Kenneth Leishman: Compelling Color Pinhole Photography

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All images by Kenneth Leishman. Used with permission.

Pinhole images I’ve always thought were absolutely stunning, beautiful and the absolute best works of art when it came to landscape photography. But in my years as an editor, I’ve never seen a good one done in color–until last week.

Photographer Kenneth Leishman is who “along the way of experimenting with jobs I did not care for, and things I did not need, a camera fell into my lap.” he tells us. It took a while for Ken to find his groove, but when he did he realized that he loved the analogue process and that the slow ways of working with pinholes is what really jived with him.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

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Ken: It was kind of a fluke really. I never really thought much of it, until I was given a film camera from a friend around 2008. Then I enrolled in a film/photography class and really started to fall for it. The dark room was something I was in awe over and couldn’t get enough of it. So I enrolled in Orange Coast College’s photography 2 year program, jumped right into the Hasselblad 500cm and 4×5 large format camera and lived in the dark room learning the craft. It was a lot of studio work mainly, dealing with strobes and other great tools in the studio, but I have always been drawn to the outdoors and didn’t care much to spend hours in hours out in the studio. I felt lost. So on my spare time, I would take these great cameras with me in the outdoors and just explore with them, and that’s when I knew landscape photography was it for me.

Phoblographer: What made you want to get into pinhole photography?

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Ken: I was burned out from the digital world. Don’t get me wrong I still shoot with them as well, but in the landscape photography world, everything was vibrant and sharp and I wasn’t really drawn to that anymore. I came across some great pinhole work online and right away fell for it. loved how it gives a dreamy soft feel to it. I said to myself ok I’m going to learn this. That was in December of 2014.

Phoblographer: Most of the best pinhole images are done in black and white, but you’ve been creating incredible ones in color. When you look at a scene, you obviously get inspired and become in awe. But how d you ensure that your creative vision comes out onto the film? This is most likely ensuring the right metering, but what’s usually going through your head?

Ken: I have always been drawn to color, but not vibrant colors. I love saturated, subtle colors like a rembrandt painting. The great thing about film and pinhole, is the not knowing if it will come out; that to me is the exciting part. You don’t have a view finder to look through or anything to go off of. it’s all about exploring and adjusting to the scene, taking notes on what worked, what didn’t. I always have a pad with me to write down weather patterns, time of day, high tide low tide,metering, exposure time per every exposure etc. so I no what works, what doesn’t. How close I was to a rock, so I know the depth for next time. Film is not cheap, you have 12 shots to get it right. So slowing down and taking in the scene is huge. sometimes I won’t even shoot that day, if it’s not right.

Phoblographer: How do you feel creating pinholes in color differs from black and white?

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Ken: There are some great black and white pinhole photographers out there that I’m in awe over there work. One day I will venture out into that world, but I started pinhole with color and fell in love with the film I use Once I seen the saturated colors on my first roll, that is what I was looking for, without spending hours in front of the computer trying to perfect. For me color just speaks to me in warmth, calming, zen type feeling, as if I’m there looking out in the ocean during dawn patrol, drifting into a daydream.

Phoblographer: Where do you typically draw your inspiration from? Are there specific photographers who influence you work?

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Ken: Man that’s a big list. Well, the great landscapes we live on, is number one for me. To hear or smell the sound of the ocean or the flow of the rivers or the bushes swept back by the winds or the sounds of the rain hitting my tent at night. That gets my mind going. Photographers that influence me would have to be David Hilliard, Chase Jarvis, Zeb Andrews, all sorts of photography influence me in there own ways.

Phoblographer: When do you think the best time to shoot pinholes is? Its nature is much different than most other types of landscape photography.

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Ken: The best times for me would have to be during storms, raining, cloudy, and that doesn’t happen much in Southern California, so I have to make the days count when it does rain. It all depends on what I’m going for that day or have in mind.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you use and what film you’re using.

Ken: I shoot with a Zero Image 2000, Zero Image 6 x 9. The Film is Ektar 100 medium format 120.

Phoblographer: Tell us about your favorite pinhole image that you’ve shot.

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Ken: I think my favorite would have to be of the Owens River leading to the mountains. That’s my go to place to just get away.Fly fishing, pinhole, or just there with good friends hanging out. That place just means a lot, and I’m reminded of those thoughts, every time I see that photo.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.