Stills from a Dream Imagined Worlds in Pinhole Photography

I have only recently discovered pinhole photography but it has unleashed a whole new creative world in which to frolic. For now, at least, I have placed my vintage glass on the shelf and opted for a lensless alternative.

Chitna Emporium
Ghost of Keystone Mine

For those of you who do not know what it is, pinhole photography is achieved by using some kind of light-tight chamber (a box or tin, etc.) with a tiny hole poked through to allow an image to form on its back interior wall. In film photography, the actual film resides on that back wall and an image forms. In digital pinholing (what I'm doing), the chamber is my camera and I make it light-tight by screwing on the camera's body cap in place of the lens. What allows the image to form on the sensor is a tiny pin prick in the middle of the plastic cap. This results in a kind of crude, soft image that appears out of focus, almost ethereal. Because the hole is so tiny, it takes time to allow enough light in to make an image. The shutter will expose the photograph for a much longer time than is usual using a traditional lens. Exposure times can be in seconds, minutes, hours or even days and weeks. Think of it like capturing light trails in a city at night.


I usually work in seconds and that much time allows me to get creative with motion. On a typical bright day, I might have about two seconds of exposure time to work with. A tripod is a must. Anything moving in the frame will be a blur. If I place myself in the frame, I can control the blurring by how fast or slow I move. The results are ghostly. I remain anonymous because of the blurring which, in turn, creates a sense of mystery. It's this atmosphere that inspires me the most. It's like being able to capture something on another plain of existence.


I like the idea of my photographs looking like the camera captured something not normally seen by the naked eye or maybe even something not meant to be seen. When I set up a shot and have a pretty solid idea of the concept, I'm almost always surprised by what is captured. Because of the unpredictable nature of this technique, there are many more failures than successes but that's part of the fun. In my current collection, the vast majority of theses photographs took on a life of their own after I triggered the shutter.

Bygone Days

I'm working towards creating a book of my pinhole photographs. I believe that this kind of imagery needs to be savored on a page. They are not the kinds of pictures to flip through in fractions of a second, rather, they demand longer attention akin to their actual creation process.


As I continue on my travels, I am now capturing two versions of what I see. One "normal photograph" that represents the physical place and another that's extracted solely from my imagination.

If you would like to keep up with my meanderings, click here to subscribe to my blog. Peace.

Created By
Steven Dempsey

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