Lensless photography

A lens-camera is a great, usually very precise creative tool that helps you express yourself visually. Pinhole camera however it’s a completely different story. 

Here you have to rely on your intuition. Except for obvious pre-visualisation in case of emulsion-based materials and analogue photography, you have to 'guess' the scene/frame when composing it.

The outcome depends on your experience, creativity but also on a deeper understanding of lensless camera and how it works. I would venture to say - mutual understanding between the photographer and the tool he uses. Too deep? ;) maybe…

A pinhole camera is in other words camera obscura. It’s a lightproof box with a very small aperture (instead of a lens). Light pas through the pinhole and projects inverted image at the back of the camera. It’s a long exposure so the camera must be on tripod of course. That’s it. The rest is a standard process - depends on medium and material…digital, film, photographic paper, direct positive paper or anything else…

I bought my first pinhole camera in 2008 or 2009(?) Beautiful, hand made Zero2000 (6x6 format) by Zero Image. Pleasure to work with but… I didn't like one aspect of it (or any other similar camera). It probably comes from my passion for architecture and the way how it should be photographed. 

What am I talking about? Well, maybe quick explanation  - The right perspective and straight vertical lines are one of the basic requirements of architectural photography. That is why tilt-shift lenses are an indispensable element of architectural photographers' equipment. Of course, you can improve everything in post-processing, but in doing so, you are losing a part of the picture. Also, or probably most of all, such a procedure gives a different effect/result compared to a photograph taken with an improved perspective while composing the image/making photographs. 

Eventual post-processing in case of pinhole photography should be reduced to basics - brightness, contrast, eventual colour correction (in case of colour photography). In general, It is such a simple and row process that it should remain untouched as such … 

So… pinhole cameras are usually quite wide (speaking of focal length equivalent) with aperture usually straight in the middle. It give images with a horizon in the middle of the frame. From a composition point of view, it is rather not the best option. At the same time, you get strong distortions when you try to compensate it by pointing a camera up or down. It's even worse when photographing buildings. Unless the subject is far enough so the camera can be straight. When mentioned effects are intentional, It’s a different story. In my case, I need straight lines and horizon set along with the rule of thirds.

I sold my Zero2000 (sadly) and forgot about pinhole photography for a while. 

Then one day, not so long after that, I came across beautiful photographs in one of the magazines dedicated to architecture and design. Pinhole, large format architectural photography… Houses in Australia. These images were not only full of straight lines, properly placed horizon but also beautifully composed almost like using viewfinder. 

Well, there was an option then. I just had to find it so I started my research.

And bingo!… truly simple but at the same time very clever idea. Camera with perspective correction…by positioning en extra pinhole above the standard one. Seams to be such an obvious idea… It’s basically simulation of rising front element in large format camera. The only difference is that it's a fixed position.

Now I had to find a place where I can purchase one… I am not a DIY enthusiast so there was no other option. 

Relatively short research and I’ve made an order. Custom made camera - format, focal length… (at the end of this text is a link)

Three weeks later beautiful,  wooden camera with perspective correction arrived. I decided to go with ultra-wide focal length for tall buildings …  35mm on 4x5 format (!). Camera has framing lines scribed into the wood. These are the lines which help to compose an image and frame the scene. Virtual viewfinder. Works like a charm. Quality of images is outstanding.

Suddenly all my pinhole photographs started to look exactly as I wanted.

Some time later I ordered another one… 65mm. It’s basically like another lens in a bag. And I am afraid it may not be the end…

Please have a look at the Flickr gallery of Karl Richards who built my two wonderful cameras. He made already an impressive amount of amazing equipment. 

Please click HERE


I started my photography adventure with Russian Zenith in my hand in an early ’90s. Of course, there was a Smena 8M earlier but it was gone before I finished the first roll of film so it doesn’t count. Then Olympus OM 1 and Minolta (don’t remember model). 

Suddenly, about 2004, I’ve started to embrace digital technology. It was captivating and I’ve learnt a lot through it due to easy way of controlling image on every step. There was however something not right… 

I spent a lot of time on Flickr back then. Golden times of this service. Browsing through thousands of photographs I realised what was missing - very special look of images made on film. 

That was something that bothered me, something I couldn’t just get over. Depth, rendering, tonality… everything was so rich compared to my ‘flat’, sterile digital photographs. Not sure why I didn’t see it when I started to use digital cameras. I’d say it’s due to my occasional and rather recreational contact with photography back then, without any curiosity or interest in developing skills itself. That happened a bit later.

I had to do something about it without spending a fortune. I had a general idea about my photography - How I wanted to photograph and what. Even if I was happy with the content and the essence of my work, it lacked something hard to describe, something I really needed.

Quick decision. A few days on eBay and about a week later nice, solid, heavy and chunky Russian FED 3 with one of the Industar lenses was on my desk. Next day I was ready for another quest with Neopan CN loaded. Got back scans a few days later and I was hooked. 

That was it. At last ‘I have found, what I was looking for’ ;) 

Here another interesting and unexpected thing happened. Most of my colleagues and friends know that once you enter this world you are GASsed (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). Especially in the world of analogue photography. For the next few years, dozens of different cameras went through my hands. 

It was like that until a couple of years ago when I ‘ve decided to settle down a bit and keep only what I needed ;) I just had to find the best tools for my creative process. 

Each camera gives a different experience. It concerns lots of aspects: the way of using the camera, image format, optics specs and finally the most important part - photograph itself. Each camera as a tool gives different outcome and can truly enrich creativity once used properly. And it doesn’t have to be expensive … but wait for it ;) 

There is one camera I was curious about at an early stage. Holga 120 - Plastic, medium format toy camera. 

For some reason, It stayed only at the back of my head until 2009 when I bought one. My choice went for the GS model with glass lens. It supposed to be slightly sharper than a traditional plastic one. Not sure how it looks like in comparison to other models but it is really sharp… In the middle only :) … With slightly gradually blurred everything else. 

And this is a beauty of Holga and special look of photographs it comes out of it. Once you get an idea how and when to use it, Holga will become a truly reliable creative tool. 

I am not afraid to say that this is my favourite camera. And no, you can’t replace it with Agfa Isolette or anything similar often suggested as a ‘better option’. Holga is Holga. It’s a unique camera for specific images. You obviously love it or hate it. There is nothing in between. In my opinion EUR 20 well spent ;)

Holga was invented in Hong Kong in the early ’80s. Most models come with 60mm f8 lens, zone focusing and theoretically, 3 shutter speeds 1/100, 1/125 and bulb. In reality, it’s 1/100 only and bulb. Also focusing is rather theoretical with two options for close and further distances. Holga’s production has been ceased for a while in 2015. Panic time. It was the moment when I managed to get another GS model just in case. Still have it in the box. Untouched ;)

Holga is back but in very limited variations (No GS anymore) and with higher price tag. Still the most affordable camera. Holga is often used nowadays by the younger generation to create imperfect images full of light leaks, vignetting, lack of sharpness… That’s opposite to what I am getting out of it. None of my other cameras stayed longer with me than Holga. It’s over 11 years now and still going strong. The same model! 

Technology moved forward. There are many incredible digital cameras on market which are uncomparable with what was available 10 years ago or so but Holga still holds a unique position in my small collection of film cameras and will remain my choice in many cases. The same about the film - it will remain my prefered medium for personal work.

My Architectural Photography…

As I promised in the previous post, I will do my best to fill this space with text frequently. From now on you can expect new articles every weekend. To do that this blog will turn into a form of a diary from time to time. I will continue to write about my photographic projects, tests and experiments related to analogue photography but will also write about my day to day work, architectural photography, and how it differs from for example real estate photography. Both often mistakenly referred to as the same. Both related to photographing buildings and interiors but with a completely different purpose, meaning, approach and outcome. Lots of differences isn’t it? That’s true. There were many articles already written about this topic but I will throw in my two cents.

The purpose of real estate photography is to photograph space in the best possible way to allow the client (owner, real estate agency, developer and so on) to sell it or rent it out successfully using photographs. This often involves (but not always) the use of ultra-wide-angle lenses (for me it’s anything below 20mm) and flashlights (or studio lamp setup) which gives not a natural but very attractive look for a potential client (buyer). Such images have a relatively short life span. They are focused on a different aspect and they serve very well a specific purpose - sale.

Architectural Photography, on the other hand, is a representation of a designer’s ideas and is focused on architectural solutions and context rather than space itself. Such photography is a long term investment and usually, it’s the only way architect can present his/her work in professional magazines, books or website. It’s an inseparable part of a designer’s portfolio. I have probably put that better in a statement on my website …

Each session requires extended working time and specific approach to every single project. I can easily translate each concept into photograph due to my architectural past and understanding principles from inside out. That’s why I enjoy my work a lot. Each assignment brings huge excitement and will to make the best out of it. This applies equally to me and my client

Getting for a while into the purely technical aspect… 24mm tilt-shift lens is in 95% cases attached to my camera. Prefer not to go wider due to usually unnatural look of space photographed with wider lenses. Also available light is my kind of illumination to translate photographed space into an image in as much natural way as possible without so-called bells and whistles.

I am truly lucky to work with very talented architects and designers who understand perfectly the meaning of visual representation of their work. Most of them are my returning clients. That’s why creating a relationship with architects is another very important part of the architectural photographer work. This helps to maintain the architect’s visual portfolio at the highest level, and at the same time, helps the photographer work on each subsequent project as if he were reading the architect’s minds or supplementing them. Mutual understanding is a key element.

Getting back to past, I can refer to such famous names as Julius Shulman, Balthazar Korab or Ezra Stoller (for example) and iconic architects with whom they have collaborated throughout their careers - Eero Saarinen, Frank Loyd Right or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Beautiful times…

Coming back to earth… My main clients are architects and designers but I also work with real estate agents, developers, contractors and builders or furniture makers and I really enjoy it. It’s always a pleasure and a fantastic experience. I always work however on such projects with design in mind.

Architecture somehow is driving my visual ideas when working with images from the very beginning and it will remain as such. This is the case with both commercial and personal portfolio.

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