Pinhole Camera Instructions

Updated July 20, 2017

Anyone can create a pinhole camera. A pinhole camera is a lens-less camera that is created with tight box and round hole in one end and film or photographic paper in the other. It works by allowing light to pass through the hole and images from where the light hits. It's hard to say who first discovered the pinhole; perhaps nomadic tribes living in tents or caves dwellers. Renaissance artist used the camera obscura to help solve perspective problems, but it wasn't until the 19th century that technology allowed the capture of an image on paper.

Create a pinhole camera by using a small can or box such as a oatmeal box, a soup can or a shoebox. Paint the inside black to prevent reflections. If the lid is plastic or transparent, paint it black.

Make a pinhole in the bottom of the camera by using a tool such as an awl or ice pick and rotate the camera as you create your hole for a smoother circle. Then cover your pinhole with black paper between exposures.

Attach photographic paper or film to the lid of the camera under a safe light for photographic paper or in a dark room for film.

Create your image by uncovering your pinhole. For photographic paper, keep the pinhole uncovered for about two minutes. If you're using film, keep the pinhole open for one or two seconds if you're photographing in a sunny location. Increase the exposure time if you're shooting in a shady location.

Process film negatives in the usual way.


Keep your camera very still or use a tripod when the pinhole is exposed to light. This will give you clear and sharper pictures. To increase the odds of a good picture, shoot three exposures with different durations. The angle of your view and the sharpness of your picture is determine by the distance of the film from the pinhole and the diameter of the pinhole. When you aim your camera at subjects closer than 5 feet, position the subject low in the viewfinder to allow for parallax -- the difference between the view you see through the viewfinder and the image recorded on the film. This effect is caused by the separation between the viewfinder and the pinhole.

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About the Author

Based in southern Florida, Joy Campbell has been professionally writing since 2009. She is the author of "Journal of Ideas: Volume One." Campbell holds a Master of Education with a concentration in instructional technology from the University of South Florida.