Five Minute Introduction to Pinhole Photography
Five Minute Introduction to Pinhole Photography

pinhole photography starts with a pinhole camera. You can make your own from any light tight container, such as a cookie tin or an oatmeal box. usually photo paper is used to capture the image in a homemade camera and what you get is a negative print. You can reverse it to a positive in a dark room or by scanning and then inverting the image. When the camera is designed so the paper is curved you may see some beautiful distortions of straight lines. If the film or paper is flat then the image looks fairly normal although pinhole images do have two special propertie. One is that since there’s no lens there’s an infinite depth of field. Everything is in focus, whether inches away or in the distance. The other special property is that because the aperture is so small the exposure time will be relatively long compared to a lens camera. You wouldn’t typically take a picture indoors at f/22 so imagine working at f/138 or f/250 which are typical pinhole camera F numbers. And if you’re using photo paper then the exposure will be even longer since the ISO a photo paper is so much slower than film usually about 6 or 12 rather than 100 or 200 or 400. The long exposure means that anything moving in the scene will blur or even disappear. This room was full of people during the long exposure but no one stayed in one place long enough to register on the film. You can also buy a pinhole camera or a kit to build one. My favorite purchased camera is my Zero 2000 which I bought at Freestyle photo. It takes medium format film and I get 12 negatives per roll. I always keep this camera and a light meter in my bag. I’ve used it to take almost two thousand pictures, mostly in restaurants. This is my series called “Squaremeals: a pinhole diary of eating out.” But also at amusement parks, hotels… I’ve done still lives. I also like working with toy cameras and my Diana plus has a pinhole setting so I can use this camera with either a lens or with a pinhole aperture. Here are some of my other cameras. This beauty was hand-built by Mark Brown, and this is one version of the pinhole blender by Chris Peregoy. The Monochrome and the P-Sharan you’re an both of which I built from kits work really well. I still have to try out my Stenoflex . Pinhole photography is more popular than you might think. For a few years now the last Sunday in April has been Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. In 2011, over 3,000 people from 67 countries participated. I was the only one in Delaware. If you’re new to pinhole, it’s fun first to build a camera yourself. You’ll find lots of directions online. Try to calculate the f-number for your camera, which isn’t that hard. Hand sewing needles have known diameters and the f-number is the diameter of the camera over the diameter of the hole. For instance, 100 millimeters over half a millimeter would be f/200. Then you can use a light meter such as the one on another camera to figure out the exposure time. However, if you want to keep working in pinhole, I really recommend getting a camera that takes roll film. I can go on vacation with my camera and come back with a number of rolls ready to be processed, which is much better than running to the darkroom to develop each paper negative. If you are shooting film you need to remember reciprocity failure, which means that after about a second or two exposure, the time you expect will actually under- expose your film. If you google my name and the words pinhole exposure you’ll find a page where I explain that. Here are a few of the many photographers who do interesting work with pinhole cameras. For landscape work you might look at Martha Casanave, Craig Barber, Ilan Wolf or Diane Boss or Vera Lutter, who exhibits her work as paper negatives. Jessica Ferguson and Ralph Howell often work in still life, with the cameras themselves being a delightful subject for Howell. Katie Cooke makes striking self-portraits. Ann Hamilton uses pinhole photography in a more conceptual way. For Steve Irvine the camera itself is a work of art. One artist well known for pinhole camera work actually takes pictures within rather than with a pinhole camera. Abelardo Morell has turned rooms into pinhole camera obscuras and then photograph the outside world projected inside. To keep it short I’ve left a lot out, but you’ll find tons of information online. I invite you to visit my website,, and also,,,,, and Chris Keeney’s website, which has endless pinhole resource links. music

12 thoughts on “Five Minute Introduction to Pinhole Photography”

  1. richard vargas says:

    Nancy first of all I love your photographs but I was wondering if you would do a video on pinhole exposures a little more detail.

  2. David Witte says:

    To overcome reciprocity failure I can recommend Fuji Acros Neopan as it is optimized for long exposures and doesn't show a Schwarzschild effect for exposures below 10 min

  3. Daniel Guy says:

    Very good work for make know the pinhole photography.

  4. vmmunjin says:

    Excelente introduction video
    can you explain me better the calculation of the F number? 

  5. Wiard Koremans says:

    Nice introduction!

  6. BurningtunaDC says:

    Thanks for an awesome presentation.

  7. Broadway Explorers says:

    love u. keep doing ur work

  8. Antonio Guillen Castrellon says:

    Nice video. I just bought a pinhole "lens" for my dslr and I can't wait to learn how to use it. Greetings from Mexico.

  9. UWBadBadger1985 says:

    Very informative. Thank you.

  10. Pozdnee Utro says:

    You are cool, greetings from Ukraine!

  11. ody vinty* says:

    great video. thanks

  12. rackzack says:

    Great video, I am starting into this and want to make portraits around 12*15 inches. How do you exactly change the negative photo in the paper to a positive in the dark room? that is what I wanna try. Greeting from Chile!

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