Photography Lesson 1: Pinhole cameras

Students on the GCSE and A-level Photography courses hit the ground running this term by bringing in boxes to their first lesson and making them into pinhole cameras. The process required making their boxes ‘light-proof’: painting the insides black and sealing any gaps and holes. An easy way to check for leaks was to take the boxes into the darkroom, turn off the lights, drop a torch in the box, and shut it.

The pinhole itself, through which the image of the outside world would squeeze in, was made by gently hammering a pin through a very thin square of aluminium. This was taped over a hole made in the box. The ‘shutter’ could be a flap of black card taped over the hole, or the photographer’s finger or thumb.

Next the students loaded their boxes with photographic paper in the red safety light of the darkroom, before taking them out and photographing scenes outside. Exposure times and focal lengths vary depending on size of boxes, pinholes and the weather, so students learn by trial and error. Exposures ranged from 30 seconds to 5 minutes.

Prints are made by the students in the darkroom, using developer, stop, and fix chemicals. This results in a ‘negative’ image, which can then be made into a positive by laying the paper onto another sheet and exposing both to light from the enlarger.

An intensive week’s work, covering many aspects of darkroom processing as well as the physics of light. I think the excellent results show the great effort made by the students.


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