Photoessay: Istanbul Through a Pinhole

Looking back at the spiral of exploration I’ve documented on this site, I notice that my initial feelings about many places include the phrase “a shock to the system.” Regardless of how long I travel, I find myself caught off guard when I switch countries, tangled up in those immediate, unavoidable few hours or days of precarious recalibration when old is new and new is scary. It shows how wide this world truly is and how adaptable we humans are, righting ourselves on the tightrope when it feels like we’re about to fall.

So it was with Istanbul. Coming off a month of wide-eyed wandering in Morocco I found myself recoiling at the brashness and shiny edges of Turkey’s largest city.

Though Istanbul straddles Europe and Asia, my initial assessment observed a very European people. Women with their leather knee-high boots and fully made-up faces and upturned chins. The men, gruffly clad in black leather and walking a swagger I hadn’t seen in Morocco. And they were drinking beer. I felt more than ridiculous thinking these thoughts – surely a month in Morocco wasn’t enough to completely find the familiar unfamiliar? But apparently it was, a testament to the intensity of my time there.

* * *

Istanbul Photos, Taken Through a Pinhole

As with any new place, it became comfortable within a few days. The leather and swagger and makeup and beer all seemed commonplace by the end of the week, and I wandered the streets in search of delicious eats with newfound gusto. But more than that, Istanbul became a place I started to miss before I already left. I was captivated by the cross-section of history and geography, finding myself entranced by everything from the simple patterns in the cobblestones to the spiderweb of fishing twine tumbling down from the Galata Bridge. I wandered the city for hours and hours each day, peeling away more of its layers.

Beneath Istanbul’s shiny surface was a confluence of ethnic neighbourhoods and food groups, of old creaky mosques and bustling back alley markets. I decided to start photographing the city through a pinhole, focusing in on the exact points of my wonder. The details are often what I find most compelling and it felt satisfying to use a new technique to portray them in a different way.

I’ll be posting more about city and its many cats, but as my introduction to the city, I wanted to share my pinhole Istanbul photos. Curled edges of darkness and a blot of colour in the middle, Istanbul forcing its way to the forefront of my consciousness, even from afar.

Istanbul photos - aqueduct
Valens aqueduct in Fatih, Istanbul
Istanbul photos: Hagia Sofia, in all its pink glory
Ayasofia, in all its pink glory
The interior of Hagia Sofia in Istanbul
The interior of Ayasofia
Photos of Istanbul: Glowing lights inside the main dome of Ayasofia
Glowing lights inside the main dome
Ceiling frescos and Islamic calligraphy inside Hagia Sofia, Istanbul
Ceiling frescos and Islamic calligraphy inside Ayasofia
The main dome inside Hagia Sofia
Classic view of the main dome inside Ayasofiaa
View from the bottom level of the Galata Bridge, Istanbul
View from the bottom level of the Galata Bridge
Inside Rustem Pasha Mosque near the Spice Bazaar
Inside my favourite Mosque in town, Rustem Pasha, near the Spice Bazaar
Shadows and light inside Rustem Pasha Mosque
Shadows and light inside Rustem Pasha Mosque  
Honey tones inside Suleymaniye Mosque
Honey tones inside Suleymaniye Mosque
Suleymaniye mosque, from the ground level
Suleymaniye mosque, from the ground level
Full view of the ceiling dome in Suleymaniye Mosque
Full view of the ceiling dome in Suleymaniye Mosque
Visitors outside Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul
Visitors outside Suleymaniye Mosque
Side view of Suleymaniye Mosque
Side view of Suleymaniye Mosque, devoid of people.
Blue Mosque at dusk, from a rooftop in Sultanahmet
Blue Mosque at dusk, from a rooftop in Sultanahmet
Dizzying ceiling patterns inside the Blue Mosque
Dizzying ceiling patterns inside the Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque
Lighter tones and delicate designs inside the Blue Mosque
Lighter tones and delicate designs inside the Blue Mosque
On a Sultanahmet rooftop, gazing out at the Bosphorous
On a Sultanahmet rooftop, gazing out at the Bosphorous 

And on my last night in town, the two images that have etched themselves in my mind more firmly than all the rest:

The Blue Mosque against a darkening sky
Silhouettes of domes and minarets against a darkening sky
And the cobblestones of Istanbul, inviting me to continue my exploration.
And the cobblestones of Istanbul, inviting me to continue my exploration.

