Pin Hole Photography

If like many photographers, who spend their working day in front of a computer and so may be close to PC burn-out, the last thing you want to do with your spare time is to spend more time using one. Photography today frequently means you are using someone else’s technology, software and ideas, so how about putting that to one side and going back to basics?

We are fortunate at The Darkroom to have an ear to the ground: we are often asked advice on any number of photographic topics. Recent enquiries regarding pinhole photography prompted us to feature them and although the techniques have been around since the birth of photography, the format is enjoying something of a revival at the moment. We set about to make our own camera and here’s the story of our camera.

As it happened we had an empty biscuit tin, but any number of objects could be used: cameras can be made from black plastic 35mm pots, wheelie bins (for the ambitious) but so long as it is light-tight, it is a potential camera. The key lies in the nature of the pin hole, which replaces a lens, as the means of producing a focussed image on the inside surface of the camera. There is no need to worry about focus, only the exposure and that can be from a few seconds to several minutes long.

make a hole

pin hole in foil attach hole to tin

Make a hole: it doesn't matter what size since the pin hole is made in tinfoil. Do make sure any burring on the metal is either hammered flat or snipped off, to leave a flat surface.

We first used a thumb-tack but the hole proved to be too big and so finally used a fine needle to make a hole in the tinfoil.

The tinfoil with its hole are lined up on the lid and taped down: black PVC tape ensured no light could slip behind the foil.

prepare the inside

black inside of tin make an exposure

We masked the inside of the box with black paper to reduce any internal reflections. The black box lid helped to keep the paper in place.

Showing the blacked out lid and pinhole.

With a exposure lasting many seconds, it is important to keep the camera steady. A piece of card board can be used as a shutter in front of the hole.


The Results

first exposure
second exposure
final exposure

The first exposure of 3 minutes was grossly overexposed. The burred metal around the metal lid had also cast a shadow ( top right )

Recognisable objects could now be seen with a 20 second exposure. There was still some image cut-off so the position of the paper was adjusted

The final exposure of 15 seconds. Because our box was quite shallow the exposure falls away quickly from the centre, which accounts for the vignette effect.

Once you have made your camera it is time to run some tests to find the optimum exposure. The subject matter is also worth considering: as you can see from the example above, the sky is very bright compared to the foreground and photographic materials may struggle to accurately record the full range of tones.To begin with we would recommend using black & white photographic paper: it is quicker and cheaper to use and process than film. The paper needs to be loaded into the camera in safelight conditions: it can be difficult, but not imposssible, to load paper in complete darkness.

Have the developer, stop bath and fix already made up and a tip here is to dilute the normal developer solution by 50%, to allow the image to develop more slowly. Try three initial tests at 20 seconds, 1 minute and 3 minutes to give yourself a broad range of exposure and hopefully one of these will produce a recognisable image. Remember it will be a negative image, so too long an exposure results in a dark print and vice versa.

Further test exposures will allow you to fine tune the results and since this may take an hour or so, keep an eye on the overall light levels of your subject matter: if the sun goes behind a cloud, it will certainly affect your calculations.

Once you have a good image then you can either make a traditional contact print to make a positive image or scan the image and 'invert' the image to do the same thing.

pinhole positive image

There is are a number of active pinhole phtography groups operating round the world and World Pinhole Day is an annual online festival, this year on the 29th April 2012.

Here are some further links of interest provided by Jerry Kavanagh - the site for WPPD (Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day) April 29th 2012. - the site of Justin Quinnell, an absolute must !! - the site run by Eric Renner & Nancy Spencer (USA) who did so much to reinvigorate the contemporary interest in pinhole.

And books

Pinhole Photography by Eric Renner - Focal Press. See site above.
A great book: historical, practical, inspirational. A great reference.

Adventures with Pinhole & Homemade Cameras by John Evans - Rotovision.
Another practical book with plenty of technical how-to advice from the simple to the complex illustrated with the work & cameras of talented practitioners.

Camera Obscura by Abelardo Morel.
60 duotone photographs of mostly hotel interiors turned into camera obscuras into which the outside world is projected upside down. Just brilliant.

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