A couple of entries ago I mentioned that I assign three big characteristics to my pinhole cameras and the images they make. I look for scenes that play to these traits and are better for their inclusion. With my last entry I talked about how pinhole cameras, due to their small apertures, need long exposures. The second quality I want to discuss today is the other thing that comes from using incredibly small apertures: depth of field.
I think the depth of field of pinhole cameras is their defining trait, though it would be easy to think it is the long exposures. But here is the thing, most any camera can be made to do long exposures. I use a series of strong ND filters on all my other cameras to achieve exposures much longer than my pinhole. I do not own any other camera that operates at f250 though and therefore, I have no other camera that has the depth of field of my pinholes. How deep a depth of field does one get with these cameras? Well infinite would not be technically accurate but it sure seems close to it. I am not sure I have ever made a pinhole image with any element out of focus, no matter how close the closest subject matter is. I have made images with subjects as close as an inch or three from the camera. This ability is the true defining trait of pinhole cameras.
So it is definitely a neat feature of pinhole cameras that they have this infinite depth of field, yet a lot of pinhole photographers I see (including myself) don't utilize this as often or as fully as we could and the reason why is pretty simple: we use tripods. We know that pinhole cameras have slow shutter speeds so it would seem to go hand in hand that they should be securely mounted atop a tripod all the time. This is true... to an extent, even though I know a few photographers who interestingly hand-hold their pinhole cameras during exposure. The problem with the pinhole camera and the tripod is that the tripod raises the camera up away from its foreground. Instead of setting the camera down on a surface to focus in on things a couple inches away and juxtapose them against distant objects taking full advantage of this seemingly infinite depth of field, the camera sits several feet away from its closest subject, diminishing this ability. What I have done to correct this is I sometimes intentionally leave my tripod at home when I head out with my pinhole camera(s). Not only does this force me to think outside my usual box in terms of finding stable platforms for my camera's long exposures, it also encourages me to pay attention to the foregrounds I am going to place my camera into. This has led to some interesting photos over the years.
There is a balance to be struck though as when you set a pinhole camera like the Zero Image, or Innova or Reality So Subtle down on a surface their field of view is so wide that the foreground can occupy literally half the frame as seen in the above photo of the shopping cart. So I have to be mindful that the foreground that is going to dominate the photo is interesting enough to justify that much real estate. It is either that or I have to find a way to raise the camera up a few inches so that the foreground is not as emphasized. Sometimes I use a Joby Gorillapod for this purpose but generally I will just stack my pinhole atop another of my cameras or take my fleece off and nestle the camera atop that. Another option is to tilt the camera back a bit so its field of view is not as directed toward the foreground but of course this means that the sky and background will take over. As I said, one must balance these things. But I still think it a very educational activity for every photographer to now and then leave their tripods at home and get their cameras down onto things.
In closing, that is my advice/reminder to any pinhole photographers reading this. These cameras of ours can do something pretty incredible: they can focus on nearly anything. So get down low, get close, press that camera up against walls or other surfaces. Set it onto interesting things and places. You have to think both near and far. Go see what you can find.