How to Use a Pinhole Body Cap for Awesome, Creative Photography

The post How to Use a Pinhole Body Cap for Awesome, Creative Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

Making a pinhole body cap is a rite of passage on any digital photographer’s journey. It’s a great way to get some of the unpredictability of analog photography without spending loads money on film or having to wait for the results to come back from a lab.

pinhole body camera image

But how do you make a pinhole body cap? And what do you shoot once you’ve made your pinhole body cap?

That’s what you’ll discover in this article.

What is a pinhole body cap and how do you make one?

First things first:

Let’s talk about pinhole body caps and how you make one. For that, you need to know what a pinhole camera is.

A pinhole camera is essentially a light-proof box with a small hole in one side. Light passes through the hole and projects an image on the opposite side of the box. It’s a tiny camera obscura – an optical phenomenon that has been known and used for hundreds of years. If you put photographic film or paper inside the box, you can record the image that the camera obscura produces!

So by modifying a camera body cap, you’re essentially creating a digital version of the camera obscura.

It’s very easy to do! You just need to buy a cheap body cap for your camera (don’t worry about it being on-brand and don’t destroy the one that came with your camera) and put a hole in the middle of it.

drilling into a camera body cap

I use a tiny drill bit (and a holder meant for model-making) to put the smallest hole I can create in the center of the body cap. Then I take a small piece of black construction paper and put a hole in it with just the very tip of a skinny sewing needle.

Next, tape the construction paper into place on top of the hole you’ve just drilled, lining up the two holes as carefully as possible.

Finally, place the body cap directly onto the camera body and you should be ready to go!

(Note: On some digital cameras, you may need to use a setting that allows you to shoot without a lens attached. If you’re struggling to find this, check your camera manual.)

What’s so special about pinhole shooting?

There are a few great features of pinhole camera photography that you might want to think about as you plan what to shoot. Using a pinhole body cap is completely different than shooting with a traditional lens.

creative pinhole shot of shapes

Concentrating on shape and texture can create striking pinhole body cap images.

Almost infinite focus

The first thing to note is that pinhole cameras have an incredibly large depth of field. You can’t focus a pinhole body cap, but that’s okay. You don’t need to. You’ll get images that are sharp throughout.

(However, this means you’ll lose any shallow depth of field or bokeh effects.)

Instead of blurring out any inconvenient backgrounds, you need to work with your surroundings in mind when you compose images.

No distortion

If you’re using a wide-angle pinhole body cap (the focal length of your pinhole body cap is the distance from the pinhole to the sensor), then there will be no lens distortion. When you are shooting architecture, the walls of the building will appear completely straight rather than curved as they would with many wide-angle lenses.

building against sky

Using hard light to create contrast can be a way to make images appear sharper.

It is possible to increase the focal length of your pinhole body cap by using extension tubes and the like (or a cardboard toilet roll with the inside painted black).

Test out different focal lengths and see what you can achieve!

Long exposure times

The downside of all that depth of field is that you’ll generally need a pretty long exposure time for most shots. This does mean that you can work with interesting blur effects. If you’re shooting urban spaces you can also blur out most of the people in the image, too.

On the other hand, you generally need to take a tripod with you when you go out shooting with your pinhole body cap. The exposures will probably be too long to handhold your camera.

blurry portrait pinhole body cap camera

Asking your subject to move while photographing them can produce interesting effects.

It can be interesting to explore either intentional camera movement effects or long exposures on moving subjects with a pinhole body cap. I particularly enjoy using a pinhole body cap to shoot portraits of people.

Try looking at the portrait work of Victorian photographers who used wet plates, or the more modern long exposure portraits (with a large format camera) by Sally Mann. These can provide some inspiration for your pinhole photography of people.

Help! All my images are soft!

The sharpness of a pinhole image depends largely on the size and accuracy of the pinhole you create when building your pinhole body cap. Unsurprisingly, putting a hole in a piece of construction paper is a pretty inaccurate way to build photographic equipment.

