DIY Pinhole Camera: The Great Pinholio

Pinhole cameras are something I’ve seen lots of photographers use, often to fantastic effect. Making great use of motion blurs, people moving, and the exaggerated wide angle that often accompanies the simplest of cameras. Surprisingly, I’ve never tried my hand at it, but I’ve been seeing so many interesting images created using pinhole cameras (for example, Moni’s Blatherskite blog – some great images produced while wheeling a camera around on a trolley in a library) that I thought I had to give it a go.

It’s possible to buy ready-made pinhole cameras, such as the beautiful wooden ones made by Zero Image, but I was in a crafty mood, and had nothing better to do with my weekend… so I set about making one myself. I’d seen a guide to making a pinhole camera with foam board, so started cutting pieces out and hot-gluing them together. Using the measurements in the link above as a rough guide, I decided I wanted to make this pinhole camera produce a panoramic image, as it’s my favourite format, and suited to slow, long-exposure techniques.

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With some help from the cat, and some spools salvaged from a broken Recesky TLR camera, I soon had a body that looked halfway decent.

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I inserted some struts for stability, and to block out any light that might stray in through the spool holes at the top of the camera (which kind of worked, but kind of didn’t). I covered the back with a sheet of felt, to try to block out any remaining light (cutting foam board is a vague science, and I was only armed with a pair of crappy scissors and a rather blunt scalpel).

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Some fetching purple paint for the front and back, and a couple of hairbands later… et voila! “Pinholio” (coined by my partner) was now ready to face the world!

Loading it up was a bit of a faff – the take-up spool tended to spin backwards under the tension from the film, so had to be held still when an exposure was being taken, or the film would shoot back towards the roll, ruining the exposure. The shutter (a simple tab of foam board, slid in and out of place) would also move the whole camera when I pulled it in or out, and the lightness of the whole thing meant it wasn’t very stable.

I shot my roll of Fomapan 400 during a walk around the village, then we went for a pint and Sunday Lunch at the local pub, before heading home to develop the roll.

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Unfortunately, the first roll was a complete failure – the whole thing was overexposed massively. It was evenly black after being developed and fixed, which leads me to believe that it wasn’t just leaking light when the photos were being taken, but afterwards as well – stray light must be getting into the body somehow (we were in the pub for about an hour, during which time I think the film got completely exposed).

So, not to be deterred, I dug out a roll of Ilford Pan F+ 50 film, very low sensitivity, and tried again. This time, just taking snapshots in the garden, because I was full of nut roast and beer by this point. Upon immediately developing (semi-stand, in Rodinal 1+50 for 11 minutes at 20ºC), I pulled the roll out of the tank and lo! I had images!

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Granted, they were very light-leaky, and after scanning they had to be heavily tarted up in Lightroom, but images they were! I really like the softness the pinhole gives to each images, and the almost-spooky feel.

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I think they work well when there’s some foreground detail as well as background, like this one of my partner having a smoke in the garden. The grid of the garden table gives a weird perspective, like leading lines.

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I also can’t help but wonder how Pinholio will deal with colour film – imagine the effects produced by light leaks!

I’m going to wait for a sunny day, try to block a few more holes, and run a couple of rolls of slow colour film through it, to see how it turns out. This will definitely not be my last homemade pinhole camera…

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