July 3, 2007

make a pinhole lens for your camera!


pinhole bench

tutorial time! and this one is for photoheads out there, no more yarn talk! i’m gonna show you how to make a pinhole “lens” for any SLR camera. everything should work with a film camera, but with digital you’ll be able to experiment more to get the best results without having to pay for film/processing for each trial (which of course is the case with any kind of shooting, not just pinhole). you’ll need:

  • your slr camera (any camera with a removable lens)
  • a body cap for whatever type of camera you have
  • a scrap of metal (i use soda/beer cans)
  • a needle (little sewing needle – a few different sizes if you want to try different pinhole apertures)
  • tape
  • sandpaper
  • a drill

here’s what you will be making:

pinholecap1.jpg pinholecap2.jpg

first you need to drill a hole in the center of the body cap. (at first, i tried using a hammer+nail to punch the hole – do not try this!! it was a terrible idea!) if you don’t have a drill, you probably have a local friend or family member with one (my dad helped me with this part – thanks dad!)

now make your pinhole! cut a little piece of can metal (1/2-3/4 inch square). i have found the best pinhole-making tool is a craft blade like this – you can replace the blade with your needle to give the needle a great handle, perfect! now hold the metal down on a stack of newspapers or a magazine and gently twist the needle into the center. gently is key. and twist, don’t just push! you are trying to make a perfect circle here. if the hole isn’t perfectly round, the “lens” won’t work.

the size of your hole determines how in-focus your image is – there are pinhole aperture charts around the web, but i just kind of guess, and if it’s blurry i make a different sized hole. my hole is the size of the body of my needle (i kept twisting until it was all the way through, not just the tip) and i like the focus of my images. they could be sharper if i had a perfect aperture, but i like them kind of ghostly.

so once your hole is good, you need to sandpaper both sides of the metal so there’s no little bit of raised metal around the hole. this is an important step. my first try at pinhole, i didn’t think it would matter so i skipped that step, and this is what happened. so if you don’t want your images to be through a tunnel, sandpaper! and stick the needle through to make sure the hole is clean of little metal flakes. it’s also a good idea to sandpaper around the big hole in the body cap.

now tape the pinhole onto the outside of the body cap, with the hole centered in the big hole. it’s a little tricky to see if it’s centered – i hold the cap up to a window/light, looking through the inside, to see through the little pinhole. it should look like this:


pinhole1.jpg pinhole2.jpg

you’re done! you’ve made a lens! yay! ok now time to shoot!!

you’ll need to set your camera to fully manual, for exposure and focus. in my experience, with my particular camera+pinhole, i generally use either a 15 second or 30 second shutter speed, which means i always need to have the camera sitting on something (table, shelf, tripod, whatever). indoors/at night i up the iso to 1600, with sunlight i lower it. it’s all about trial and error here – especially with digital. just guess and see what works. i have not shot much (at all?) yet outdoors in bright sunlight, but i’m guessing i’d use 100 or 200 iso and 10 seconds or less…

here are a few of my favorite digital pinhole shots!

pinholeportrait2.jpg pinholeneedles.jpg

moving light drawing - do stuff!

pinholecandles.jpg pinholeportrait1.jpg

this version of pinhole, especially with digital, is just for fun, to say you made your lens. actually making a pinhole camera, and using film or paper, is a much cooler experience (but of course it takes more supplies, resources, money, time, etc…). if you want to go further, i recommend the “pintoid“, definitely my favorite pinhole type that i’ve tried so far. i’ve gotten some very cool shots with mine. here’s another place to get started if you want to go further.

if you try this, i’d LOVE to see your results – leave a comment or send me an email! have fun!!


(this post was re-formatted a bit in August 2012… and the unnecessary top paragraph cut out: “ok i meant to have this up about a week ago, but i was struck with an injured back, sick loved ones, and a death in the family… so, i wasn’t really up to blogging… but i’m well now and ready to write!”)

Filed under: photos,tutorials — leethal @ 11:03 am
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