An Online Guide to Pinhole Photography

A pinhole camera is one of the simplest ways to get involved with and enjoy photography. The pinhole camera, or camera obscura, has existed for more than five hundred years and may even have a truly ancient pedigree. Unlike modern cameras, it does not require film or lenses -- in fact, even an amateur photographer can construct one at home using common household materials. Pinhole cameras are also a great way to introduce young children to the joy of photography and the basics of optics.

Features of Pinhole Photography

We've already mentioned that pinhole photography does not require film or a lens. In the most basic terms, a pinhole camera is simply a darkened box with a small hole in the body and a piece of light-sensitive filament inside. The hole itself acts as the lens, controlling the amount of light that enters the box. Over a very long exposure time, the light causes the creation of a negative image of whatever the pinhole faces. Pinhole photos tend to be less crisp than those taken with glass lenses, creating a unique look.

Pinhole Photography Throughout History

Pinhole photography has existed since long before the invention of the modern camera. One of the first surviving references to the fundamentals of pinhole photography comes to us from the canon of Greek philosophy, in Plato's Allegory of the Cave. It is believed that some Renaissance masters may have used early pinhole cameras to help them in their work on anatomy and perspective, fundamental parts of the Renaissance. Pinhole cameras have been used by artists of all kinds in the centuries since.

Different Types of Pinhole Cameras

There are as many types of pinhole camera as there are photographers who use them. A pinhole camera can be made from virtually any material as long as a totally light proof enclosure is created for the light-sensitive material to sit inside. Generally speaking, a smaller pinhole is best, but smaller openings lead to longer exposure times. A pinhole camera photographer must be sure there will be no motion in front of the camera's "lens" for as long as it takes -- often several hours.

Making Your Own Pinhole Cameras

One of the most interesting things about pinhole cameras is that you can make one yourself. In fact, self-made pinhole cameras are far more common than ready made ones, even among professional photographers. Pinhole cameras have been made out of many different materials, including potato chip cans, cereal boxes, and much more. It is possible to vary the output of a camera based on how it is made, so many photographers have several of them. Instructions on how to make your own are common.

Pinhole Photography For Kids

Pinhole cameras are a fun and unexpected way for children to enjoy the delights of photography. These cameras are often used in the classroom -- not only do they make great craft projects, but they are also valuable for teaching fundamental principles of optics and art. Not surprisingly, many educators and nonprofits have come together to provide pinhole photography resources just for children.

  • Pinhole Photography For Kids With Video
  • Oatmeal Box Pinhole Camera Instructions
  • Room With a View: The Yurt Pinhole Camera for Kids
  • K-12 Activity for Pinhole Camera Making and Fun
  • Wonders of Physics: The Pinhole Camera
  • Science, Optics and You: How Does it Work?
  • Observing Sun and Eclipse With Pinhole Cameras