Building a Pinhole Camera

Michele Wanke
pinholecamera

Building a pinhole camera is a fun and educational project that acquaints children with the wonders of photography. Your kids will marvel at the process of making an actual working camera from basic household materials. The construction phase is a bit time consuming, but the end result is well worth the effort.

What is a Pinhole Camera?

Pinhole camera reverse image

Pinhole cameras are rudimentary picture taking devices. They are made from containers with tight-fitting tops, black interiors and a tiny hole pierced in the center of one end. In a traditional camera, a lens is used to bend light waves into a narrow beam that produces an image on the film. With a pinhole camera, the hole acts like a lens by only allowing a narrow beam of light to enter. The pinhole camera produces the same type of upside-down, reversed image as a modern camera, but with significantly fewer parts. Pinhole camera designs vary, but certain factors are critical for the device to function properly:

  1. Both ends of the camera must be parallel.
  2. The pinhole must have a cover to prevent light from entering the camera when it is not taking a picture.
  3. The interior of the camera must be completely black; chipped or peeling paint on the lid will allow light to enter the camera and ruin your pictures.

Ideas for Pinhole Camera Structures

Pinhole camera from IndustrieDelamont

Size does not matter when it comes to building a pinhole camera. However, it is essential that you find a container that has a tight-fitting top. Some popular pinhole camera bases include:

  • Coffee can
  • Paint can
  • Vegetable shortening can
  • Peanut can
  • Pringles potato chip container
  • Oatmeal container
  • Shoe box
  • Hat box
  • Cereal box
  • Old suitcase

Building a Pinhole Camera

Constructing a pinhole camera takes time and patience. If you are making this project with children, be sure to supervise the use of sharp tools.

Materials:

  • Clean Quaker Oats oatmeal container that is void of dents, tears, and holes
  • Clean aluminum soda can
  • Matte (not glossy) black paint
  • Black contact paper
  • No.16 bead-threading needle
  • Wood clothespin
  • Craft glue
  • Manila folder
  • Duct tape
  • Ruler
  • One piece of light cardboard
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Exacto knife
  • Paper film--Resin coated black and white photographic paper (available in some camera stores and online)

Directions:

  1. hole in black box
    Draw a small box 2 3/4 inches from the bottom of the oatmeal box. The box should sit just beneath the Quaker's smiling face.
  2. Use the Exacto knife to cut out the box.
  3. Clean out any paper, dust or debris left in the opening.
  4. Cut the contact paper to cover the top and bottom of the oatmeal container's lid.
  5. Attach contact paper to lid, making sure you adhere the paper to the lid tightly.
  6. Apply black paint to the inside and outside of oatmeal container and the interior and exterior of the oatmeal container's lid, making sure you don't miss any spots.
  7. Pinhole plate
    Carefully cut the ends of the soda can.
  8. Create a pinhole plate by cutting a 2-by 3-inch piece from the can. The pinhole will be pressed into this plate.
  9. Glue beading needle to mouth of the clothespin making sure the needle protrudes about 1/4-inch from mouth of clothespin.
  10. Carefully press needle into aluminum pinhole plate. Stop pressing when you see the point of the needle sticking out the other side. Do not push too hard or your camera will not take sharp photos.
  11. Lightly sand the pinhole.
  12. Clean the hole by running water through it and gently patting it dry with a lint-free cloth.
  13. Place duct tape on the pinhole plate and carefully insert it into the camera body so that the pinhole is in the middle of the cut-out opening. If it does not adhere securely you can add a few drops of glue to the pinhole plate. It is vital that the pinhole plate is sealed completely to the camera's interior to prevent light from leaking in.
  14. box with home made shutter
    Make shutter guides by cutting two 1-by 7-inch strips from the manila folder.
  15. Cut two 10-inch strips of duct tape and place them over the shutters, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of tape overlapping each shutter guide.
  16. Make a shutter slide by cutting a 1 1/2-by 2-inch piece from the file folder.
  17. Gently place the shutter guides on the camera and align them over the pinhole box.
  18. Remove one end of the shutter guide and insert the shutter. Re-align the shutter guides as necessary to allow the shutter to slide easily to cover and uncover the pinhole.
  19. Enter a dark room or closet and slide paper film behind the pinhole with the shiny side of the paper facing the pinhole.
  20. Place lid on camera and test camera outdoors.

Other Ways to Make a Pinhole Camera

There are a variety of ways you can construct pinhole cameras. Directions can be found on Kodak's website and various educational websites. Regardless of what method you follow, the key is to make the process fun for children and allow them the joy of constructing a device that takes real photos.

Building a Pinhole Camera