Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Obscur(a) Photography, part 2: make your own camera, develop your own pictures

..a continuation from part 1, a brief introduction to pinhole photography, and the simple workings of this very simple camera.

Now we continue in this Obscur(a) pinhole photography series- making a homemade camera from household items! (and also pictures, thanks to some old-fashioned darkroom supplies)

Below is a step-by-step tutorial/record/blog post of my first pinhole camera construction back in 2008. We made that camera from an oatmeal box, following the very excellent tutorial by Stewart Woodruff. If you would like to make your own pinhole camera, I highly recommend this very detailed, user-friendly, step-by-step tutorial, which covers camera construction to taking pictures to developing them at home.

Without further ado, here is my 2008 blog post of our first pinhole camera construction, picture-taking, developing in the bathroom-darkroom, and results!


Our new camera!!!!!!!  No, really!  It's a new summer project- we are making a pinhole camera to take real photographs, with the assemblage of  an oatmeal box, and several other inexpensive items. 
Pinhole Camera Blog!
A pinhole camera uses the most basic ideas of photography to produce an image on a film medium.  No lens is needed, just a pin hole of light entering a dark box, projecting the image onto photographic paper. (film can be used, too)    The photo paper is then developed in a darkroom with basic black and white photo chemicals, making a paper "negative" of the image.  This paper negative can then be placed on top of a blank sheet of photo paper, (and with exposure to light),  to make contact prints of the image- you can make as many prints from your original paper negative as you like. 

The actual picture-taking takes seconds- so it's back to the old days in terms of the subject needing to remain still (for an average of 20 seconds or so) to get as clear of an image as possible.  There are many basic photography principles we can learn here- aperture size, length of exposure depending on the lighting conditions,  focal length needed for a focused image, composition, developing film, making prints, etc.  So I hope our whole family enjoys this project, and I hope you will stop in to see how we are progressing! 

The very complete, family-friendly instructions we are following are at this website here-
authored by Stewart Lewis Woodruff.  Thank you, Stewart!

You can see photographs folks have made with their pinhole cameras at the Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day website.

So here's to taking photos with an oatmeal box, making oatmeal cookies to go along with it, for 100% whole grain, all natural, great fun and learning!!!

I will just keep adding our progress to the end of this post, so please scroll down for the latest activity.....

Day 1- June 8, 2008
First, we emptied the box, placing our future oatmeal cookies in a ziploc for now.  Then we measured a place to put the hole where the pinhole will eventually be......

You can either cut out a little square at the measured location, or drill a hole with a dremel tool or drill.  We used the drill- making a small pilot hole first, then using a larger drill bit to finish the job.

Then I removed the loose paper around the edges of the hole with scissors, and wiped out the oatmeal and cardboard dust with a moist paper towel.

Next, we traced the lid with a pencil onto contact paper, cut out the circles, and lined the outside and inside of the lid with the contact paper circles.  Then we put a bead of white glue around the seam between the bottom of the box and the cylinder.  These measures are taken to prevent and light leaks into the camera body. (the inside of the box).

When the glue was dry, it was time to paint.......

A little flat black spray paint on the lid, bottom of the box, and inside of the box.....

And here we are as of June 8, 2008......

Tomorrow...hopefully we'll make the actual pin hole in a sheet of aluminum (the side of a soda can), and then mount that inside the camera body, lined up with the shutter hole we made today.  First I need to find a #16 beading needle to make the hole- wish me luck!

Day 2-June 9, 2008

Today we made the aperture/"lens"......

The "lens" is really just the pinhole.  The pinhole produces it's sharpest images when it is a clean, crisp, round hole.  So the hole is made in aluminum, rather than just punching the hole in the side of the box.  Our a pinhole plate was provided by a Kern's Nectar can (peach flavor) - Son is cutting off the ends of the can here with scissors. (don't use your best, sharpest pair- it won't stay sharp) Then eventually, we get a nice sheet of metal.......and cut it into a 2X3-inch rectangle, with rounded corners.

The pinhole drill......we ended up finding a teeny #12 needle to make the pinhole.  Since it is so very very very thin, the needle needs a handle, or it will be too hard to ...uh well, handle, and will most likely break.  The needle was mounted to it's clothespin handle with a dab of epoxy.

Son very carefully makes the pinhole.  The needles is eased very gently into the metal, and both sides are sanded with fine sandpaper. (we used 250 grain)

Here's our peachy little pinhole........

At last, the pinhole plate is glued into place with epoxy, with black electrical tape surrounding the edges to seal out any unwanted light leaks.

