Going Old School: Introduction to Pinhole Photography

Always wanted to give pinhole photography a try? Our latest original infographic will help you get started with this time-tested alternative process.

Looking back at the history of photography, pinhole photography is among one of the oldest techniques. The earliest mention of pinhole photography dates back to the mid-1800s, and it continues to be an accessible alternative photographic process today. It is particularly popular amongst film photographers. Getting started with pinhole photography requires very minimal equipment; all you really need is a pinhole camera and a tripod. But, what qualifies as a pinhole camera can genuinely run the gamut. You can turn a conventional camera body into a pinhole camera by replacing its lens with a body cap that has a pinhole drilled into its center. Handmade box cameras are another popular option. You can even make pinhole cameras out of a beer can or a roast duck! Interested in giving pinhole photography a go? Check out our latest infographic where we break down some pinhole photography basics:

It’s Going to Take a While

Pinhole cameras have tiny apertures. We’re talking f-stops that can sometimes go well into the three digits. (You can calculate the exact aperture value of your pinhole camera, but be prepared to do some math.) Essentially, pinhole photography involves a lot of long exposure work. If you’re shooting with a digital pinhole camera, you’ll want to set your cameras to its base ISO value for the best results. For analog pinhole cameras, you’ll want to go with high-speed film stocks.

Unconventional Equipment

The possibilities are practically endless when it comes to making your own pinhole cameras. Obviously, you can make box cameras or even convert a conventional camera for pinhole photography purposes by drilling a pinhole into the body cap. Interestingly, some pinhole photographers have chosen the less conventional route and turned beer cans into pinhole cameras. Check out some of the surreal works we’ve featured in the past that were created using pinhole cameras made from beer cans. We have a tutorial on how to make your own pinhole camera as well.

Ethereal Results

Many of us are used to achieving precise and predictable results using modern photography equipment. Pinhole photography, however, is a highly experimental process: be prepared for a lot of trial and error. But, your patience will be rewarded with some genuinely ethereal and otherworldly images. You may find that your pinhole photography images will have a distinctly anachronistic quality to them. It’s an entirely different approach to photography that can really get you thinking outside of the box (or inside it, if you’re shooting with a box cameras).

Slow and Steady

Unless you’re a member of the Queen’s Guard posted outside Buckingham Palace, you probably won’t be able to hold your pinhole camera steady enough for more than a few seconds. To ensure the best possible results, mount your pinhole camera onto a tripod. And make sure you’ve got the tripod set atop a steady surface.

Take Your Time

Depending on the camera you’re using, pinhole photography can take a long time. Some pinhole photography projects have gone on for weeks or even years at a time! It’s a great way to document the passage of time in an unconventional and surreal manner. Pinhole photography is an alternative process that truly stands out among the rest. Experiment with it and see what you can create!

Pauleth Ip

Paul is a New York City based photographer, creative, and writer. His body of work includes headshots and commercial editorials for professionals, in-demand actors/performers, high net worth individuals, and corporate clients, as well as intimate lifestyle/boudoir photography with an emphasis on body positivity and empowerment. Paul also has a background in technology and higher education, and regularly teaches private photography seminars. When not working on reviews and features for The Phoblographer or shooting client work, Paul can be seen photographing personal projects around NYC, or traveling the world with his cameras in tow. You can find Paul’s latest work on his Instagram over at @thepicreative.