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Make your own Pinhole Camera

A brief guide to making your pinhole camera, taking your photo and developing it!

Not sure what pinhole photography is then read this

You will need:

General Materials: a light tight container, black paper or paint, aluminium foil black electrical insulating tape.

Tools:  a pin or a fine 0.3mm drill, knife/scissors/ paint brush, a measuring jug.

Darkroom:  Any room where you can successfully provide full blackout . A photographic darkroom safelight, 3 shallow trays a bucket of water and a length of chord and some clothes pegs to allow your prints to dry.

Photographic chemicals:  ( Harman Direct Positive paper, Neutol Eco Developer, Citiric acid, Adofix plus Fixative.

Optional extras: Pinhole Master for IOS  or Pocket Light Meter (iOS & Android)

Making your pinhole camera

1) Select a light tight box or tin

2) Use black paint or black paper to cover internal surfaces of container to minimise reflections.

3) Create your pinhole. If using a tin use a 0.3mm micro drill bit in a small hand held modelmakers drill. If using a cardboard box make a hole in a piece of aluminium foil with a pin or small needle. Then use black insulation tape to stick the aluminium foil over a small hole cut into the box.  ( NB after making your hole use a small piece of emery paper to remove any metal burr from the reverse side.

4) Make your exposure control using a small flap of cardboard using Black insulating tape as hinge and a separate piece to act as a means of securing your exposure flap in the closed position.

5) Choose how you will secure your photographic paper in the camera. It can be as simple as strips of self adhesive tape or use some card to make some retaining slots that you can slide your photographic paper into.

6) On our courses we have chosen to use Harman Direct positive paper. This is a black and white paper which avoids the need for an intermediate film negative. The ISO speed of the paper is about 1 to 3.

6) Go into your darkroom and using a low wattage photographic safelight put a single sheet of photographic paper into your camera. ( keep your paper at least 3feet from your safelight to avoid fogging the paper) Make sure that you put the paper in the right way round. (Most photographic papers have a glossy coating on the light sensitive side).

7) Before leaving the darkroom make sure that your exposure control flap is securely closed and the box is light tight. Use black insulating tape to seal up any opening edges.

Taking your pinhole photograph

1) Set up your pinhole camera so that it is pointing at the scene you wish to photograph. Avoid trying to hold it steady yourself as the exposure times are long and you will inevitably blur the image . The angle of view of your camera will depend on the shape of the box and in particular the size of the photographic paper and its distance from the pinhole. Once you have taken your first photo you will get an ida about how to arange your camera.  (The likelihood is that the pinhole camera will capture a much wider angle view than you at first anticipate )

2) Getting your exposure time right can be by

a) Trial and error!

b) Rule of thumb guides or

c) pinhole exposure apps.

Rule of thumb guides that come with Harman Direct positive paper suggest the following:

Bright sunshine  (summer) 1-2 minutes

Bright but not direct sunshine  3 minutes

Overcast (mixed sun/cloud) 5 minutes

Dull /Cloudy 6-10 minutes

Interior lighting1 hour

Pinhole exposure apps such as Pinhole Master (ios only) will require you to calculate your Camera’s aperture number . This is simply the focal length / pinhole diameter. The focal length is the distance from your pinhole to the photographic paper. ( where focal length is 45mm and the pinhole diameter is 0.3mm then the Aperture is 45/0.3 = 159. This is often expressed as  f/159.

Using this aperture figure and the ISO number of the paper (1-3) you can create a camera setting for your pinhole camera and then the app will be able to use your phones camera to take a reading of the brightness of your scene and give you a suggested exposure time a countdown timer to take the exposure and also log  the scene brightness imag , the date , time , exposure and the GPS co-ordinates !

3) Once exposure has your exposure flap and take your camera back to the darkroom.

Developing your pinhole photograph

1) Set up your darkroom with 3 shallow trays ( Develop , Stop and Fix)  and a bucket of water!

2) Mix up your developer ( On our course we use Neutol Eco Developer ) This is diluted 1 part developer to 4 parts water . We find 100ml of developer and 400ml of water making 0.5litre of developing solution is a good amount.

3) Mix up your stop bath ( On our course we use Citric acid ) This is made up with 5g ( about 1 teaspoon) of citric acid powder to 500ml of water.

4) Mix up your fixative  ( On our course we use adofix plus ) This is diluted 1 part fixative to 9 parts water . We find 50ml of fixative and 450ml of water making 0.5litre of fixative solution is a good amount.

5) Under safelight conditions take the photographic paper out of your pinhole camera.

6) Place into Developer tray and gently agitate for 90 seconds. You will see the image begin to form after the first 10 seconds or so.

7) Remove paper and place into stop bath for 10 seconds.

8) Then transfer into fixative tray for 60 seconds.

9) Transfer to bucket to wash for several minutes and then allow to dry.


Read about the history of pinhole photography.

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