A Jim of All Trades

Shooting with a Pinhole Camera

with 2 comments

Following up from my last post, I thought it might be helpful to add some info about actually shooting with a pinhole camera in case anyone does want to try. Some of the below might be fairly obvious, but I figured I’d type it all out if it might help someone.

1) The camera needs to be very still when shooting. You’ll be using longer than usual exposure times, so if the camera (or subject) moves, even just a little, the pictures could be blurry. Use a tripod, or prop the camera against something solid and stable, like a piece of furniture, fence post, tree branch, try stabilize it against a wall, etc. It opens opportunities to be creative with movement though, too.

2) Your view finder is going to basically be rendered useless. (not having a DSLR, I’m not sure how digital would behave. my SLR’s view finder doesn’t show anything, unless pointed at something extremely bright, and even then it isn’t good enough to actually frame a shot.) I take a point and shoot digital with me and position it where I’ll have the pinhole, then take a test shot. It gives a decent enough rough idea of what your shot will be. Another alternative for framing shots, if you are using an SLR, is to frame the shot by looking through the view finder with a real lens, then swap to the pinhole for shooting. This can be quite time consuming. You can also just do your best by positioning the camera and sighting over it to judge the field of view.

3) To shoot like this, whether digital or film, you’ll need to manually adjust your shutter speed for each shot. (okay, modern digital cameras might be able to detect a proper shutter speed, but I’m skeptical. I’d still do it manually, or at least try for comparison) If you have a light meter, do some research online for some formulas or tips for choosing shutter speeds based off of your readings.

If you don’t have a light meter, never fear, it might just take more trial and error until you get consistent results. The kit I got came with some literature and an exposure guide. It’s been pretty trustworthy so far, so I’ll provide a break down here.

This is all assuming you are using 200 speed film (digital: iso 200) and your pinhole is very close to .2 mm.

– Outside and sunny: 1/4 sec
– Outside, mix of sun and clouds: 1/2 sec
– Outside, mostly cloudy: 1.5 sec
– Outside, overcast or dusk: 4 sec
– Inside, well lit: 1.5 min
– Inside, dim (candle lit): 3.5 min

These times should all be viewed as approximates, but it at least gives a starting point. You could also look around flickr for pinhole photos, or even my site here, and see what was entered as the exposure times. If you use a different pinhole size or a different iso setting/different speed film these times will vary as well. Keep in mind [as I found out later] the pinhole size needed will depend on the focal length of the camera, so if the size is much different than .2 mm, the shutter time will need changed as well.

4) KEEP A LOG. I carry a little note pad with me when I shoot pinhole shots and record my settings and the conditions for each. I record the weather, light conditions, how I held the camera, how long I kept the shutter open, etc. It helps when you’re looking back through your photos and comparing your notes. For example, if you see one shot from a cloudy day is a bit darker than you preferred, you can see how long you had the shutter open and will know to try for slightly more time when you’re in those conditions next. This is good practice for shooting in general. A digital SLR will of course track the shutter speed, but it won’t tell you anything about the lighting conditions or how you held the camera.

Hopefully this is at least somewhat helpful for any aspiring pinhole photographers. I am not a photography master, so please keep that in mind, but hopefully this could at least provide a starting point to work from.  Good luck!


Written by Jim

April 30, 2012 at 6:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. great post, very useful. i got myself a diana f+ camera today, and it has a pinhole setting, im gonna give that a try soon for sure.. never used a proper pinhole camera before. and yes, like u said, if u make a pinhole camera out of a DSLR, making a tiny hole in the body cap… the viewfinder is gonna be pretty much useless. thanks for posting this! wonderful stuff


    May 1, 2012 at 4:39 am

    • Thanks for the feedback! Good luck with the diana f+, that looks like a really cool little camera and I hope it works out for you. I took a quick look at your page and you have a ton of useful info shared; I’m going to have to take some more time and read through it.

      Thanks for commenting!


      May 1, 2012 at 6:52 am


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