Earlier this year, I wrote about my adventures with a pinhole camera.

I took several months off from the pinhole, but I am back to shooting with it regularly. I am no longer using film, though, but paper negatives. In case you are not familiar with the process, a paper negative is black and white photographic paper inserted into the camera in place of a film negative. So, instead of getting multiple shots, with a paper negative inserted into the camera, you only get one! I develop the paper negatives in black and white paper chemistry, then scan and invert them in Photoshop to share online. Otherwise, I contact print them as small prints.

The one shot situation poses somewhat of an issue if you are out and about shooting – I have to use a light tight changing tent to change out my paper, which is beyond miserable to use when it’s 100 degrees F outside with 100% humidity here in Georgia. Gross!

In addition to being somewhat time consuming to change the paper, the exposures on my camera with a paper negative take quite a while. The image above was a 22 minute exposure. As I type this post, I have my camera working downstairs, taking an image of a still life, and my exposure time is 7 hours.


The reason why the exposures take so long is a) my aperture is f/137 and b) the ISO speed of my paper is approximately 15. If you think about that in comparison to a film SLR with a film speed of ISO 400 and an aperture of, say, f/16, you can see why the exposures are so lengthy!

If it sounds like I am tooting the “I am doing some hard photographic work” horn it’s BECAUSE I AM!!!! See, I am actually really proud of myself for taking on this medium. I am by no means a patient person, and I like to do things quickly. Shooting paper negatives in the pinhole is forcing me to take my time and to be patient. After using paper negatives, film photography in general seems much more manageable to me. It’s kind of like the idea behind the quote in the movie Dodgeball with Ben Stiller, when the team is training for their first big game and the coach is throwing all kinds of random objects at the them: “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!” If you can shoot paper negatives and not lose your mind, you can do all kinds of things in photography!


In addition to what this endeavor is teaching me about photography and myself, I feel as though there is no substitute for the paper negative. No other photographic media can produce the same atmosphere. I am always amazed by how it can transform an ordinary scene into something out of a dream.

Also, paper is a lot more affordable than film, so if you are on a budget, this can be a way of filling the analogue void without going to debtors prison.