Pinhole Photography: From Historic Technique to Digital Application / Edition 4

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A respected guide for creatives, artists and photographers alike, Pinhole Photography is packed with all the information you need to understand and get underway with this wonderfully quirky, creative technique. Covering pinhole photography from its historical roots, pinhole expert Eric Renner, founder of, fully explores the theory and practical application of pinhole in this beautiful resource.
Packed with inspiring images, instructional tips and information on a variety of pinhole cameras for beginner and advanced photographers, this classic text now offers a new chapter on digital imaging and more in depth how-to coverage for beginners, as well as revised exposure guides and optimal pinhole charts.
With an expanded gallery of full-color photographs displaying the creative results of pinhole cameras, along with listings of workshops, pinhole photographer's websites, pinhole books and suppliers of pinhole equipment, this is the one guide you need to learn the craft and navigate the industry.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[O]ne of the greatest photography reference books I have seen in a very long time. [T]his book is absolutely bursting with information. Even just taking a quick flip through the pages and seeing the over 300 images by more than 100 artists, it is almost daunting to think that the entire book is written solely on the topic of pinhole photography. But Renner does skimp on anything.. If you are looking for an in-depth explanation of pinhole photography, a detailed show-and-tell of how to create your own pinhole camera, or would like to advance your pinhole photography to the next level, this book is an incredible resource and certainly one every photographer should have."—
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780240810478
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 11/3/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 4
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 8.40 (w) x 10.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Pinhole Photography

From Historic Technique to Digital Application
By Eric Renner

Focal Press

Copyright © 2009 Elsevier Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-08-092789-3

Chapter One

Pinhole's History in the Exploration of Science and Ideology

The place of emergence is the womb of the earth. —BARBARA G. WALKER, The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, 1983

The eye is the window to the soul. —LEONARDO DA VINCI

AND now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened:—Behold! Human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light.... —PLATO, The Republic, Book VII

Unable to resist my eager desire and wanting to see the great multitude of the various and strange shapes made by formative nature, and having wandered some distance among gloomy rocks, I came to the entrance of a great cavern, in front of which I stood some time, astonished and unaware of such a thing. Bending my back into an arch I rested my tired hand on my knee and held my right hand over my downcast and contracted eyebrows: often bending first one way and then the other, to see whether I could discover anything inside, and this being forbidden by the deep darkness within, and after having remained there some time, two contrary emotions arise in me, fear and desire—fear of the threatening dark cavern, desire to see whether there were any marvelous thing within it. —LEONARDO DA VINCI

If in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside down in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process. —KARL MARX (with FRIEDRICH ENGELS) The German Ideology


Much of the visual imagery that we see is directly related to inborn unconscious ideas or patterns of thought. Science has labeled these patterns archetypes. Many of the pinhole images in this book and my conceptions about these images are reflective of this idea.

In the early 20th century, the psychologist Carl Jung was the first to call attention to these genetic artifacts. Understanding archetypes allows the viewer to comprehend the basis for his or her instinctive feelings, sometimes expressed as strong knee-jerk reactions—ones that are not necessarily constrained by logic—generated from seeing archetypal imagery.

Visual archetypes take many forms. An example of just one form of archetypal evil brethren imagery would be the planes hitting the World Trade Center Twin Towers followed by most Americans' knee-jerk feelings of nationalism and revenge—"They can't do that to us."

As Jung emphasized, archetypes connect to visual patterns that are universally present in every individual's psyche and, therefore, other cultures would have their own evil brethren motifs. Archetypes are constantly being updated by new imagery in the world around us—but that specific updated image always refers back to an ancient archetypal motif whose original form cannot be identified, as it goes far, far back into humankind's history.

The Pinhole Archetype

A circular aperture is an opening—a primary archetypal motif for birth and a place of transformation, symbolically feminine. It presents the viewer with feelings of wonder, mystery, and sublime questions about life.

