How to Use a Pinhole Camera

Written by bridget conn
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How to Use a Pinhole Camera
The pinhole camera is a smaller version of the camera obscura. ( Images)

Any object that you can make light-tight, you can turn into a pinhole camera. This could be an oatmeal container, a handmade box, a room of a house or even an egg. Using a pinhole camera takes virtually no effort. Light passing through the pinhole exposes photographic paper or film and does all the work for you. They are the simplest type of cameras with unpredictable, yet fun, results.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Completely dark room, or darkroom safe light
  • Black-and-white photographic paper or film

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  1. 1

    Examine your pinhole camera to see what size of film or paper it needs. Determine this by looking at its inner wall, opposite the pinhole. A round camera like one made from an oatmeal canister allows you to use whatever size of paper or film you like, because it can curve around the inside of the container.

  2. 2

    Decide whether you would like to use film or photographic paper. Film makes an image more quickly and with more clarity, but large sheets of it can be costly. While paper is slower, it is cheaper. You can make exposures of less than five minutes on a sunny day.

  3. 3

    Load your camera in a completely dark room if you are using film. If you have a photo safe light, you can turn it on and load your camera with paper. The safe light will expose film and ruin it, but the paper will be safe. Close the lid of the camera and make sure the pinhole is covered with something opaque like black electrical tape before you turn on the light.

  4. 4

    Bring your pinhole camera outside for best results. Point it in the direction of the object or scene that you would like to make an image of. Set it on a steady surface, securing it with a heavy object if it is so lightweight that the wind could knock it over.

  5. 5

    Remove the electrical tape or other cover so that the pinhole opening is not blocked. Make sure the camera stays still for the duration of the exposure. This could last minutes or hours, depending on the time of day, whether it is cloudy or sunny, and whether you are using film or paper. As a rough guideline, basic black-and-white photographic paper on a sunny day could take one to two minutes, while medium-speed film may take 10 seconds or less.

  6. 6

    Cover up the pinhole opening when the exposure is done. You can now move the camera.

  7. 7

    Unload the film or paper in the same manner in which you loaded it. Put it in a light-tight black bag to bring to a photo lab for processing, or develop the image yourself if you have access to a darkroom.

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