Look at the teeny tiny size of that lens/aperture!!!!  I bet it gets f2000!  The depth of field will be fantastic, I hope!    It does not seem possible that the tiny stream of light this camera produces will fill a sheet of photo paper with a large image!!!  We shall soon see......

Coming up next time.....making the shutter!

Signing off for June 9, 2008........

Day 3- June 12, 2008

Last time, we made the pinhole, and installed it in the camera body.  Now we move to the final part of making the camera:

The shutter.........

Here are all the remaining parts to install.  The two strips are the shutter guides, and the rectangle with the cardboard handle is the shutter itself.  The black strips are electrical tape to stick the shutter guides on the camera body.  The guides were made from a manilla file folder, and the shutter handle from a granola bar box. (also 100% whole grain!)

This is how the shutter mechanism will work.  The shutter free floats underneath the shutter guides, and slides back and forth.  Now it's time to put it on the camera body.....

First, I put the guides on the body by sticking them on loosely with the electrical tape.  Then, I loosened and lift one side of both guides to put the shutter underneath the guides.  The tape is restuck, and I adjusted the space between the guides so the shutter would slide easily, but not too easily.  After the guides were stuck back in place firmly, I drew a mark on the guides above and below the pinhole, so the shutter handle can be placed directly over the pinhole.  This helps in aiming the camera when setting up the shot.


And here is the finished pinhole camera!!  Mr. Quaker still looks cheerful, even though he is gagged!!! 

I would love to bring this camera along on our family vacation in a few you think I could get it by airport security, without them thinking it's some sort of homemade paraphernalia? 

Now we're off to go purchase the photographic paper, and darkroom chemicals....

Next time....taking photos!!!!!!  Maybe we'll have a few developed that we can scan in and post!

Day 4- June 15, 2008
A very exciting day!  We got all our supplies together, read up on darkroom procedures, and took and developed some photos!!!

The "film" : Ilford resin coated photographic paper- purchased at the photography supply store.  It came in 5X7 size, about $20 for 25 sheets.  We got the "pearl" finish (closer to matte than glossy)  The photo paper served as a "paper negative" , and the  "positive" contact prints (the actual photos).

Taking  the photos:

All paper loading, developing, and printing must be done in the dark under a red "safelight" to avoid exposing the paper to white light. (save the white light exposure for the actual picture-taking)

There are red/brown darkroom bulbs you can purchase at photo supply stores, but we just tried Husband's  (one of many) red  LED flashlights, and it worked out just fine. 

Our bathroom has a window, so we covered it up with some black foam board we had handy....

The painter's tape worked fine to hold it up in the window space, but it let light through the cracks- so an andditional layer of black electrical talpe sealed those cracks.  We toed in  a towel int he door threshold to keep out the light there.

Our bathroom is alaso really small- as you can see, no counter space to work on.....

But luckily, the card table fit into the shower.....

Loading the camera:

Making sure the shiny side faces outward, the photo paper is placed inside the camera body on the opposite wall from the pinhole, so the light travels through the pinhole, and projects the image onto the paper.  The the top of the camera is put back on- all of this done in the darkroom under the safelight.  Now it's time to take a photo!

Here is the oatmeal box taking a photo of the same Gerber Daisy (thank you for the ID, KellySAHM and Wheaties2bk!!)  Notice the bloom is a bit peeked today- it's about done.  Anyway, the flip flop on top of the camera helps to steady it, as there was a breeze, and without it, the camera would have blown away.  You want the camera to be as still as possible for the sharpest-possible photo.  Since the exposure times are long, it's impossible to hand hold the camera for a  fairly still image.

We tried the exposure time of 20 seconds as suggested by the website instructions, but found that in today's cloudy conditions,  with our specific camera,  that it wasn't nearly enough.  In fact, when we tried to develop the paper negative, there weas no image at all!  (just white paper) So we increased the exposure time to 1 1/2 minutes on average, and that produced an image.

So after taking the photo, it's back to the darkroom again to remove the paper negative from the camera, and develop it......

The first tray on the left is the developer- put the paper in there first.  When it seems developed enough, move it to the middle tray, which is just plain water ("stop bath") to stop the developing- so the photo doesn't get too dark.  The third tray has the fixer solution in it, which fixes the image to the paper, so it doesn't fade over time.    After the fixer, just run clear water over the print to wash away all chemicals, and air dry on some towels (old ones!)  All this is done, of course, under the safelight in the dark.

