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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Different Techniques; Different Aesthetics

The other day, I was showing a close friend of mine one of my pinhole camera images that I had recently taken. As I was doing so, he asked me an interesting question. He was interested in why, if I want to produce and show my best work, would I bother making images with a lensless camera which were clearly not going to be as sharp and free of distortion as images made with my expensive digital SLR? Indeed, a very interesting question.

There is no doubt that the pinhole images are not tack sharp (though the depth of field is infinite). They definitely ‘suffer’ from distortion and light falloff at the edges of the frame. With no viewfinder, composition tends to not be as perfect as one might like. And on top of it all, it takes time and expense to develop the film and scan the shots that one wants to keep. Why go to all that trouble? To be honest, I am not entirely sure why I do it.

Nonetheless, I do know several reasons why I am attracted to the modality, though, from a logical standpoint, I am not sure they completely ‘justify’ the time commitment. In the end, and as in most endeavors such as this, considerable weight has to be given to the fact that I just find it enjoyable.

So what do I like about it?

There are always two sides to the same coin. While a pinhole image is not tack sharp, there is a beauty to the gentle softness that is inherent to this type of photograph. While the image does have distortion and light falloff at the edges, there is a uniqueness and timeless quality to that look that I find attractive.

Perhaps most importantly, pinhole photography is a medium unto itself and therefore can not and should not be compared to lens camera photography. It has its own unique look and aesthetic. Trying to compare sharpness and distortion between pinhole and lens cameras is akin, I think, to asking why one would paint with watercolors instead of the enhanced reality attainable with oils. They are different and each have their own aesthetic. An exceptional watercolor portrays a different ‘reality’ than an exceptional oil painting; neither can be deemed ‘better’ than the other.

Finally, when I started dabbling with pinhole imaging, I was feeling a bit ‘burnt out’ from the creative standpoint. After getting a bit involved with both pinhole and toy camera photography, I felt rather rejuvenated and once again excited about digital. So now, when I go out shooting, I often go both high and low tech, as the added weight of the pinhole camera and a few rolls of film is negligible.

As to the image that I had been showing my friend……it is a shot of Ohiopyle Falls in Ohiopyle State Park, which I have previously written about in my post entitled ‘Western Pennsylvania’s Secrets’.

The Power Of Ohiopyle Falls
Copyright Howard Grill

In this particular instance I far prefer the above pinhole image to the shot taken with my digital camera:

Copyright Howard Grill

By the way, if anyone should get the itch to try this type of imaging there are two wonderful and incredibly receptive on-line communities dedicated to ‘lo-fi photography’. They can be found at f295 and at the toycamera.com forums.


Addenda: Here is an interesting thread I ran across on the f295 forum entitled 'Why Pinhole? Why You? Why Now?' that deals with some of the issues I noted above.