How to make a pinhole camera

Carlton Boyce / 03 May 2016

Find out how to recycle old food packaging to make a simple pinhole camera.



Making and using a pinhole camera is a great way to spend a rainy day with your grandchildren and will introduce them to photography at the same time.

You don’t need much in the way of materials, but it’s better to gather them all together in advance so you can maintain momentum on the day.

Related: rainy day indoor activities for grandchildren

You will need

Materials

  • An empty round tin with a removable lid. A large coffee or hot chocolate container with a plastic lid is ideal
  • Black paint. Blackboard paint from a DIY store works well
  • A sheet of black paper or card
  • Blu-Tack
  • Sticky tape
  • A sheet of red cellophane. Old sweet wrappers will do at a pinch!
  • Photographic paper. Amazon is a good source and the sheets cost about £1 each

Tools

  • A number 10 needle
  • Small hammer
  • Paint brush
  • Small torch

How to make

Step 1

Paint the inside of the tin with the black paint to make sure that no light is reflected off it when you open the shutter.

Step 2

Paint the lid of the tin too if it isn’t completely opaque. If it’s flexible you might be better sticking some black paper or card over it instead as the paint might peel off as it flexes when you take it on and off.

Step 3

The lid is where you will introduce the photographic paper, so you’ll need to make the pinhole at the other end. It needs to be in the centre and very small (hence the name ‘pinhole camera’!), so don’t make it too large: a number 10 needle is ideal. The best result comes from tapping the pin in gently with the hammer and rotating it to get a perfectly round hole.

Step 4

The shutter is simply a piece of Blu-Tack large enough to cover the pinhole.

Pinhole camera

Loading the pinhole camera

You load the camera with photographic paper at the lid end. You must do so under a ‘safe light’, which is simply a torch with red cellophane over the end, used in a darkened room.

Cut the photographic paper into squares that will fit inside the lid of the camera. You must do this in your safe red light or you will expose the paper.

Tape one piece on the inside of the lid and put the lid back on the container. Make sure your Blu-Tack ‘shutter’ is in place and covering the pinhole.

Using your pinhole camera

You use your pinhole camera by lifting the Blu-Tack to expose the paper to light for the appropriate length of time.

In bright sunlight 1-2 seconds is enough, but on a cloudy day or if you are shooting indoors you might need 3-4 seconds.

After this time, close the shutter by replacing the Blu-Tack. You have (probably) just taken a photograph!

Develop the paper in accordance with the instructions you got with it.

You might need to experiment with various exposure times and situations to get the best results.

Using your camera as a pinhole camera

You can use a digital camera instead, if you prefer. If you have a DSLR a spare camera body sensor cap (the one that protects your camera when no lens is fitted) is ideal. With any other type of camera a sheet of black paper over the lens will do, as long as you are careful to seal the edges.

Make a small pinhole in the paper or cap with a number 10 needle.

Now make a paper shutter from the same black paper and stick it above the pinhole. If you are using a plastic cap then use Blu-Tack.

Take a photograph as per the instructions above.

Have you made a pinhole camera? If so, why not share your experience with us?

Visit our photography section more tips and tricks.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.