The smaller the pinhole, the more accurate the image will be. And the neater the edges of the pinhole, the more perfect the circle around your image will be.

comparison of sharp portrait and pinhole portrait

These two images are a direct comparison of a 35mm lens on a Fujifilm body (about a 50mm equivalent) and a pinhole body cap on the same body. The camera wasn’t moved between shots, and both images were cropped the same.

Ultimately, you’re going to need to embrace the heavy imperfections of this style when you plan what you’re going to shoot. Images will be in focus, but they will be very soft – and that’s not something you can correct afterward! If you really enjoy digital pinhole photography then you may want to explore some of the laser cut pinholes that are available on the market. They are very tiny, accurate circles and will create a more technically perfect image.

Of course, the smaller the pinhole, the longer the exposure you’ll need. This is because less light is hitting the sensor, so everything is a trade-off. With extremely tiny pinholes you can be looking at exposures of many minutes rather than a few seconds.

Seeing the world differently

I find that using a pinhole body cap forces me to approach photography differently. Because of the soft quality of the images and the large depth of field, I tend to focus on things like color and shape rather than the subject matter itself. It’s a great way to think about different kinds of composition rules.

tree in pinhole shot

If you end up with a pinhole that isn’t quite circular (like most of mine), that can also be a good thing to experiment with. Finding objects that fit inside the pinhole shape you’ve made can create some really unusual images.

What are you waiting for?

Time to get out and shoot! One of the best ways to improve your pinhole body cap photography is simply to head out and start capturing a ton of images. You need to learn how the things around you will translate into pinhole images. It’s only then that you’ll start to see the possibilities for pinhole photography.

Don’t be discouraged at first. It takes time to hit your stride with this style of photography. You may need to let go of some ingrained inhibitions and embrace the imperfections and flaws instead of aiming for technical excellence.

But eventually, you’ll be capturing some stunning photos!

We’d love to see your pinhole images! Share with us in the comments section.

pinhole-body-cap-photography

The post How to Use a Pinhole Body Cap for Awesome, Creative Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

How to Make Interesting Abstract Smoke Photos

The post How to Make Interesting Abstract Smoke Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

How would you like to learn a little “photo magic?” A magician not wanting to reveal his secrets might tell you his trick was all done with “smoke and mirrors.” The expression speaks of a kind of deception used to fool the viewer. No fooling here though, as you’ll learn the technique. You really will photograph smoke and later, mirror your image to add even more interest. So it really is smoke and mirrors. Shall we begin?

Abstract smoke photography - Firebird

Can you see the Firebird? How was this done? Read on for the tricks to this abstract magic.

Tools for the trick

Here’s what you will need to create your photo:

Camera

Most cameras will work for this kind of photography. Being able to use manual control and manual focus will make things easier. You will also need to be able to fire a flash mounted off-camera using either a wired or wireless method. A lens which will allow you to focus on an object a few feet away will be best. The shots shown here were done with the Canon “nifty fifty”, a 50mm f/1.8 prime lens mounted on a Canon 50D camera. For a relatively inexpensive lens, it is very sharp.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Use stick Incense

A package of 40 incense sticks from the dollar store is probably enough for a lifetime of smoke photography.

Flash

You will want an external flash you can mount off-camera. The pop-up flash on the camera won’t work for this. You will be mounting the flash off to the side of your shot so it illuminates the column of smoke pointing perpendicular to the direction you’re pointing the camera. Having a light stand on which you can mount it will be helpful. You also don’t want any of the light to hit the background or flare into the camera, so a snoot which will direct the beam of the flash at the smoke column works well. You may also be able to fashion a “barn-door” arrangement with cardboard (or even tape). Whatever works to keep the light only on what you want – the smoke column.

Tripod

The flash will provide plenty of light and also freeze the action, so you really aren’t concerned about motion blur. The advantage of a tripod is simply to help you compose and frame the shot and provide some consistency.  If you don’t have a tripod or simply prefer to handhold your camera, that’s okay too.

To better see the smoke and also give you more flexibility later in editing, a black or very dark background will work best. Black posterboard, black cloth, the black side of a reflector, or whatever you have should work. Because the column of smoke you’ll be photographing will be relatively small, you won’t need anything very large.

Smoke-producing object

Incense, the kind that comes in stick form, works very well for this kind of smoke photography.  It’s cheap, burns for a long time, and produces just the kind of smoke needed.

Location

Unless you have an absolutely calm day with no wind, shooting outdoors probably isn’t going to work. Even the slightest air currents will affect your smoke pattern. Shooting indoors, particularly in a modern home, might be a good way to test your smoke detectors but having the alarm go off just as you’re getting started with your work is rather disruptive.  I found shooting in the garage to be a good option. It was dark, the air was still, and after the session, it was easy to open the door and clear the smoke. Just be aware of the requirements needed; still air, no smoke detectors, (or at least temporarily disarmed ones), the ability to make the room dark, and a door or window you can open afterward to clear the smoke afterward, and you’ll be set.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Setup diagram

Setting up

The diagram above shows a basic setup. Put your camera on a tripod a couple of feet from where you will place the incense stick.  Taping the stick to light stand may allow you more flexibility in positioning it in the frame, but whatever you use, you will want to frame the shot so you put just the tip of the stick at the bottom of the frame, leaving a couple of feet above for the column of smoke. Whether you use a portrait or landscape orientation with your camera is up to you, just remember the smoke will drift around. Being a little loose with the framing isn’t a bad idea, you can always crop later.

The background should be a couple of feet behind the incense stick. If you light properly, it won’t show anyway so this isn’t crucial.

Position the flash on a light stand so it’s to the side of the camera and points perpendicularly to the camera angle. You will be side-lighting the smoke. Some photographers also put a reflector on the opposite side to bounce a little light on the other side of the smoke. You can experiment and see if you like that.  The shots here use only the one flash. As mentioned above, what is crucial is that no light fall on the background nor flare into the camera lens. A snoot is the easiest means of achieving this.

Abstract Smoke Photography - smoke photo straight out of camera

The smoke patterns are constantly changing and no two will be alike.

Camera and flash settings

In the darkened room where you’re working, use a flashlight or other dim lighting so you can still see the incense stick and do your framing. Focus on the tip of the stick, then turn off the autofocus so the focus stays locked.  Leaving on autofocus will almost guarantee frustration, as while shooting, the camera lens may hunt, trying to find and focus on the drifting smoke.

Shoot in Raw mode, (which you usually do, yes?) Doing so will allow greater editing flexibility later.

Set your camera around ISO 200, f/8 and about 1/60th of a second for starters.

Leave the flash off.

Make a shot before lighting the incense in the darkened room.

You should get a totally black frame and that’s what you want with no flash.

Now put the flash in manual mode and set it to about half power. You should have already connected it to the camera with a cord or perhaps set up a radio trigger so it will fire when the shutter is tripped.

Make a shot with the flash on and you should be able to just see the tip incense stick.  If so, you’re now ready to get smokin’.

Abstract Smoke Photography - The Seahorse

This image is straight out of the camera. Note the tip of the incense stick at the bottom right.

Making your photos

Light the incense stick, blow out the flame and a thin column of smoke will rise from the tip.

Make a shot and check it. Is it focused?

Be sure, as you don’t want to make a whole series only to later find out they aren’t sharp. If you need to adjust your focus or perhaps go to a smaller f/stop for more depth of field, do so now.

Also, check the exposure. If things are too bright, drop the flash power or reduce the ISO. If the smoke is too dim, do the opposite. You want to clearly see the smoke, but nothing else.

If all looks good, keep making shots. Occasionally wave your hand near the smoke column or gently blow on it to vary the smoke pattern. You will want some variety so you can later choose your favorite shots.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Smoke photo mirrored and colored with a gradient

This is the same image as the one before it, but horizontally mirrored and colored with a gradient.

