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Creating a Pinhole Camera with 25 Pinholes Using a Shoebox

by Chris Gampat on 04/28/2013

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Pinhole cameras are fun! Most of the cameras are often made from the most quirky things. We found a spam can, a shoebox, and we recently saw that a beer can can create some really beautiful and artistic images. But we ran into the coolest thing recently on Believe in Film. James Guerin created a truly extraordinary pinhole camera with 25 pinholes. The effect is something similar to what Andy Warhol has done before with overlapping combined with Picasso’s cubism.

We had some time to geek out with him about it and talk about how one can use this creatively.

Phoblographer: How did you make the camera and how does it work?

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James: I made the camera out of an 8×10″ shoe box and some sheets of card-board which I used to make the grid that sits inside the camera. It’s that grid which makes it different from a regular pinhole camera. My camera is basically 25 pinhole cameras using the same shutter.

The grid was 5 rows by 5 columns making 25 separate cells.

The 25 pinholes were made from cutting up a soda can and piercing it with a needle and then sanding to remove burrs. I made many more and scanned them all to select the ones that were of a similar size

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The grid was made from cardboard sheets – see picture showing the arrangement. Each sheet is slotted at intervals of the cell size so that the rows and columns slot together. The slot widths being equal to the thickness of the cardboard.

The shutter is a simple sheet of cardboard used as a sliding type shutter – there are lots of way to do this, another slightly larger lid would also work well.

When I placed the grid into the shoebox it gave me 25 independent light tight cells (a little leakage between cells isn’t a problem). I used the lid of the shoe-box as my “film” holder, you could also use film holders but this involves a bit more work to make the back. For me, for now, a one shot design is ok. If I start to use it a bit more I might put a back on it so I can use my film holders. Obviously, the camera needs to be loaded in the dark (or at least under a darkroom safe-light for paper).

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The camera has a 100mm focal length and this combined with the pinhole size of about 0.3mm gave me an f number of 333. A pretty slow pinhole camera.

After developing and scanning (I shot using 8×10 paper) I have to re-arrange (transpose) the cells in order to make the image. See the book example to see before and after. I use photoshop to do this and it takes me about 5 to10 mins per image.

Phoblographer: What inspired you to create something like this with multiple pinholes?

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James: The inspiration for the camera came from collages I had seen a while back on Flickr that were made up of images using the entire 36 shots of a 35mm roll. The effect in some of the images particularly appealed to me where each frame overlapped with its neighbor. David Hockney used a similar technique to create his amazing ‘joiners’ from multiple Polaroid photos.

I wanted to create a pinhole version that would re-create this overlapping effect while having to take just a single exposure. As I thought about it was clear that the level of overlapping is a function of the distance of the subject from the camera. For example, my camera has a focal length of 100mm and any object shot at 100mm from the camera appears “normal” – i.e all the cells fit together to make up the image of the object as one would expect. At greater distance, the overlapping is introduced. It’s these two features that really make the camera a fun and creative tool. You can combine this ‘lining up’ and ‘overlapping’ effect to make some interesting photos.

Phoblographer: What art projects do you have planned to create with it?

James: I’d like to shoot more portraits with it. That was the intention when I built the camera but when I started shooting I found the slow speed of the paper combined with a tiny aperture gave me outdoor exposures of 2 to 5 minutes. I have recently gotten some X-ray film and it’s much faster than paper so I will be able to shoot exposures in the region of seconds rather than minutes.

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We highly encourage you to check out more from James via his website.

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