we can leverage composition to “shorten” the depth of field in a pinhole photograph. Got your attention? Read on…

[singlepic id=228 w=300 float=right] [/singlepic]First, what is “Depth of Field”? Wikipedia defines it as “the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image.” Note that in that definition, there’s not a single mention of bokeh, aperture, or even Circles of Confusion. That’s kind of liberating, no? So, we shall free ourselves of the technical aspects of the customary understanding of depth of field, and let’s focus on the aesthetic.

Let’s pick apart the definition of Depth of Field, from an aesthetic perspective, for just a moment. We have “the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene” – that’s classic 2D art composition: a foreground, middle ground, background. And then there’s “appear acceptably sharp in an image” – well that’s just a matter of being able to distinguish what those objects are, right? So, Depth of Field is, at it’s simplest, choosing what objects, if any, will be distinguishable in the foreground, middle ground, and background.

How do we control which objects will be distinguishable in these planes of the finished pinhole photo? In a word: motion! In a few more words: the relative motion between the camera, the subject, and the background. The closer that background motion is to your subject, the shorter your depth of field. The further away, the deeper your depth of field. Got something in motion between the camera and your subject? Even better – you have a foreground depth of field effect.

Of course this isn’t something new, right? Any of us that have looked at pinhole photography long enough have seen sweeping clouds over landscapes, moving objects in the foreground, wisping trees to and fro. This is not a new effect. But, this is a change of mindset.

Portrait photographers have long since figured out that a portrait can be made *that* much more dynamic through careful use of depth of field. Want to take a great pinhole portrait? Consider a windy day with foliage in the background. Or you can get playful, the way Darren Constantino did his photo, Pinhole Seesaw.

Want a pinhole photo of an object that really pops? Put that object in motion and lock the camera to that motion, such as what James Guerin did in his Twilight Cycle diptych. Artūras Meškauskas also leveraged this technique very effectively in his photo, 1+4 (bottom of linked page).

Again, this isn’t a new technique, just a different mindset – something to keep in mind when you’re afield and are considering how to make a subject really stand out. How have you leveraged this technique? Tell us in the comments!

Self Portrait with Guitar
[singlepic id=229 w=600]Self Portrait with Guitar, ©Kier Selinsky 2015[/singlepic]