Basic editing

What program you want to edit with is up to you. You will want to adjust the blacks so as to leave only the white smoke details. Then adjust the whites, highlights, shadows, exposure, and contrast by eye, tuning the shot to your liking.

If there are elements you wish to eliminate, paint them out with a black adjustment brush or use layers and masks in Photoshop if that is your preferred technique.

Abstract Smoke Photography - horizontal and vertical mirroring

The Gordian Knot – This image was mirrored both horizontally and vertically and then colored with a gradient.

Mirrors and colors and abstracts, oh my!

You got the smoke, now what about the mirrors? Yes, the white smoke patterns on a black background are interesting but you can take this much further. I used Corel Paintshop Pro, but Photoshop would work too. Or for that matter, any photo editor that supports layers will work. (Keep in mind Lightroom does not support layers so while you can edit, colorize, and do other things with it, the mirroring part is beyond its capabilities).

Here are the basic steps:

  • Open in your basic edited smoke image. Select the entire image and copy it.
  • Paste the copied image on top of itself as a new layer.
  • Mirror (flip) the upper layer horizontally or vertically. (In Photoshop, Edit, Transform, and Flip Horizontally or Vertically).
  • Change the blending mode on the upper layer to Lighten. You will now see the upper layer mirrored and superimposed over the lower layer and some interesting patterns will be created.
Abstract Smoke Photography - Alien Gas

Alien Gas – A straight smoke shot later colored green.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Negative version of smoke photograph - Purple Haze

Purple Haze – Now, take the image above, reverse it so it’s a negative, (the black becomes white and the green becomes purple), then mirror it both horizontally and vertically.

You can move the layers so they overlap each other in various ways and change the pattern. You might want to make the canvas larger and put the mirrored image next to itself or even have multiple layers with the image flipped both horizontally and vertically.

You’ve now entered the realm of abstract art and anything goes.

Maybe you’d like to add some color?

Create another layer at the top of the stack and fill it with a gradient.  Now use the Overlay or Soft Light blending mode and watch your smoke take on the colors of the gradient.

If you’d like to hand-paint the smoke,  create a blank layer at the top. Turn the blending mode to Overlay, and using the Brush tool (and a color of your choice) to paint the smoke, watching the white smoke take on that color while the black is left untouched.

Try putting a photo on the upper layer and switching the blending mode on that layer to Overlay.

Abstract Smoke Photography - The Witch Doctor

Like Rorschach inkblots, what you see is very individual. I call this one – The Witch Doctor

Something I find fascinating with these abstract smoke compositions is that they resemble Rorschach InkBlots. Everyone interprets them differently and can see different images in what are, after all, just random patterns of drifting smoke. The titles on these shots are what I interpret.

What do you see?

Smoke in other photos

You may have reasons to want to include smoke in your photos that is not an abstract interpretation. The same basic technique can work with side lighting.

The “Smokin’ Hot Peppers” was lit with two flashes, one on either side of the vase and an incense stick placed in and behind the peppers in the vase.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Smokin Hot Peppers

A flash on either side of the subject was the only difference here, otherwise, this image uses the same technique.

Pseudo-Smoke

Here’s one last trick that could work for you when you want something that looks like smoke but you’re in a no-smoking workspace.

Get some dental floss, fray it a bit, and tie it to a penlight or small flashlight letting the light shine down the length of the floss and onto your subject.

Now make a long exposure during which you keep the floss constantly moving. Smokeless smoke, just another option to have in your bag of photo tricks.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Pseudo Smoke Effect - Simulated Smoke

Looks like smoke, but it isn’t.

Conclusion

You’ll find that photographing smoke is all about the lighting. Side or backlighting will work best and a dark background helps the smoke show up better. Beyond that, it’s simply a matter of experimenting.

Give it a try and make a little photo magic. And share with us in the comments below!

 

 

The post How to Make Interesting Abstract Smoke Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.