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Using your new pinhole camera


Set your new pinhole camera out in bright sunlight for at least five minutes to test its light-tight effectiveness.
Set your new pinhole camera out in bright sunlight for at least five minutes to test its light-tight effectiveness.

YOUR FIRST EXPOSURES

Make a light-tight test exposure first.

  • Take your newly-built camera into the darkroom (or any room that is 100% light-tight).
  • Load it with a 4" x 6" sheet of B&W print paper.
  • Place the lid on.
  • Make sure the pinhole is covered over with an opaque material.
  • Set the camera out in the sunlight and leave it there for at least five minutes without opening the pinhole.
  • Bring it back into the darkroom.
  • Open the camera.
  • Develop the photo paper.
  • Examine the finished print carefully, in bright light.
  • Wherever light leaks have hit the photographic paper (and hopefully, that will be nowhere), the paper will turn black after development.
  • You have just completed a test for light tightness.

If the paper remains completely white, you have built your pinhole camera to be truly light-tight. But, if you see a black "spray" on the photo paper, you have a light leak. Fix it with tape and/or paint. Repeat the test, if necessary. Once youre satisfied your pinhole camera is completely light-proof, its time to make an image.


YOUR FIRST PINHOLE CAMERA IMAGE

Set the loaded camera on a level, solid surface. Make sure it cant move during the exposure. Hopefully you will position the camera to take a picture of something that won't move either, like your house, the front steps or the family car. Ideally, it will be a nice, windless day and your scene will be bathed in direct sunlight or under a brightly overcast sky.

A good subject for your first pinhole image is one that is not going to move, such as these stone steps. Shot on Agfapan 100 in an 8X10 wood & cardboard box camera. Exposed 8 mins at /356.
A good subject for your first pinhole image is one that is not going to move, such as these stone steps. Shot on Agfapan 100 in an 8X10 wood & cardboard box camera. Exposed 8 mins at /356.

Your test pictures will appear as negative images. You will have to judge whether they are underexposed (top - too light), overexposed (medium - too dark) or just right (bottom).
Your test pictures will appear as negative images. You will have to judge whether they are underexposed (top - too light), overexposed (medium - too dark) or just right (bottom).

Open the pinhole for exactly 30 seconds, then cover it over. Bring the camera back into the darkroom and develop the photo paper. Do you have an image? If the developed print is mostly white, the image was under-exposed. (Repeat the process, trying a new exposure time of 60 seconds.) If the developed print is mostly black, too much light struck the paper and it was overexposed. (Try an exposure time at 15 seconds.) Continue in this trial-and-error manner until you produce an image that looks right to you.

HEY! IVE MADE A NEGATIVE IMAGE.

You will notice that youve produced a "negative" image. All the bright elements in the scene are represented by shades of black while the dark parts of the scene are represented by whitish tones. To turn this into a positive image, return to the darkroom and place your paper negative face-down on another piece of unexposed photo paper. Cover with a sheet of clear glass to flatten out both sheets. Expose to a bright white light for a few seconds, the develop the second sheet. You will probably have to experiment with how much light to apply to get a good positive image.

EXPERIENCE IS YOUR BEST LEARNING GUIDE

After making a few trial exposures, it will become clear that proper exposure times vary with the intensity of light.

An exposure made under cloudy skies will take 3 or 4 times as long as one made with direct sunlight. Check out our Exposure tips section.


You will find as you experiment that youll develop a much better idea of what will be in the image when using different exposure times. For the most dramatic effect, remember that the camera has universal focus (tremendous depth of field). Take advantage of this characteristic, and get close to your subject. Youll be amazed how close you can get.


If you take a photograph like this, be sure your model's hand remains completely motionless during the exposure to avoid blur. Notice the unlimited depth of field in a pinhole camera picture.
If you take a photograph like this, be sure your model's hand remains completely motionless during the exposure to avoid blur. Notice the unlimited depth of field in a pinhole camera picture.

Further information...

Pinhole exposure tips

Using film in your pinhole camera