photo craft: pinhole photography

I unpacked a box of camera and darkroom supplies in my office yesterday, hoping a missing book on the history of cameras was inside. The book remains missing, but I did find a plastic shopping bag with 25 matchbox pinhole cameras inside the box along with larger rectangle paper box and cylindrical oatmeal box pinhole cameras.

coffee and blueberry pie, shot with Nikon d7000, pinhole body cap, f/150, ISO 200, 100 seconds

While a pinhole camera can be made out of practically any enclosed space (a hollowed out pumpkin, discarded refrigerator, soda can, station wagons, or large warehouse lofts), pinhole cameras are basically box cameras with a small hole (aperture) made by piercing a safety pin or sewing needle into a thin sheet of metal then taped to one end while the film or photographic paper is on the other end.

The only way to control the exposure of an image is with time and film speed. Exposure times often range from half a second to several hours, making a tripod or other stable surface necessary. Pinhole images have that characteristic soft focus dreamy look with heavy vignetting and since the depth of field is so extreme (f/150 for my Nikon pinhole), all areas of the image, near to far, will be in focus.

When I developed film in a traditional wet darkroom, I did a number of pinhole projects. I love pinhole photography’s slowness. Each photograph is deliberate and at the same time surprising. I also love the ability to make project specific cameras to scale out of practically anything. My favorite pinhole cameras by far are my SLRs (Pentax K1000 for film and Nikon d7000 for digital) outfitted with a pinhole body cap since they’re small enough to travel with. I made the pinhole cap for my Pentax and bought one for my Nikon. You can also make or buy larger format cameras, a 4×5 or 8×10. The pinhole possibilities are endless.

More on Pinhole Photography:

This article has it all: the history of pinhole photography plus how to build a number of different cameras along with exposure charts and books to reference.

Tuesday self-portrait, shot with Nikon d7000, pinhole body cap, f/150, ISO 200, 1 second

How to turn your SLR into a pinhole camera or get the app for your iPhone:

This video shows you how to turn your film or digital SLR into a pinhole camera.

Photojojo sells a pinhole “lens” made out of opaque film so that no dusts enters the camera to fit your Nikon or Canon cameras, if you’d rather buy one.

You can also get the Pinhole HD for your iPhone (the reviews are mixed though).

You can also turn your pinhole images into a digital stop motion video like this evocative black and white short, domtreppe: the movie.

How to make an image with your digital SLR pinhole lens:

1. Put your camera on a tripod or steady surface (a pint glass, table, road, etc).

2. Place the pinhole lens cap on your camera.

3. Set the camera mode to M, for manual.

4. Under MENU, set the WHITE BALANCE to the appropriate light setting (AUTO, INCANDESCENT, FLUORESCENT, DIRECT SUNLIGHT…).

5. Set the ISO to 100 or 200 (for the least amount of digital noise).

6. For the highest quality resolution, set IMAGE QUALITY to RAW.

7. Set the shutter speed according to the light situation, for example, in bright sunlight, your shutter speed will be around 1-2 seconds.

8. After taking the picture, view the image on the LCD. If the image is too dark, add more time. If the image is too light, reduce the time. You can also read the histogram after the photo is captured to check the exposure. If the graph shows all the data scrunched on the right, the image is overexposed or if the data is scrunched on the left, the image is underexposed.

*Of course, you may want an over-or under-exposed image. Either way, being able to read the histogram is a good thing since it improves your image-making. Once the exposure is set, you can use the settings in similar light conditions.

What photo projects do you have in the works? Let me know if you have a specific photo craft topic you would like covered, and I’ll add it to the list.

Until next time.


  1. says

    Such an informative and interesting post! I love your self portrait and the dreamy quality the pinhole photography lends. You’ve opened up a whole new world for me here.

  2. says

    I know a guy who makes really awesome images with pinhole cameras. I had NO idea I could make some, digitally, with my d7000! I’m so excited to try this!

  3. says

    These are gorgeous. I *love* the dreamy quality.
    And thanks for all the information – I’ve been wanting to play around with this, and now I know how to!

  4. says

    How interesting. I have never heard of this before but it’s interesting to think about. Love the first one in particular! (And the shoes in the second…)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *