Pinhole Cameras

September 14, 2011

Ralph received this book for his birthday last month. It teaches you how to make a pinhole camera from almost anything! Like an Altoid tin:

At the back of the book, you can see sample images taken with pinhole cameras:

Poor Ralph. He’s hardly had 2 seconds to look at the book because I keep “borrowing” it. I want to make one! I’m thinking it could be a cool project for one of my kids to make as a Christmas gift for another sibling.

I love that as the world gets more technological, there are people teaching and preserving low-tech forms of art and communication. How about you? Do you have any low-tech leanings?

P.S. — I’m pretty sure we made pinhole cameras in Mrs. Bundy’s 4th grade class. Or it might have been special boxes to view an eclipse. There were definitely boxes and pinholes involved. : )

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sherri September 14, 2011 at 5:51 am

This is so cool. I did this way back in 5th grade. Our teacher taught us how – with a shoe box, I think. I took a picture of the treetops. Remember it well. What a nice b-day gift (for you and for him, right?)!


2 Design Mom September 15, 2011 at 6:46 am

I love that you remember the image you captured.


3 Angie September 14, 2011 at 6:08 am

I still love using 8mm film in my manual camera. I’m forced to hone my photography skills a bit more and getting them developed is so much more of a surprise :) Sometimes the instant gratification of my DSLR is taken for granted!


4 Heather September 14, 2011 at 6:38 am

It sounds like a fun project, but I’ve never tried it. We do a lot of low-tech crafty projects…here was a fun one: (painting with ice cubes…really fun, and really easy, and kids love it!)


5 jenn September 14, 2011 at 7:04 am

We did pinhole photography in one of my college photography classes. it was a lot of fun and we had some pretty cool results.


6 Design Mom September 15, 2011 at 6:47 am

Very cool!


7 Pete September 14, 2011 at 7:14 am

Awesome idea. How do you make the paper photosensitive? Please tell me it’s something lo-fi like lemon juice.

We definitely looked at an eclipse with pin hole boxes. Same principal?


8 Andrea@Fancy That! September 14, 2011 at 7:24 am

My husband and I were just talking about this. Instant film is popular again. I’ve seen friends using typewriters. I myself refuse to use a Kindle (that’s more a joke than a reality). I guess we just love the nostalgia of the past. I know I do!


9 Design Mom September 15, 2011 at 6:49 am

My sister Jordan introduced me to the gorgeous world of vintage typewriters. So cool!


10 Christa The BabbyMama September 14, 2011 at 8:02 am

Does sewing count? Drawing on paper? I guess I don’t have an real vintage-y hobbies to speak of, but I do like making things!


11 Anna P. September 14, 2011 at 8:04 am

In my photo class in high school we had to make one. I chose a metal mail box. Turned out pretty cool. Wish I still had it.


12 Design Mom September 15, 2011 at 6:48 am

I wish you still had it too!


13 jennifer September 14, 2011 at 9:18 am

You need the chemicals to develop the paper, right? I want to do this soooo bad but I don’t think I want my kids (or me) to mess around with the chemicals.


14 Danielle Blake September 14, 2011 at 10:00 am


You can design a pinhole camera to accept 35mm or 120 film which can then be taken or sent to any film lab.


15 Danielle Blake September 14, 2011 at 10:08 am

I am a pinhole photographer so this post is very near and dear to my heart.

I’ve been reading your blog for about 6 months and it has been interesting to watch Ralph’s interest in all things film along the way.

Some pinhole links:

Pinhole gallery —

World’s Largest Pinhole Camera —

Egg Pinhole —

Mouth Pinhole —

My work —


16 Design Mom September 15, 2011 at 6:45 am

Thanks for the helpful links, Danielle! Good to hear from an actual pinhole photographer. : )


17 Gloria September 14, 2011 at 10:11 am

I did this in my high school photography class too. It was so funny and I made a lot of my favorite images from it. I love that not everything has to light up and speak with millions of little buttons. Sometimes the simple things are the most fun!


