Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pinhole Camera

This weekend, I built a camera myself, with my bare hands, out of metal and bronze, because I'm a man, and that's what men do. They build things. OK, it might be slightly more accurate and truthful to say that I built a camera out of cardstock, tape, glue, and tears.

A lot of tears.

But either way, I built a camera, and it works! I am a rockstar.

It all started when I saw this kit at Barnes and Noble:

the kit

with Jeannie and Kristin, when we took Jeannie out to help her recover from her really terrible day. At the time, I carried it around the store for a while, then convinced myself not to buy it and that I didn't need it. Then I went back two days later and bought it anyway, because I convinced myself that it would be easy and fun.

This will be totally easy and fun! It even says so on the box!

In the dark, desperate hours of construction last night I went back and checked, and it doesn't actually say that anywhere on the box. It says "Not a toy" and "Not intended for children", but nowhere does it use the words "easy" or "fun". I just imagined those words there, the same way that I imagined this would be a short, amusing little project.

I imagined so many things, before the page gluing incident.

I had so many dreams.

Anyway, I read the book that came with it, learning the mechanics behind pinhole cameras. If you don't feel like reading the wikipedia entry, in short it's a simple camera with no lens. Light enters through a pinhole to expose the film, and you open and close the shutter yourself. The pinhole camera in this kit is pretty simple, starting out with a few dowel rod pieces, a film cannister, a couple of pre-punched pinholes, and two sheets of cardstock that you punch the pieces out of:

the supplies

The instructions were fairly well written, but should have had a time on there, because there was a lot of gluing, clipping the pieces to hold them, and then waiting for glue to dry:

building the camera (1)

A lot. Like waiting for a total of a couple of hours.

And in between there's time for non-crafty people like myself to realize that they've glued pieces together wrong, to realize that they've glued the shutter closed by accident, and to realize that they had glue on their fingers when they turned the pages and now the instructions are glued together and then a calm, rational person like myself who faces crisis with a level head and common sense has a complete meltdown and almost sets the pinhole camera on fire in the sink.

From Facebook:

OMG. I had glue on my fingers when I turned the pages and now part of the instructions got glued together and when I separated them part of the words got ripped. What if those words were important?

I'm not George Eastman. WHY AM I BUILDING MY OWN CAMERA? I own three cameras already. This is worse than when I took that shop class in seventh grade because they made us and I had to make that little motor and my damn motor wouldn't run for like 3/4 of the semester and everybody else had moved on to birdhouses and screwdrivers and I was still working on that effing engine so I wouldn't fail that damn class.

I'm going to go make some chocolate milk because I'm melting down like Shelley Winters in the back half of "A Place in the Sun" and I'm still waiting for glue to dry and at this point I have probably glued the camera to the countertop and not even noticed.

Yeah. Sometimes home projects are stressful, and different people cope in different ways. Also, if you haven't seen "A Place in the Sun", just click here, got to Part 6, skip to 9:20, and imagine me as Shelley Winters.

Eventually, though, the camera started to come together:

building the camera (2)

and actually look like a camera:

building the camera (3)

and then I was done, and ready to go:

finished pinhole camera

I took it for a pretty long walk, covering two or three miles, and the bright sunlight helped a lot. The pinhole pictures have a weird, blurred quality, and in a lot of them you can see the round edges of the exposure. I think I need to leave the shutter open longer to bring them into sharper focus, but for a first try I think it came out pretty well, and I'm excited to try again.

For comparison purposes, here's a photo I took with the pinhole camera:

gay street viaduct

and one I took right after that with my regular camera of almost the same view:

train tracks (1)

The pinhole picture has a fuzzy, almost dreamlike quality. I guess I could get the same effect by digitally manipulating the photos, but these give me a sense of accomplishment. Some of them didn't come out so well, and some I overexposed by accident when I screwed up the winding for a couple of frames, but overall I think they make an interesting set:

ut gardens (1)

ut gardens (2)

(the wind was blowing the rosebushes in that one, which is why they're so blurry; because of the long exposure, the camera has to stay still and the subject does, too)

ut gardens (3)

henley bridge and docks

(that's the Henley Street bridge reconstruction in the background)


bridge over neyland

walnut street (1)

walnut street (2)

market square and stage


lightpole and ribbon

That's a lightpole with a Veteran's Day ribbon tied around it; I put the camera against the pole and hoped for something interesting.

While I was on the bridge taking the one of the traintracks, a real photographer with a fancy camera arrangement saw what I was doing and heard me counting the seconds out loud, and came over to ask about it. I was very excited, and still am. I haven't used film since I moved to Tennessee, having switched almost entirely to digital, and I forgot what it's like to not know how the pictures look until you pick them up, and to have to wind and think about where the sun is and not have an immediate do-over if you don't like something. I also forgot that you need to carry extra rolls, and ran out before I got back to the car.

That just means I have more film for next weekend.


Rod said...

That is awesome! Some of the photos turned out very nicely. The blurriness is more like a special effect (as you noted) than a "bad photo."

Jeannie said...

Yay! I am glad it turned out so well. I think those photos look cool. I am sad you went back, though. We really were going to buy you that for your birthday.

Erin said...

These are wonderful! I'm going to steal some of them for my computer backgrounds...

Joel said...

Jeannie, aren't you glad you didn't buy it? You would have had to read an entry that was 75% bitching about how Jeannie and Kristin caused me a weekend of pain. This way, I could only blame myself.