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pinhole 20090311 $0 digital pinhole camera

Do you have a digital SLR camera, some black construction paper, aluminum foil, a rubber band, and tape? Great, let’s make a digital pinhole camera!

The pinhole camera is the simplest type of camera. It has no lens, only a teeny-tiny hole of an iris. This pinhole ensures that the light which reaches any position on the exposure surface originated from a single direction; as the hole diameter approaches zero, the possible light source for a point on the exposure surface becomes an increasingly narrow cone, approaching a straight line.

The result is that if you make the hole small enough, you can capture a very wide depth of field, with objects both near and far in focus. The small hole also reduces the amount of light that reaches the exposure surface, in this case a CCD, so you need to compensate with a very long exposure time. It’s a perfect tool for capturing slow movement over time, or taking rich photos of still scenes that require a huge depth of field.

What’s great about using a digital camera for this is that you can easily experiment with exposure times and see your results immediately.

What You’ll Need

pinhole2 20090311 $0 digital pinhole camera

Aside from the camera (yeah, I stretched the $0 part a bit), you’ll only need a few things: black paper, aluminum foil, a rubber band, and tape. Really, that’s it.

Blocking Out Light

The first thing you need to do is cover the lens area in a way that ensures that the only light getting through to the CCD is the light coming through the pinhole. If any other light leaks in, you’ll just end up with a washed out image.

First, remove the lens from your camera, put the cover on it, and put it in a safe place. Cut a sheet of black construction paper so that it will fit over the lens hole in your camera body. Cut a small hole in the center of the paper, and then carefully tape it to the camera body. This will block out most of the light, and it will also block any internal reflection.

Making The Pinhole

Take a square of aluminum foil and press it over the front of the camera on top of the black paper. You’ll want to smooth this down to the surface of the camera body and then tape it in place. This will be blocking out any remaining cracks that would have allowed light through.

When you smooth the foil over the paper cover, you should be able to see a depression over the little hole you cut earlier. Go find the sharpest, thinnest needle you have, and carefully prick the aluminum in the center of this hole. You don’t want to push the needle all the way in. You want to make this hole as tiny as possible, almost difficult to see with the naked eye. I find it helps to just gently press the needle against the surface and twist it a bit. Experiment and see what works best for you.

Enable ultra-long exposures

Your digital pinhole camera is essentially complete, but in order to take a decent photo, you need to take exposures over several minutes. To do this without jiggling the camera, you could use a remote shutter, but I feel like I’ve already cheated a bit with this $0 tutorial since I required you to have a DSLR. Instead of buying a remote shutter, here’s a way to make a long exposure control for free.

Roll up a piece of tinfoil into a tightly packed ball about the size of a marble. Flatten out the ball a little bit and groove one side so that a rubber band will sit in the groove and not slip out. Place this ball over the shutter button on your camera, and wrap a rubber band over it and around the camera body. It’s a little fidgety, but now you can position the ball to depress the button and take a photo, and pull the ball away to release the shutter.

Go Take Some Pinhole Photos

Just put your camera in “bulb” mode, place it on a tripod or a stable surface, and depress the shutter with your fancy shutter depressomatic aluminum ball. The necessary exposure time will vary depending on the light that’s available, the camera’s ISO setting, and how small you were able to make your pinhole, but expect at least a couple of minutes with indoor lighting if you did things right. Experiment to obtain the best results, and send us a link to your photos in the comments!


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