You Pinhead-An Introduction to Pinhole Photography, Part 1

CornerDetail, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

Since Worldwide Pinhole Day, my post about it, and such, I’ve been inundated with requests for information about how to do pinhole photography. It’s been an endless stream of “I didn’t know you could do it digitally,” “how long to you take the exposures for,” “where can I get that” kind of technical questions which I usually fend off for future posts or just brush aside altogether. Not this time. This time, I’ve decided to become a helpful Carol and actually provide some (possibly useful) information. So, without further ado, here goes.

First off, yes, you can do pinhole photography digitally. You can also use film if you’re so inclined. Film folks might want to check out the international retailer Calumet as they have a wide assortment of pinhole cameras and photo gear. Freestyle Photo, based in Los Angeles, also carries an assortment of pinhole camera gear, including the full line of Holgas (some of which can be run as pinhole cameras) and the paintbucket cameras.

For those shooting digitally, there are two basic options. You can either make a pinhole camera yourself or buy a pre-made “body cap” style solution. There are also a few other choices, most notable is the recent addition of the pinhole optics attachment for the lensbaby lens. I won’t go into the lensbaby lens solution here, as you can find out more on their website if you are interested.

For the do-it-yourself-ers out there, you can find tutorials like this one out on the web. There are also YouTube videos, you will probably want to start by typing “how to make a pinhole body cap” into your search engine, though the link I’ve provided you is helpful. Don’t get too distracted by the whole “Canon vs. Nikon” thing, as far as I know, a pinhole body cap is a pinhole body cap, regardless of brand, just make sure you start with a body cap that fits your camera. The basics of shooting pinhole digitally are to make a body cap with a pinhole in it, and then use this as a replacement for your lens. (I’ll go into that in more detail in my next tutorial on the subject, which will talk more about how to shoot the pinhole camera once you’ve made it.)

For those (like me) who prefer to purchase a ready made solution, the good folks over at Holgamods offer inexpensive pinhole body caps. Click on the link here for more information. Starting at about $25-$30, they are an inexpensive investment and an easy way to try out something new.

There are many options available to pinhole photographers. You can buy ready made cameras, make a camera yourself from something like a Quaker Oats box, using a pin or sewing needle, buy a digital body cap and use your dSLR as a pinhole camera, or do something like use the lensbaby attachment to get that old “pinhole look.”

Some advantages of using film are that it gives you a paper negative, and it’s the “purist” way of shooting pinhole photography. The great photographer Ansel Adams used a pinhole camera and documented much of his findings in a book called The Camera which, to this day, is still a very useful book to have, so I’d recommend this as a starting point if you’re looking to read up on things. In this book, he demonstrates the different sized holes he used, as well as the different exposure times, all helpful information, so I’d recommend that as a good reference, even if you’ve done some pinhole work in the past.

The digital pinhole photographer has some advantages. For starters, it’s easier to shoot image after image-no changing out the paper negative and there’s no “messy” darkroom work just to see a print (we all love that digital preview button, don’t we?) One big downside you will have to address is dust getting into your camera (again, I’ll talk about this more in a later posting.)

For now, it’s probably best to start by thinking about how you want to approach pinhole photography-digital vs. analog, body cap vs. lensbaby drop-in attachment. Once you select a preferred solution, start by getting all the gear you need and get setup to take your first pinhole shots.

For my next installment of the series, I’ll talk about using the gear a bit and how to actually make the exposures.

Until next time, I’m yours in “pinheadedness…”


  1. mythopolis
    April 28, 2009 / 3:05 pm

    cool info!

  2. Carol
    April 28, 2009 / 8:07 pm

    Thanks, Mythos. I hope to expand it as time permits, but I hope it’s helpful as a start.

  3. mythopolis
    April 29, 2009 / 12:39 am

    I will try to do it sooner or later, if I can find a cap for my 35mm. I have too much spring fever right now. But I want to do my own take on this, so will need to make my own pin hole. I will look into it. Did you know there is a tiny little drill bit that can be used if you have a crack in your car windshield? You drill a miniscule hole at the end of the crack and it stops the crack from expanding. (Pinhole trivia of another kind.) : ) d

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