Basic Pinhole

We started the module ‘Working With Light’ with a really interesting approach of photographic practice, pinhole photography. Pinhole is the most basic form of photography. It’s literally a box with a hole. It works on the basic principles of photography. It is also known as Camera Obscura.

Camera Obscura was the first form of capturing a ‘photograph’ and that lead to Photography as we know it today. It’s basically a box with a single hole and a photo-sensitive paper that will capture the light coming in from the hole.


That is exactly what we set to do with George Rippon on the first day of the module. George asked as to bring some equipment and tools needed to make a working pinhole camera.

  • A small container of some sort – empty beer can, pringle pot, biscuit tin, little box etc. Preferably something made of a thin material – drinks cans are super easy – and which we can make light-proof.
  • Some black paper and/or black cloth.
  • Some black tape (gaffer tape or black electrical tape can work well) can chip in and get this in small groups.
  • A bit of blu-tac
  • Some photographic paper – if you’ve any left over from the first term that will do fine.

We started with a brief talk on the subject and then straight away to building the cameras. I brought in a pringle pot, some electrical tape, black paper, a ruler, some blu-tac and a paper cutter. The pinhole camera can have any shape and size you want, but of course there are preferable dimensions to make it easier for beginners. That is why George asked us to bring premade boxes. You are free to make one from scratch, though it needs more planning and spare time, as well as good light-proofing. Don’t forget that in order to make a working pinhole camera the light should be restricted to this one hole. So if you closed this hole, it would be pitch-black inside the box.

I used this pringle pot at my first attempt. I converted the lid of the pot into a light-proof cap, which serves as the door for the box, as well as the paper negative holder. I made the pinhole on the bottom of the pot. The outcome is a cylindrical camera, which projects light from the bottom, to the top of the box, where the photo-sensitive paper is situated. Because of its cylindrical shape I had to cut the paper negative into either rectangular pieces that would fit inside the circle, or a circle shaped paper that would fit exactly on the lid with a special mount and some blu-tac.



Only thing left was to try it out and see what happens. I went into the darkroom, cut some papers, load the camera with one and store the rest in the light-proof bag they came with. Everything I described so far is as in classic analogue camera, though without a lens or the excess mechanic parts for the aperture and the shutter speed, without a release button or a timer and finally photo-sensitive paper instead of conventional 35mm film. Exactly the same…

I went outside, spotted a suitable place, and set the camera in place. In order not to let light in from the pinhole while loaded with paper, initially I blocked the hole with some blu-tac and on the second revision of my camera with some reinforced electrical tape. Although this does not sound as a high tech upgrade, it allowed me to peel off the tape and put it back, with precision. With the blu-tac I had issues spotting back the pinhole and closing it, evidently letting more light in, as well as introduce some movement on the camera.

I peel off the blu-tac and wait for about 2 minutes. I did about three tries and went straight away in the darkroom to develop them. I got some pretty interesting results. I did not know what to expect so I was quite excited.

Now that we all had some negatives to play with, we started learning how to reverse them in positives. A process proved to be fairly easy. Take an unexposed paper, place it under the enlarger (emulsion side up) and then place the negative on top of it, emulsion facing down. Put a piece of glass on top of them so as to hold them firmly and get the sharpest image you can get. Throw light on them and develop. That last part is the most difficult part of the process, because you have to make some test strips in order to get the right amount of time and aperture on the enlarger. It took me some time to get a decent print, but I made it after all.




positives (photoshop)



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