Ok, ok...the photos!!!!!!  I am learning to appreciate the science and art of film developing!  I need more practice in figuring out proper exposure times in the camera, as well as development times, too...but here is what we did today:

On the left will be the original "paper negatives" - the original images taken with the camera.  On the right will be the contact print "positives"- the photo prints that were later made from these negatives (explained in a minute)

The left is the original  "negative" developed form the photo taken in the camera, the right, the "positive" print made from the negative.  In this shot, I put the camera facing up at the sky at the base of the pine tree in the veggie garden.......

Here'e the Gerber Daisy..(negative on the left, the positive print on the right)  this one could have used more exposure time.....  Notice how they are mirror images of each other, in addition to being of opposite color?

And here is my pinhole self-portrait!  This camera has an incredibly wide angle- probably due to the curvature of the oatmeal box bending the photo paper.  The exposure for all of these were about  a minute and a half, with the wind, as well as  just being human,  causing movement and blurriness.  The shape of the pinhole can affect the sharpness of the photos, too. 

The photos filled up the entire 5X7 sheets of photo paper beautifully!  They may not be as clear as photos taken with a manufactured camera and lens, and they may be in black and white......but these photos were made with an oatmeal box,  pinhole made with a needle, and no lens!!!!!  I think that is very, very cool!!!!!!!!!  Homemade oatmeal box photos!!!!  I'm tickled!!!!!

How to make the "positive" photos from the original negatives:

It's called "contact printing".  The procedure involves putting 2 pieces of photo paper together: (in the darkroom under the safelight)  The glossy side of a blank piece of photo paper, and the developed side of a paper negative.  The paper negative goes on top.  These stacked papers are put on a hard surface, with a plate of glass on top of them, to maintain contact. (I used the glass from a regular store-bought 8X10 picture frame) Then, hold a 15-watt white bulb on a cord (with a clicker switch) 3 feet above the stacked papers under glass, and turn the light on for a few seconds. (under 5)  The dark areas of the negative keep the light from passing through to the blank photo paper, while the light areas expose the blank photo paper, all together, making a positive image.  After turning off the light (and again in dark conditions) develop this new print in the same chemicals as before.  This time though, you have a "positive" print of the original image taken by the camera!  You can make as many prints from the original "paper negative" as you wish! 

Daughter really loved the darkroom process.  She made lots of contact prints with me tonight.  We need to get more photo paper!

Ending reflections:
Although the camera is made with pennies from household items, the photo paper and darkroom chemicals are more expensive- about $20 for a pack of 5X7 photo paper (25 sheets- it goes fast!) and about $15-20 of developing chemicals- that will last you a long time, though.

For our purposes, it does not seem necessary to use a special darkroom safelight.  Many people seem to have come up with creative and inexpensive ways to create a red safelight, blocking out most unwanted white light.  The red LED flashlight worked for us, and others have wrapped white lights inside fixtures in red cellophane.  (be careful of melting!) I read that the red tinted party bulbs can leak tungsten light at the base, and some folks don't recommend them.  The worst scenario I've read for this is fuzziness in photos- what fuzziness you tolerate may vary. 

About half of the photos we took today came out- we need to get a better feel for lighting conditions and correct exposure times.  That will come with practice! 

An ending funny anectote:
There was one photo I  wished to have come out- the front of the restaurant we ate at tonight.  They have a nice neon sign, and parking lot lighting that illuminates the building really well.  The photo was taken at sunset, and we put the hatchback door up, and placed the camera on top of that for the shot.  Son and I  estimated a 3- minute exposure time with the low lighting conditions, but we really needed much more than that (we ended up with white paper hardly exposed)  There Son and I were, standing at the back of our vehicle, the back door up, and  an oatmeal box  perched upon it way up high, all while counting out loud for 3 minutes.   Crazy, crazy people...we're out there!!!! 

Thus ends the Pinhole Photography Blog!!!!  I'll post more photos in future blogs as we practice......

Back to 2012
Did you know???  Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day is coming soon!  Every year on the last Sunday in April, folks all over the world make pictures with their pinhole cameras, and upload them into a gallery for all to view and appreciate.  It's a day to slow down our hyper-click photography habits and appreciate the very basics of photography- the Zen Of Making Images, if you will.  For weeks before, workshop groups get together to learn how to instruct their cameras and take pictures, in preparation for Pinhole Day.

In 2012, Worldwide Pinhole Day is taking place n April 29th.  Please check out the website, and galleries of past years to see some very interesting photographs.

Next time, some very unusual pinhole cameras..........


  1. Thanks so much for this. I want to try making one out of an altoid's box:

  2. Have a great time building and using your altoid pinhole cam, Theresa! I'm looking forward to reading about it! (-: