CRAFT Video: Pinhole Camera

Craft & Design Photography & Video

In this CRAFT Video, learn to make and use a pinhole camera from materials you probably already have around the house. This is a great project to do with your kids over the summer, or just to learn something new on your own. When you make one, post up your photos and cameras in the CRAFT Flickr pool!

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Supplies and tools:


To make your camera, cut a small hole in your container, about one inch square after spray painting the interior black. Using a piece of aluminum foil, brass shim stock, or aluminum can that’s slightly bigger than the hole on your container, poke a very small hole in the center with a needle. Only the point of the needle should pass through the material, not the upper (widest) part of the shaft. If you’re using brass shim or a tin can, sand the hole on both sides with some fine sandpaper to get rid of the material pushed in by the needle (but you can’t sand aluminum foil). Hold the piece up to the light to see that it’s a nice round circular hole. Tape the piece over the hole in your container so that the pinhole is in the center. Use black electrical tape to prevent light leaks.

Read on for more info on loading your camera, exposing your paper, and developing your photo!

Mix up your chemicals in the jugs according to the instructions on the package, making sure to observe the required temperature of the water for mixing. Some variation of your tap’s hot and cold water should get you within the target range. It’s summer in Arizona, so my tap water was too hot for mixing the cooler one, so I used the refrigerated water from my fridge’s dispenser, then warmed it with a little tap water. The chemicals should be room temperature when you use them, so let them sit for a while after you mix them. Pour about a quart of each solution into each developer tray. Keep another tray or a bucket of water at the end of the assembly line for rinse. The order should be: developer, stop bath, fixer, water, from left to right or vice versa.

Secure your darkroom from all exterior light sources using blankets over the door and windows so that the only light in the room is from the safelight. It is now safe to open up the package of photo paper and cut it to size if necessary before inserting it into your camera. I used matte paper, and it was pretty easy to tell which side is the active side. It feels like it has a coating on it, and the back feels more papery. Position your paper inside the camera so the active side is facing the pinhole. Use one more piece of electrical tape to block the pinhole. If you fold over the edge of this piece, you can easily remove and replace this tape as the “shutter” for your camera. Close up the lid of your camera and secure all edges with electrical tape. Put your photo paper back inside its light-proof bag before turning on the regular light or exiting the room.

Take your camera outside and choose an even, stable surface on which to set it, facing your nonmoving subject. Keep a log of the light conditions, camera you’re using (if you’re using more than one), subject, and time you plan to leave he pinhole open (anywhere from four seconds to three minutes or more). Remove the tape covering the pinhole, keeping the camera steady. Time your exposure, then replace the tape. Bring the camera back into the darkroom for developing.

Under the safelight, open up your camera and remove the photo paper. Place it in the developer solution and gently rock the tray back and forth causing small waves of the solution to slosh over the photo. Read the information on the package for how long to develop, but basically you can just keep it in there until you see your image. Remove it with your fingers or a pair of tongs (you can wear gloves if you have sensitive skin), let it drip for a few seconds, then move it to the stop bath. Repeat the sloshing process with the stop bath and fixer (read the package instructions for the length of time to use each solution), then rinse in the water. Lay your negative out on paper towels to dry.

At this point it’s safe to turn the light back on, and you’ll have a negative printed on your photo paper. If your negative is all white, you didn’t leave your shutter open long enough. If it’s all black, you left it open for too long. Repeat the exposure and developing process until you get a decent image, using your log as a guide.

You can expose a positive image from this negative. In the darkroom, lay a new piece of photo paper on a flat surface, active side up. Lay your negative down on top of it, and sandwich them together with a piece of glass. Flip on the light for a brief moment (experiment with this amount of time just like you did the original exposure), then develop the picture. You can also scan your negative into the computer and use your photo editing software’s “invert” function to get a positive digital image instead.


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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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