Capturing Lensless Seascapes: A Tale of Triumphs and Trials at Birling Gap

Saturday mornings adventure, I eagerly ventured to the picturesque Birling Gap, nestled along the stunning Beachy Head coastline East sussex UK. Armed with 3 pinhole cameras, my mission was clear: capture the beauty of lensless seascapes and make an informative video for my YouTube Channel.

Nature seemed to conspire in my favor as I reached the location, greeted by a mesmerizing low tide that unveiled a rugged and captivating rocky seashore. The stage was set, and everything appeared to align seamlessly, or so I thought.

In my camera bag were two large format pinhole cameras - The Zero Image and Mia - and a selection of film holders loaded with Fomapan 100. I also had my trusty medium format Holga WPC (Wide Pinhole Camera), loaded with Ilford Delta 100.

Little did I know, my venture into capturing lensless seascapes at Birling Gap would prove more challenging than anticipated. Out of 12 meticulously framed shots and a pair of soaking wet feet, only 4 photo stood the test. The journey, spanning 3 hours of shooting and filming, followed by at least an extra 2 hours video editing, before delving into the film development process could be complete waste of time.

Loading large format sheet film onto the holder has always been a smooth process for me, and 120 film rarely presents any issues—until it does. Anyone who has grappled with the frustration of film snagging onto the film loading spool inside a changing bag can relate to the unexpected challenges that arise. The confined space becomes hot and sticky, and as the hands get sweaty, the film tends to rebel—curling back, sticking to itself as you try and adjust the film spool, and causing a cascade of complications.

In one such instance, after what felt like an eternity of wrestling with the unruly film, I finally managed to introduce a spare film spool into the bag and load it without further incident. However, a nagging sense of foreboding lingered. The initial struggle inside the changing bag served as a foreshadowing of the hurdles that awaited in the film development process.

After discovering that most of the images from the Holga were ruined and encountering issues with the large format camera (as detailed below), I made the tough decision to abandon the video project and discard much of the footage. However, I'm determined to salvage what I can and will likely create a few shorts with the remaining images. Despite the setbacks, I'm eager to return to Birling Gap for another attempt at capturing successful lensless seascapes soon.

To start with the good photo, 4 images from my large format pinhole cameras

Note: the exposure times on the Mia are much longer, I recently changes the pinhole over due to a small hair like thing going over the images and had had enough of removing it in post. The pinhole size was 0.2 which gave an f-stop of f175, I change it over with another pinhole which was 0.15 which now gives me an f-stop of f233

Mia 4x5 - 35mm - Fomapan 100 film - 2 minute exposure

Zero Image - 50 mm - Fomapan 100 - 30 second exposure

Zero image - 50mm - Fomapan 100 - 1 minute 10 second exposure

Mia 4x5 - 35mm - Fomapan 100 - 5 minute exposure

I had taken 6 images with, but what happened to the other 2??

Out of the developing tank, I pulled out these 2 sheets of film, one being completely overexposed (left), the other, not exposed at all (right).

This at first caused a lot of confusion, I was checking my pinhole was not blocked, checking my exposure times and light meter settings, I eventually figured it out and looking back at video footage confirmed I was right and had made a stupid mistake 

Can you see what happend?

I mistakenly removed the darkslide from the wrong side of the film holder, fully exposing the sheet of film at the back to the elements. This ruined the image I had just previously captured. The unexposed sheet, still protected by a dark slide, remained in the camera during the exposure. I'm unsure how I overlooked this critical detail.

Moving onto the Holga images.
Not only did it have the marks and scratches I was expecting, but also a light leak, I was surprised that as the last few times I'd used it they were none, the joy of a Holga.
However upon further inspection of the Holga I cannot find any sign of leaks, they may have been caused as I was fighting the film in the changing bag but they seem too consistent for that, more detective work needed.

A lot of time went into composing these shots and avoiding everything other than the image I like most of them, will be heading back for some 6x12 seascapes soon, maybe with my new Mia this time.

After the beach I also quickly stopped off at this beautiful little church for the final 2 exposure on the roll.

As I reflect on the challenges faced during my morning adventure at Birling Gap, I can't help but appreciate the resilience required in the world of analog photography. Every obstacle encountered served as a reminder that the pursuit of capturing timeless moments is not always a smooth journey. I take each mistake as a lesson; in the moment, it may knock me back, and I question why I even bother. But I cherish every moment I'm out shooting film and developing, learning from my mistakes and growing as a photographer.

Until next time, take care and keep capturing those moments.

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