Creating a pinhole camera can be extremely simple. It’s basically a black box with a tiny hole and a film inside.
(More text below the video)
For those of you who are new to pinhole photography, it’s a very simple concept. It’s the very foundation of which all photography is built upon. Pinhole photography does not use a lens therefore no focusing is required.
The skill and technique that comes into play is knowing the relationship between the distance of the film and the aperture (the aperture being the pinhole). The components in the pinhole camera are basically the same as in a normal camera omitting the lens. The shutter can simply be an object such as a piece of black felt or even a magnet that can be manipulated to cover and uncover the pinhole.
Quick Start Guide
It’s important that the pinhole is round and even to produce the best possible image. There are a couple of ways to do this.
This is probably the most used method. Simply “drill” a needle through a beer can or thin sheet of aluminum.
You can buy cheap tiny drill bits down to 0.3mm radius from ebay. These are best suited for large format (4×5″ and up). These drill bits are very fragile and a drill press is highly recommended.
You can make very good pinholes with laser. Most of us does not have a laser cutter but you can buy laser drilled pinholes on Ebay if you want to test this.
You can use anything from a beer can to a match box to make a pinhole camera. It is very important that your camera is totally dark (except the pinhole under exposure of course).
In the video above I am creating a pinhole camera from a tiny toy camera (empty inside) if found in my son’s toy bin. It looked so cool so I just had to do it. If you want to build your own camera I think you will get a pretty good idea from this video on how to do it. Remember that a camera is basically a black box with a hole.
Detailed Step by Step Guide
1 New Quart paint can with lid
1 can Ultra Flat Black spray paint
1 Aluminum Cola can
600 & 400 grit sand paper (1/4 sheet each)
1 piece 9×12 black Construction paper
1-1/4 flat washer (optional)
1 Roll Black Vinyl Tape
2″ Square inch flat flexible magnet (optional)
2 Rubber Bands
1 sheet of 8 ½” x 11” black felt
1 #16 Beading needle
White Craft Glue
1 Clothes pin
Disposable Gloves (optional)
1 Small tube(s) 5 min Epoxy
Paper towels (optional)
- Xacto™ Knife
- Metal Ruler
- Cutting matt
- Black Ink Marker
- Hole Punch
- Drill with 3/8th bit, 1/4″ bit, 1/6″th bit, & Stone Grinding bit
- Wire Cutters
- Pin Vice (Optional)
- Canned Air (Optional)
Step 1: Making the Pin Hole (Aperture)
a) Cut top and bottom off a soda can and save bottom
b) Cut a 2″ x 3″ piece of aluminum out of the body, Cut the corners round and sand the edges with 400 grit sandpaper.
c) Cut #16 need to 1-1/2″ in length (Verify)
d) Place #16 need in pin-vice and skip to “i)” or make the clothes pin-pin hole drill.
e) Mix epoxy on can bottom.
f) Smear epoxy on the inner jaws of the clothes pin.
g) Carefully place #16 needle in the jaws of the cloth pin, allow 1/4″ inch to protrude. (Be careful not to get any epoxy on the tip of the needle or the 1/4″ protruding part). Set aside to dry.
h) Very carefully drill a pin hole through the middle of the aluminum plate.
Use slight pressure and a twisting motion until the tip of the need can be seen
Sand with 600 grit sand paper. Repeat above steps twice more and the clean and polish with cold running water for 10 minutes. The water polish step is essential to removing all the microscopic burs. The photo below is of the pinhole at 60x magnification.
i) Pat dry with a paper towel and blow through canned air.
j) You will now have a clean pin hole that measure between .015″ and 0.19″
if you want to know the exact size of your pin hole and you may scan it and measure it with Photoshop.
Step 2: Preparing the Can (Body)
a) Spray the interior of the can and the under side of the lid with ultra flat black paint. Try not to get to much in the part of the lid that fits in the groove. If the can you purchased is finished grey on the inside you may wish to skip this step. Flat black provides the best result, grey provides a good result; while shiny bright metal provides interesting flare effects.
b) Mark a hole in the vertical center of the can body, directly opposite the can’s seam. (This will be the window where the aluminum pinhole plate shall look out onto the world).
c) Use a center punch or small hammer & nail to make a start point for the drill. Careful not to dent the can body.
d) Have someone help by holding the can, or use a drill press or a vice if you have one, wear safety glass and please be very careful when drilling metal. It is dangerous, and if you have any doubts about doing it find a knowledgeable person to help you. We don’t want anybody getting hurt during this step.
e) Starting with the number 1/6″th drill bit drill through the can at your start mark. Use light pressure and high speed let the drill do the work. Reverse the drill to remove it.
f) Drill again as described above using the 1/4″ bit
g) Drill again as described above using the 3/8th bit.
h) Use the grind stone to remove the burrs left by the drilling process, use light pressure and have patients, you must remove any burrs or ridges completely.
i) Finish off by sanding with 400 grit sand paper, the inside wall must be completely smooth and burr Free. If you decide to touch it to feel the finish, watch out for metal splinters and sharp edges. if you are satisfied with the finish on the hole, go on to the next step, otherwise repeat the de-burring process.
j) Place a vertical strip of black tape over the cans’ seam on the inside. This ensures against any unwanted light leaks.
k) Epoxy the flat magnet to the top of the can lid, this is used to hold the “opener”.
l) Place the 1-1/4″ Washer “opener” on the lid’s magnets. The washer serves as an inexpensive metal opener or key for prying open the can lid and it is quite portable when used with the magnet.
Step 3: Attaching the Pinhole Plate (Aperture)
Since the back of the pinhole plate is extremely shiny you should conceal it, without obstructing the pinhole. Cut a single piece of black tape that measures a little bit wider than the pinhole plate about ½” on each side. Using a hole punch, punch out a circle in the middle of the tape. Place the hole in the tape over the pinhole which lies in the middle of the plate. Continue to conceal the rest of the pinhole plate with strips of black tape each ½” longer on either side of the plate. The best positioning of the tape is edge to edge, however it is just fine to overlap the strips of tape for best coverage.
The next step is to mount the pinhole plate. The extra ½” on the strips of tape provide enough adhesive to mount the plate to the body. Place the plate inside the can; center the pinhole within the “window” or drilled hole in the can. Press firmly in place.
Step 4: Building the Shutter
The shutter is a simple module to construct. The functionality is a simplistic vertical slide. Cut both pieces of felt and place them end to end, then cut and place a strip of black paper over the entire length of the felt, plus some for overlapping the ends. Use the craft glue to adhere the paper onto the felt. Use tape to seal seams and also on the back side of the felt just where it will cover the pinhole aperture.
Once the glue is dry you will need to check the fit of it against the circumference of the can. Wrap shutter assembly around the can to check the fit, it should be snug.
Place two 15” long strips of tape at the top edge and bottom edge of the shutter assembly
stretch around can, and overlap the excess paper use some white glue to secure the ends and secure with the two strips of black tape. Place 2 rubber bands to secure shutter onto the camera. The shutter should slide easily up and down on the can.
You’re Done, Now Have Some Fun!
Here are some final tips:
Make sure to close the sliding shutter when loading it with film or paper.
Don’t pound on lid too hard, you risk denting the body of the can, like I did in my prototype!
You can change out the pin hole for one of a different diameter by removing the existing pinhole plate and just tape in a different aperture plate, as described in step four.
Make sure that you tape everything up nicely to prevent light leaks.
I highly recommend that you decorate your pinhole camera.
For additional references, exposure charts and times, please refer to Pinhole Day website.