For those interested in a pinhole shoot, there are a few ways to do so: a DIY version (definitely my pick), poking a hole inside your lenscap and shooting through it, or buying ready-made pinhole lenscaps (for the Micro 4/3ds crowd, PhotoJoJo’s got a 69$ option for Sony cameras) for your pinthole photography funsies. The EP-3 also has a “pinhole” setting, which is what got me going on this route and products these Istanbul photos in the first place. Lots of fun to be had with any of these options.


56 thoughts on “Photoessay: Istanbul Through a Pinhole”

  1. Wonderful images and thoughts! I loved Istanbul and loved seeing it from a different perspective here.Definitely inspired to try the pinhole technique and I have to pick the last photo of the cobblestones as my favourite.

      1. Gani Oktay Arbak

        Thanks very much for the pictures on Rustem Pasha… I am Istanbullian and will visit this mosque soon, as my health allowes me too.

  2. beautiful photos of a great country. Really liked your Aya Sofia photos, I found it a tough place to get good, crisp pictures…maybe I should have tried the pinhole approach, ha!

  3. What a sight! I’ve held such fascination with the Hagia Sophia ever since the ancient days of art history 101 during freshman year… What lovely shots of of it and of the other neighboring beauties. Always a pleasure to see the world through your eyes. Cheers xx

  4. I love these photos! I don’t think I’ve seen the wider pinhole used to just give the edges that little something, and I really like it.

  5. Beautiful pictures. I build a film pinhole few years ago, but i recently got interested in how this “technology” could be used with a digital DSLR … you made a great demonstration :) .
    Undiscreet questions :
    _ did you do any post-processing to get those results ?
    _ the “dummies” link you gave shows the pinhole cap ON a lens, yet somehow i thought we were supposed to use the body cap, so without lens (so as to reduce the distance with the captor …and increase sharpness ?) : which method did you use ?
    Thanks for sharing, and keep posting, because obviously we’re loving it :)
    Safe travels.

    1. Hi Yolene, thank you for the comments. Some of the photos are taken with my camera’s own “Art” settings, and some (the least of the focused ones) were with the DIY lenscap pinhole. To answer your questions:

      1) I did do some straightening and colour adjustments using Google’s free Picasa software, and some cropping too.

      2) The pinhole lenscap is on the body cap, I should have been less careless with my terminology. So yes, lens is removed. Some more info here –>

  6. I am missing NY before I’ve even left yet…good thing I have Turkey to head to next! Thanks for getting my excited (even though I’m still sad). :)

  7. Stunning photographs and an experiment which definitely paid off! Love the shot of dusk… am inspired to add Istanbul to my “next stop” list! Thank you x

  8. Fabulous images, Jodi! I really love this technique and I prefer the DIY version too – much easier to customise the effect to your own liking. Isn’t it fun experimenting with different styles? Istanbul is such a great city. I’ve just been trying to figure out if I can possibly fit in another short visit there on my upcoming trip. Too many places!!

  9. Fantastic photos again! Istanbul has been one of my favourite cities. Wouldn’t mind visiting it for the 2nd time. Especially loved the shot of Shadows and light inside Rustem Pasha Mosque.

    1. Thank you Amer. That’s one of my favourites too. I kept returning to that Mosque – it’s so tucked away inside the chaos of the alleys behind the Spice Market that from within those streets you barely know it’s there. But then you walk up a flight of stairs and presto, gorgeous tilework and peace and calm within the noise. The shot from the photoessay was the first time I saw the sun shine into the dome (it was winter when I visited) and it remains a great memory.

  10. If you are still in Turkey you should definitely try to get out east, where the people are much less European-looking and the landscape is breatheless. Cappadoccia is incredible.

    1. Hi Holly, I’d love to get to Cappadoccia and up to the Black Sea as well, but unfortunately I was only there for a few weeks and did not have time (or the right clothing – it was COLD) to do so. I hope to get back and explore the country more as it has so much to offer.

  11. I was travelling in Istanbul 2 weeks ago and i have to say i loved seeing all those familiar places retracted in such fantastic pictures! Did you get to check Balet neighborhood (the old Jewish town)? Fantastic place that reminds me a bit of Cuba :)

    1. Hi Andre, I did get to the old Jewish neighbourhood – wandered around for hours and it was great to watch the landscape of the city change as I did. Such a mixture of old and new and layers of history. Thanks for reading!

  12. Jodi – I love what you did with these pictures, it’s a brilliant way to capture not only the beautiful imagery of this country but the intense feeling that it evokes. Thank you for sharing these!

  13. Thank you for remind me this beautiful city that I visited ten years ago. Your photos are really nice. Merci de continuer à nous faire voyager !!

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  15. Hi Jodi

    Some fantastic shots & something I’m looking forward to trying out.

    Do you have any resources online or recommendations for accomodation/stays in Istanbul?



    1. Thanks Andrew! I stayed at Agora Guesthouse, which was recommended to me by a Turkish friend. It’s clean and in the heart of Sultanahmet, which is great when it’s not high season. Others went with Air BnB, which has plenty of listings for Istanbul.

  16. I enjoyed seeing your great photos. What camera do you use. I will be in Istanbul in May. Do you think my 50mm nikn lens will be suitable for the interior Mosque shots? Any tips welcome!

  17. Gorgeous photos! My husband (@groundedtravelr) and I are going to Istanbul and a few other places in Turkey in April, so this makes me even more excited to get there!

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  20. Wonderful photos Jodi, and great theme with the pinhole. We only had 2 days to explore when we first arrived in Turkey, so we’ll be spending hopefully close to a week there before we leave for Jordan. It seems like such a cool city. I can’t wait to get back. Cheers!

  21. Okay, the word has been used, but it’s fitting for these photos…stunning. I visited Istanbul almost a decade ago, and I’ve been longing to return. You’ve inspired me to make that happen ASAP.

  22. I love pinhole photos but I have a hard time getting the developing done on the road. Need a portable dark room. How do you manage?

  23. Amazing quality (and an excellent eye, as well)! I’m surprised at the lack of dust/dirt on the lens and the sharpness and clarity of the pictures.

    Congratulations on your courage to quit your job and travel! I wish I had it, too … but maybe I travel so much anyway!

  24. Christine Wheeler

    My husband and I have just completed the journey of a lifetime. Kicking off in Istanbul,which was stunning, we flew to Marmaris then joined a yacht rally run by Mariner Boating Holidays which sailed east along the coast visiting isolated marinas, archeological sites like Xanthos, the stunning Greek island of Castellorizo and many other coastal villages. Swimming off the boat in 25C waters is pure heaven Without exception Turkish people are warm, generous and hospitable. A must do experience

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  26. Hi Jodi, Came across your blog via pinhole. I’ve been using a Zero camera, 6×9. But I’m wondering which camera you used, and what film? Great pictures.


  27. Beautiful! There is something magical about taking photos with a pinhole camera and your images hint at the experience. Istanbul is amazing, exotic and extraordinary to explore. It opens it’s arms and welcomes you in to discover it’s tastes, sights, sounds and smells – and leaves you enchanted! It was such a pleasure to see your images and be reminded of the wonders of Istanbul*

  28. Great photos – I’ve just come from Istanbul and heading back in a few weeks. Was actually more impressed by Ankara as Istanbul was a bit too touristy, but still great photos and a top city. Safe travels. Jonny

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