18 Design Mom September 15, 2011 at 6:45 am



19 bdaiss September 14, 2011 at 10:19 am

I grew up with a dad who was a hobby photographer, complete with a dark room in the basement. For my 7th Grade Science Fair a friend and I designed a variety of pin hole cameras and tested them with different film paper. We even did all the developing ourselves in that very same dark room. I think that experiment is what sparked my love of photography to this day.


20 Design Mom September 15, 2011 at 6:44 am

What a cool dad and a cool science fair project.


21 Nike September 14, 2011 at 11:24 am

Love thie!
Here in Hamburg they built a giant walk-in pinhole camera!

(German, but find a list with more “camera obscuras” like this at the end of the article)


22 Design Mom September 15, 2011 at 6:44 am

What? A walk-in camera! Very cool.


23 Heather September 14, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Oh boy, Ralph will really get a kick out of this pinhole idea….


24 Design Mom September 15, 2011 at 6:43 am

I’ll make sure he sees it!


25 Lizzi September 14, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Ralph reminds me so much of what I imagine my dad was like as a kid! They look very similar and they both have had a love of film and photography from a young age. My dad is retired, but he was (and still is) a well loved photography teacher for 35 years. I love reading about Ralph because it makes me feel like I’m reading about my dad as a kid :)


26 Design Mom September 15, 2011 at 6:43 am

What sweet sentiments!


27 Annette Arndt September 14, 2011 at 2:02 pm

This is a site that teaches about pinhole cameras ( the history, science, and how to make them ) in a fun way:


28 Design Mom September 15, 2011 at 6:42 am

Such a helpful link. Thanks, Annette!


29 Jill V. / TerraSavvy September 14, 2011 at 3:09 pm

When we we were on our road trip this summer, we stopped into a really cool toy store. Among other vintage and throw back items, we purchased a pinhole camera kit. I said I thought Jake would like to put it together but it secretly was for me. I still need to get around to assembling it!

We too did a project like this in elementary school and I had such fun memories!


30 Ale September 14, 2011 at 3:09 pm
31 Design Mom September 15, 2011 at 6:42 am

That is an amazing image! So glad you shared the link. Thank you.


32 Jersey_girl September 14, 2011 at 5:58 pm

I really enjoy your site, it is a pleasure to explore. It is full of information, design and color! This seems like an exciting and fun project for anyone who is crafty and maybe even for those who are not so crafty. It’s something that kids can learn from, no doubt. There is so much that can be done!


33 Design Mom September 15, 2011 at 6:41 am

Thank you for the kind words!


34 irene September 14, 2011 at 7:24 pm

I’ve been holding on to wonderful photos of my mom and her sisters. They were taken during WWII in Russia by my Aunt when she was only 12 using a pin hole camera that she made! Amazing.


35 Design Mom September 15, 2011 at 6:40 am

Wow! What a treasure.


36 Kelly@TearingUpHouses September 14, 2011 at 7:35 pm

never even heard of these… but i love that image it took.


37 Michelle September 14, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Ah yes, the photo class memories!
My daughter recieved solarprint paper (also called natureprint) as a gift and I ended up addicted. It’s like the photograms everyone makes in beginning photo only you just put the paper in water and it’s the prettiest color of deep blue. If you lay the weeds angled in it is as if an ant took a picture up.
*Did you catch the May National Geographic Camera Obscura article? Pinhole photography to the nth degree – very inspiring.


38 Design Mom September 15, 2011 at 6:40 am

I get addicted to that sort of thing too. : )


39 Nicole September 15, 2011 at 10:17 am

I took a class at our local art center for this…it was so much fun! And my photo didn’t turn out too bad.


40 Kate Skogen September 22, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I taught photography at summer camp one year and had all my campers make pinhole cameras out of empty 35mm film canisters! i’m not sure if that’s in the book, but they’re amazingly easy- just poke tiny tiny hole in side! you don’t need tape because it’s already light-tight. load in photo paper (a small strip) in darkroom (or dark room). put your finger over the hole. walk outside. expose for a few seconds (use trial and error method to determine length of exposure). cover hole. go in darkroom and develop your print. it’ll be a negative. awesome. wonderful. summer camp and pinhole photography rule!!
-kate, jetkat photo


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