Pinhole Photography Term one 2018

This unit of work forms part of your Introduction to Wet Photography coursework.

The pinhole camera is a logical extension of the principle of the camera obscura. Simply put it's a light proof box or container that has an aperture that can be opened and closed to expose either light sensitive paper or film.

When working with paper the initial exposure produces a paper negative from which a positive is printed,

Paper negative

Producing a negative is as simple as loading your pinhole camera (in the darkroom) with multi-grade photographic paper cut to a size appropriate for the type of pinhole camera you have made, exposing the paper and then running the paper through the normal development cycle i.e., developer, stop bath, fixer, wash and dryer.

Loading the camera
  • Cut either one or two 2" strips of masking tape and fold each into double sided adhesive tabs.
  • Place the tabs on the back of the paper and fix the cut photographic paper to the interior of the camera directly opposite the aperture.
  • Seal the camera.

exposing the image

The strength of the available light will determine your exposure.

  • In strong sunlight and outdoors, exposures will be relatively short in duration (depending on the size of the aperture). As less ambient light becomes available exposure times will increase. Exposures can take anything from a few seconds to 15 minutes or more. Determining the correct exposure is a matter of trial and error unless you have purchased a pinhole camera with a per-determined aperture and focal length and follow the manufacturers recommendations.
  • Place the camera facing the subject or scene. To ensure that the image is sharp make sure the camera is braced or resting on a stable surface otherwise any movement during the exposure will produce a blurred image.
  • Expose the paper by allowing light in through the aperture.
  • When you think the paper has been adequately exposed close the aperture
  • Take the camera back to the darkroom, remove and process the paper.

Compare the tonal range in these two negatives.

Both these images were taken during the same lesson by two different students. The negative on the left has good blacks, clean whites and a good spread of mid tones. In the image on the right the blacks are not clean (about zone 1) there are no whites, mid tones are limited and chemical staining is evident. Some of these issues may be addressed when contact printing to positive
You can use this Zone Scale as a guide to determine the effective range of the tones in your negative

Black on the negative (zone 0) will print white with no detail. Likewise White on the negative (zone 10) will print black with no detail.

In the shadow areas of your print (zones 6-10 on the negative) detail generally won't appear until Zone 7 on the negative. Likewise detail in the highlight areas of your print (zones 0-4) on the negative, generally won't appear until Zone 3.

Exposures taken indoors or on heavily overcast days may have not have any whites (8-10) or blacks (0-2) in the negative. This is not a problem and simply reflects the lighting conditions at the time.


Contact printing the negative

  • Use an exposed piece of paper the size of your print to set the enlarger height so that the light from the enlarger easily covers the easel. With the enlarger up reasonably high (35-40) you can afford to open up the aperture to f5.6
  • Place the paper for the positive print emulsion side up on the easel.
  • Place the paper negative emulsion down on the print paper and place a sheet of cut glass or perspex over the top.
  • Place a grade 2 filter in the filter drawer
  • Make a test strip to determine the best exposure
  • Make the exposure


  • Developer 1 min
  • Stop bath 30sec
  • Fixer 2 min
  • Wash 2 min
  • Dryer
Pinhole negative + positive
Created By
Gary Poulton


Wyndham College photography students

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