Many ancient cultures have emergence legends designating a hole in the earth or a hole in the sky as the sacred place of origin where their forebears first appeared. Every cave, too, has mysterious energies connected to it. Leonardo's cave mentioned in his notebooks and Plato's cave in The Republic (book VII) are perfect examples of those eternal questions surrounding cave imagery: life, death, and transformation. A somewhat superficial analogue for this would be Pinhole Cave in Derbyshire, England, thus named due to Victorian ladies going into the cave and dropping their hat pins or hairpins into a puddle at the back of the cave. They did this for good luck, as the myth goes, so that once they have deposited their pin the first man they see they would marry (not exactly the best way to select a husband)—but a good example of a projected transformative experience. It is an irrational superstition and surrounded by mystery—but that is the point. It is hardly different from reading the astrology pages in your local newspaper.

A large stone placed vertically appeared as a structure rooted deeply in Mother Earth, and this same large stone, with a circular hole in it (Figure 1.1A), was used ritualistically to reenact the transformation of birth. A baby passed through the hole received regenerated birth energy. The East Indian definition for a holed stone was "gate of deliverance."

In the California's Providence Mountains in Wild Horse Canyon (near the Mojave Desert) is Womb Rock, also known as Rebirth Rock, a large outcrop with a natually shaped tunnel that opens toward the east (Figures 1.1B and 1.1C). The tunnel is large enough to crawl through. Its smoothly polished floor indicates that many people have done this—probably in conjunction with some ritual. The archeologist E. C. Krupp wrote the following about this unusual site:

Shamans may have passed through the birth canal of Womb Rock as part of a seasonal effort to renew the world. Youth on the edge of adulthood may have crossed the frontier with the passport of rebirth. Womb Rock may have also been a portal for the symbolic transformation of shamanic candidates into genuine dreamers. We can see what kind of power is transferred from these wombs of Mother Earth even if we can't be certain who were the beneficiaries.

The manmade circular hole in the capstone at Trevethy Quoit (Figure 1.1D) in Cornwall, England, is one of several that still exist. A quoit is the name for a burial chamber—upon burial the entire chamber was covered with dirt and became a burial mound. The circular hole in its capstone became that place of transformation—an opening for the person buried within.

Leonardo's quote "The eye is the window to the soul" reflects that same idea: that humans as natural structures have a window of transformation—the eye—that looks out upon the world. Thus, that same human window became a way for Leonardo to metaphorically see inward to discover the soul (the soul being a mysterious projected inner-being).

The human eye, therefore, is an ancient place of transformation. Much of the information in this book on pinhole photography, as well as many of the images within it, connects the pinhole as a direct ancestral link to the quote the eye is a window to the soul. As an analogue it could be said that the pinhole camera also is the window to the soul. But, as we will find, the pinhole camera—as an extension to the eye—supplies a sense of wonder that is different from what the eye with its lens sees.


Pinhole images are everywhere. Without a doubt, early humans were able to see pinhole images of the eclipsed sun on the ground under tree canopy—the sun is seen as a crescent. Every eclipse seen in the accompanying lens photograph (Figure 1.2) is actually a pinhole image of the sun. Thousands of pinholes images of the sun are created naturally by chinks in overlapped leaves from just about any large tree (Figure 1.3). When there is not an eclipse, these same leaves cast pinhole images of the full solar disc as easily recognizable circular spots onto the ground.

Many myths have been retold of ancient peoples seeing pinhole images inside tents, darkened rooms, and the like, so it would seem that a living knowledge of pinhole images has occurred for tens of thousands of years. An interesting primitive example comes from the book Life Above the Jungle Floor by Donald Perry. Perry describes his descent into the cavernous recesses of a 50-foot-tall hollow tree in the rain forest of Costa Rica. His ageless experience could have happened at any point in human history. Perry wrote:

I climbed a few feet above the floor and turned off the light, again hoping to draw additional animals to the hollow. After several moments I became aware of slight changes in the natural light level within the cavern. For a moment I thought it was my eyes adjusting to the darkness, but I soon realized the phenomenon was due to an opening in the opposite wall. Very weak and wavering light came through a small, cone-shaped hole three feet above the floor. In effect, the hole and near pitch black cavern constituted a crude optical device. The hole acted as a lens to cast a fuzzy image of the outside world onto a wall.... A weak upside down image of Doyly was projected onto the opposite wall.... I looked at my watch: five hours had passed, longer than it had seemed.... I screamed through the hole as loudly as possible to get Doyly's attention, but my cries were totally muted by the cavern. It was then that the extent of my isolation from the outside world became very real. The rope, my only connection to civilization rose to a very distant tiny exit, and I wondered what would happen if somehow it became untied.

