Pinhole is the ultimate low tech photography that is truly within everyone’s reach. Any box or container can be turned into a lensless Pinhole camera and enthusiasts have successfully converted everyday household items such as a shoe box, cookie jar, drink can, match box, salt shaker, and suitcase, as well as the unusual toilet roll, watermelon, and a toy truck.
The idea is simple. You light-proof the object of choice, create a pinhole on its surface, and place photographic film or paper on the opposite end of the hole to record your image. Light from the subject travels through the pinhole with the top of the subject hitting the bottom of the film/paper plane and the bottom of the subject hitting the top of the plane, thus resulting in an upside-down image.
The pinhole itself can be made as precisely or as loosely as you wish, bearing in mind that the quality of the hole will impact the final image quality. A thin piece of flat metal is commonly used for the pinhole with any rough edges gently smoothed out. See Tom Lindsay’s useful demonstration using a sewing needle to make a quality pinhole on a square piece of brass shim.
One of the simplest pinhole camera constructions I came across is made of a metal paint can. The cylinder container is light-proofed with black paint on the inside and a pinhole is made on its curved side. A flexible, bendy black magnet is handy for covering the hole between exposures and the can’s lid is easily removed to get photographic paper or film in and out of the can. If you would rather use a ‘proper’ film loading mechanism, remove a camera’s lens and make a hole in the lens lid. You can make the hole yourself or use a ready-made body cap for this purpose.
This also applies to the digital domain, where you can simply fit a NO DUST body cap or a digital zone plate cap on your DSLR and record the pinhole image digitally.
Once your camera is constructed, pinhole made, and your camera’s f number figured out, you are ready to take pictures. To work out your exposure, try readily available dedicated Pinhole exposure calculators or one of several Pinhole exposure apps.
Experiment with different photographic papers, films, and long exposure times while exploring the camera’s limitless depth of field. You could work with more than one pinhole in your camera for unusual multiple imaging effects, use a curved container where the recording medium itself is at an angle and put to practice the possibility of photographing in a public place with your camera disguised as a household item.
It is important to point out that ready-made pinhole cameras are also available, ranging from a several dollars worth basic cardboard construction to solid professional bodies such as Ilford’s (4x5inch) Harman Titan that will set you back several hundreds. That said, the construction and customisation process of the camera is said by users to be a source of great pleasure as well as an inspiring lesson in the fundamentals of photography.