Pinhole Cameras

Hi All

I’ve been extremely busy with the Photography module of my BTEC Art and Design course. We have been concentrating on the wonderful world of pinhole cameras.

According to wikipedia, a pinhole camera is defined as:

A pinhole camera is a simple camera without a lens and with a single small aperture — effectively a light-proof box with a small hole in one side. Light from a scene passes through this single point and projects an inverted image on the opposite side of the box.

This was my attempt at building my first pinhole camera:

Basic Pinhole Camera

Pinhole, Pinhole, Pinhole…

The pinhole camera is made from thick black paper (liberated from my sketch book) and masses of black and brown electrical tape. The camera is a basic box shape minus one side, with a smaller box inserted in the back to create a light tight environment. For the film, im using standard black and white photo paper (Ilford I think) cut to shape. The negatives are around 8cm x 5cm, depending on the accuracy of my tutors scissor work.

The pinhole itself is made from standard kitchen aluminum foil taped in place with lashings of electrical tape, with the hole punched into it with a needle. The “shutter” was made from a piece of black paper that sits between two paper “runners” taped to the outside of the box. This allows the shutter to be opened and closed without falling off.

The whole thing took about 45 minutes to make. I did have a small advantage over other members of the class in that I’ve done some technical drawing in the past so I was quite comfortable drawing a fairly accurate template from the dimensions given (the process of photocopying the template had messed with its scale, so we couldn’t just trace around it).

Once it was finished, I could get on with the actual mini-project and actually produce some images from it. We were asked to take 5  images with a duration of 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 seconds to test the exposure of the camera, so we can gauge with shutter speeds give the best exposure.

The only problem with this is that the camera needs to be loaded in either a totally dark or a safe-light environment. This wasn’t a problem for me as I’ve access to a full darkroom, however the other students may have struggled with this as all the exposures needed to take place with the same lighting conditions (ideally on the same day). In my case, each image was taken (aimed) towards the back of the College building, on a less than ideal foggy day.

After taking the images, the paper negatives were developed and fixed in the normal way (90 seconds developer, 60 seconds wash, 180 seconds fixer) to produce the negatives. I had two options to create a positive print, either by doing a contact print, or by scanning and inverting in photoshop – for the sake of ease and time, I chose the latter. Here are the positive prints:

5 second exposure

10 second exposure

15 second exposure

20 second exposure

25 second exposure

Out of all the exposures i think that the best one came somewhere between the 5 and 15 second mark, you’d have thought this would have been 10 seconds but I’m really unsure about what happened to that exposure as its so overexposed. I can only assume that there had been a light leak in the box.


I’m really quite staggered about the level of detail that this crappy little cardboard camera has picked up. The conditions were not ideal – in the 5 minutes between the 5 and 10 second exposures, a thick blanket of fog had appeared from nowhere.. I think that’s why the level of detail had dropped in the later exposures.

More from the web

I’ve also been looking around the web, and I’ve found a really good tutorial on making a pinhole camera from a beer can, it shows the whole process from making the camera, exposing the image and then processing the print, its well worth a look.

Where from here?

I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with this little camera, its a little hit and miss and the exposure times can be so variable but its great to use. I’d like to upscale this in the future to use a full sheet of 5 x 7 photo paper, which is a pretty huge negative. I’ve got a few A3 sheets of black foam-core that should do the trick. I’ve also got a large tin of twiglets which would make a great camera.

I’ll report back in the next few weeks on my progress




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