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Pinhole pictures

Make your own version of a pinhole camera – the very first photographic device. Can you still take the perfect shot?
Plan a session with this activity

You will need

  • Double sided sticky tape
  • Black tape
  • An aluminium can
  • A needle
  • A cork
  • Pliers
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Strips of Velcro
  • A dark space to work in
  • Photographic paper
  • Craft materials (including large scissors, craft knife, glue stick, stiff black card and a metal ruler)
Pinhole camera template
PDF – 223.6KB

Before you begin

  • Have everyone bring to the session their smartphone or a digital camera, if they have one. Each group will need at least one of these.
  • Prepare a dark room with a well-lit area. If you’re shooting a landscape outside, go somewhere where there’s shade to take the picture.
  • Use the ‘Photographic paper development instructions’ below to prepare the development solution.

Run the activity

  1. Everyone should get into pairs or small groups. Each group will need a camera template, craft materials and a smartphone or digital camera.
  2. Groups should use scissors to cut out the template. Glue the cut-out onto the black card, using a glue stick, then cut out the template again. Glue the parts that join together as shown.
  3. Use the craft knife to score the dotted lines where the template folds. Fold along the dotted lines as shown.
  4. Cut a hole for the central shutter in the middle of the card. Try to make this as clean as possible, for a smooth shutter action.
  5. Give out the aluminium cans. Everyone should cut a 3cm x 3cm square from the can with scissors. Give out sandpaper to wear the square clean and flatten it, with care.
  1. Give out pliers, needles and corks. Clamp the pliers onto the sharp end of the needle and push the eye-end into the cork. Then, holding onto the cork, turn the sharp end of the needle against the centre of the metal square until the needle pierces through. The small hole created is the ‘aperture,’ which lets light enter the camera, like the pupil lets light into your eye.
  1. Give out the shutter and casing templates. These should be cut out with scissors. Then, the dotted hole in the middle of the shutter-casing template should be cut. Fold the shutter-casing edges inwards. The fold will hold the shutter when it’s moved.
  2. Give out black tape. Tape the metal plate to the inside of the camera box.
  3. Now you can glue the edges and stick the camera box together. Give out double-sided sticky tape and use this to attach Velcro to the hinged back of the camera, so that it can be opened or closed. Then glue the cut-out shutter over the pinhole. The shutter should slide in the shutter casing to reveal or hide the pinhole.
  4. Move the cameras to the dark space. Check that all the joins are well sealed. Open the back of the camera and put some photographic paper inside, with the shutter in the closed position.
  1. Choose a subject to photograph and place in a well-lit space with nothing else around it. Make sure the camera pinhole is pointed at the subject and is secure, as the exposure time will be relatively long and the camera needs to be still so the picture doesn’t blur. Open the shutter for between 20 and 30 seconds, then close it. The light allowed in should become the image on the photographic paper.
  2. While everyone’s photos are developed in the solution, check everyone’s understanding of the camera components and the process. See what the groups think would happen to their photos if there was too much or too little light. Ask what difference they think location makes, and how this might affect light exposure.
  1. Continue to check everyone’s understanding by asking what the groups think about the aperture (the pinhole) and its size. See what they think might happen with a smaller and a larger aperture.
  1. Everyone should try out their smartphone camera or digital camera. Give everyone some time to familiarise themselves with the device. Then, find out from the groups how the shutter, flash, exposure control and aperture work. See if anyone can change their shutter speed and aperture size. Ask if anyone preferred setting up and using a pinhole camera to the modern alternative.

 

Reflection

Each group made something that would’ve closely resembled the very earliest photographic technology. This means that a similar camera took the first ever photographs. If you were the person to master this new art, what would you take a picture of? What kind of things might be difficult to photograph with the pinhole, and what are its other limitations?

Safety

Dark

Provide some light, so the environment isn’t completely dark. Everyone must be able to see others and move around the area safely.

Flammable items

Always take care when using flammable items (especially if you’re near fire). Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Glue and solvents

Supervise young people appropriately when they’re using glue and solvent products. Make sure there’s plenty of ventilation. Be aware of any medical conditions which could be affected by glue or solvent use and make adjustments as needed.

Phones and cameras

Make sure parents and carers are aware and have given consent for photography.

Science

Supervise young people, and only do science activities that are advised and age appropriate for your section. Test activities first, to make sure you’re confident you can lead them safely. Use protective clothing where necessary.

Scissors

Supervise young people appropriately when they’re using scissors. Store all sharp objects securely, out of the reach of young people

Sharp objects

Teach young people how to use sharp objects safely. Supervise them appropriately throughout. Store all sharp objects securely, out of the reach of young people.

All activities must be safely managed. Do a risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Always get approval for the activity and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.