People have always needed to tell time. A straight stick known as a gnomon, placed vertically in the ground, will cast a shadow from the sun. Because the shadow is longer in winter and shorter in summer, the top of the shadow cast from the tip of the stick becomes a very basic solar clock, a sundial. Ancient cities and towns had gnomons in public places for telling time (Figure 1.4). Adding a metal disc pierced with a pinhole at the top of the stick gives a more precise measure, because a bright point is created on the ground above the shadow. This bright point is a pinhole image of the sun. The metal disc with a pinhole is known as a shadow definer; the entire instrument is known as a pierced gnomon (Figure 1.5). Since prehistory, some primitive tribes have used this early type of sundial, even into the 20th century. An elegant sundial with a pierced gnomon extends from a wall in Parma, Italy; the pierced metal disc was made into a sun (Figure 1.6).

In 1152, Eleanor of Aquitaine presented a sundial ring to her lover Henry II so that he would know when to meet for their trysts. Henry had his jewelers make a similar ring for Eleanor, inlaid with diamonds and engraved with the Latin words carpe diem, meaning seize the day (or to them: seize one another). The outer band of the miniature sundial was adjustable to place the pinhole in the right position for each month. Holding the ring upright on a sunny day a pinhole image of the sun appeared on the inner surface of the ring where the times of the day are engraved (Figure 1.7).

The ancient astrolabe (in Greek meaning star finder) is one of the oldest instruments, really a computer, that used pinholes for sighting. Hipparchus working in Alexandria and Rhodes in 150 B.C. developed the theory of stereographic projection—the most commonly used projection in the design of the planispheric astrolabe. (Planispheric means that the surface of a sphere has been projected onto a flat surface.) For centuries the astrolabe was the most important tool for the astronomer, astrologer, and surveyor (Figure 1.8). Astrolabes used by mariners were more basic in their design, but still used pinholes or similar sighting mechanics.

The pinhole sights on an astrolabe were on a rotating bar, known as the alidade, on the back of the instrument (Figure 1.9). There were usually two holes: a small hole for use with the sun and a larger hole for stars. Gemma Frisius (1508–1555), a mathematician at the University of Louvain, reinvented planispheric projection for use in astronomer's astrolabes, a design that began to be manufactured in various areas in Europe by the 1500s.

Most likely the earliest recorded description of pinhole optics, although cryptic in nature, comes from Mo Ti in China, circa 400 B.C., which is translated as follows:

CANON: The turning over of the shadow is because the crisscross has a point from which it is prolonged with the shadow.

EXPLANATION: The light's entry into the curve is like the shooting of arrows from a bow. The entry of that which comes from below is upward, the entry of that which comes from high up is downward. The legs cover the light from below, and therefore form a shadow above; the head covers the light from above, and therefore forms a shadow below. This is because at a certain distance there is a point which coincides with the light; therefore the revolution of the shadow is on the inside.

In the West, the first recorded description of the pinhole comes much later, from Aristotle, circa 330 B.C., in Problems XV:

#6: "Why is it when the sun passes through quadrilaterals, as for instance in wickerwork, it does not produce figures rectangular in shape but circular?


Excerpted from Pinhole Photography by Eric Renner Copyright © 2009 by Elsevier Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Pinhole's History in the Exploration of Science and Ideology; Pinhole's History in the Exploration of Art; Pinhole's Revival; The Body as Camera, The Room as Camera Obscura; The Basic How-To of Pinhole Photography; The Advanced How-To of Pinhole Photography; Alternative Apertures: Zone Plates and Slits; Digital Imaging with Pinholes, Zone Plates and Alternatives; The Changing Pinhole Image; Resources; Index

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2011

    $40 for an eBook . . . are you high?

    The book is great. It is a great resource, but the publishers must be on drugs.

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