Pinhole photography is a lensless form of photography. Essentially, the pinhole camera is a lightproof box with a tiny aperture and a photosensitive material positioned inside. Light passes through the aperture and projects an inverted image onto the interior of the box where the photosensitive material is fixed. You can make a pinhole camera out of practically anything, and the results are unique and often surprising.
Analog ideas in a digital world
Modifying your DSLR camera’s body cap to create a pinhole effect is a simple project that allows for real-time adjustments that the analog process doesn’t. As long as you can spare a body cap you can do this. The lens emulates the distinctive vignette and softness of a pinhole photograph in a fraction of the time and is great for adding an abstract or surreal quality to an image. While the digital technique isn’t the same as a classic biscuit-tin camera, your home-made lens makes for a dynamic approach to a nostalgic analog process. Plus, the unpredictability of the results adds an interesting twist to your digital practice.
You will need:
- A DSLR camera
- One body cap that fits the body of the camera you are going to use
- One drill and a drill bit
- A needle
- Aluminum foil
- Sticky tape
Mark out the center of the body cap and make an indent by pressing the tip of the drill bit into the center mark. It’s important to make a hole in the center of the body cap or you won’t get the full effect. Drill a 1/4″ or 6.35mm hole in the center of the cap. Make sure the hole is clear of any swarf (chips) or sharp ridges left behind by the drill.
Cut a small piece of aluminum foil to fit inside the edges of the cap.
Tape the foil onto the inside of the cap, keeping the sheet taut.
To create an outline of the drilled hole, gently press the foil into the body cap with your finger,
Now, have a look at the outline of the drilled hole. With a small sewing needle, prick a tiny hole in the center of the outline.
The smaller the aperture, the sharper the photograph, so use the very tip of the needle to make a hole. Make sure no foil hangs over the newly pricked hole as this could compromise image quality.
Shooting with your pinhole camera
Before attaching the cap onto the camera body, be sure to thoroughly clean the body cap of dust and residue. Keep a bit of Blu-Tack with you to cover the hole when the camera isn’t in use.
The tiny aperture in our pinhole lens allows significantly less light to hit the sensor than a conventional lens, so exposures must be longer to compensate. When I’m out in the field, I set my ISO to 500 so the sensor will be more sensitive to the light that does reach it, without too much digital noise in the image. I also set my camera to aperture priority (A on Nikon and Sony, and Av for Canon and Pentax) so that I can adjust the exposure easily, and the shutter speed will adjust automatically.