How to make a pinhole camera at home

Oct. 15, 2011

Shandi Gross

Every Cell phone produced in recent years is equipped with a digital camera to capture every Facebook-worthy moment. But before the digital age, photos were actually captured on film. In the 200 years that photography has been around, it has changed drastically.

You can revisit the past, though, by making a cheap, easy pinhole camera. It has no moving parts or a lens, just a body and a tiny opening.
With something so simple, you can make amazing pictures (even without using Photoshop).

This is what you’ll need:

One light-tight canister, such as an oatmeal can or an empty shoebox. For this example, I am going to use an old Slim Fast can.

You also need flat black paint (not glossy or shiny), a piece of thin flat metal, like aluminum foil or a carefully cut out piece of a soda can, a small pin or sewing needle, a pair of scissors or an Xact-o knife and photographic paper.

Most of these things can be found around the house, and photographic paper can be bought at camera stores for pretty cheap. RC paper is easiest and cheapest.

1. Cut a hole in the middle of your canister. Make this hole bigger than a pinhole but smaller than your piece of flat metal.

2. Paint your canister a flat black. The flat black absorbs light and prevents it from bouncing around and ruining your photo. Be sure to paint the lid on the inside and the outside.

3. Paint it all over. Be sure that your canister is light tight, meaning that its completely black inside so that no light can possibly get in there.

4. While the paint is drying, make the pinhole in the metal piece. Place something like a magazine under the metal piece so you don’t stab yourself with the pin. Take the pin, and very carefully poke a tiny hole in the center of the metal piece. Don’t push the pin all the way through or the hole will be too big and too much light will get in.

5. After the paint is completely dry, glue the metal piece to the canister over the hole you cut. Cover the hole completely and be sure that it’s sealed light tight, as well. I recommend super glue, but you can use any type of glue as long as it will stick securely.

Let the glue dry completely.

6. Make a small shutter to cover the hole until you’re ready to take your picture. Just use something simple like a small strip of electrical tape or a small piece of dark paper that is hinged so it can be opened and closed over the pinhole.

7. You must have a completely dark room for this last step. You can use a safe light, which is just a 15 watt bulb in a lamp, pointing away from you, covered with a few layers of red. This will help you see, but won’t expose your photographic paper.

Cut your paper to fit inside your canister, and place it on the opposite side of the small pinhole. You can use scotch tape to stick the paper in place if need be. Close up the lid and the shutter tightly.

Yay! You’re ready to take a picture of something! Find a flat and steady surface to put your camera on. Then open the shutter and step back.

Exposure times will be different for each photo. Use a longer time for indoors or cloudy and a shorter time for a sunny day. Count off the seconds in your head.

On average, seven to 12 seconds will do the trick. Close the shutter and you’re done!

Now, don’t make a darkroom out of the dorm bathrooms; if you are a photography student, the photo lab on campus is reserved for you.

If you aren’t a photography student, however, anywhere safe and dark with a water supply and some counter room will suffice to develop your photo. The actual chemicals can be bought in a camera store, but they require special disposal and they stink, which means you would need proper ventilation.

There are, however, lots of natural, homemade recipes for developer and fixer that you can use. There’s one on Click on downloads at the top of the page and the recipe will be at the bottom of the page.

The recipe involves using coffee and vitamin C. You can also look up how to develop a photo online for developing times. Or, you can become best friends with a photography student and have them do it all for you.

Good luck and be safe!