Category Archives: Project 52

I’ve been a bit quiet recently and have to admit that I’m a little bit behind with my ‘Project 52’!  I’m still doing it but I’ve come to a few conclusions over the last couple of weeks:

  1. It takes a lot of practice and time to get images rather than ‘blurs’ or ‘not a lot’ out of a pinhole camera.
  2. A bit more research before starting might have helped!
  3. I might have been expecting a bit much trying to use a different camera each week for a whole year (If I didn’t actually work then it might be possible but as that’s not the case it’s best not to beat myself up for not doing it but rather to just carry on a slightly reduced rate.  Hey it might just take two years :-)).
  4. Finally, and winter and pinhole photography are not the best match (please feel free to disagree with me on this one).  Dull, overcast days seem to result in dull, flat photos!

So what have I done about all of this?  Well to start with I decided to get a bit more expert help and bought a couple of books and dug some others off the shelf.  There are a few that I have found particularly useful and I have reviewed these below.  So I’ve spent a fair bit of time reading and learnt why some of my first attempts have not been working:

  • The best time to take pictures is on bright sunny days.  The contrast of the photographs is increased in bright light and obviously shorter exposure times are required.
  • My pinholes are too large.
  • My pinholes are not round.

Now I understand why the images I took with my coffee can camera (below) are best described as ‘rubbish’.  I’m pleased that I actually managed to get an image at all (even if it was just of my Dad’s foot, I’m just lucky I had a patient model) but it was a long process and not hugely rewarding.  The main thing is that the camera worked and now I can make some adjustments and try again.

I’ve added a few more detailed shots of the finished camera below.  The 1st shows the pin hole and shutter, the 2nd the inside that I have lined with matt black paper and the 3rd the little holder I made to take the 120mm film.

I’m planning on taking some more images with this camera this weekend as long as the weather holds up so hopefully a ‘results’ post will follow shortly.  I will also go into more detail about how I made the camera and the tweaks I made to get it to work better then.


The three books I’ve found useful so far are:

  1. The Camera – Life Library of Photography
  2. Pinhole Cameras – A do it yourself guide – Chris Keeney
  3. Lo- Fi Photo Fun – Adam Bronkhurst

The Camera – Life Library of Photography

I love this series of books.  I was given them by my Dad and step Mum years back.  If I’m honest, at the time I kept them because they were old and I thought they might make interesting reading one day but I have turned to them time and time again when I want something clearly explained in layman’s terms.  They might be old but the fundamentals of photography have not changed and many modern books fail to include some of the basic information that makes understanding the science of photography so much easier.  If you are interested in getting your hands on them then keep an eye out in charity book shops, I’ve often seen sets and now have 17 in total (not sure how many there actually are).

There are only two pages that I found useful (the two illustrated above) but they explain very clearly why you need to have the right size pin hole for the focal length of your camera.  The images used are by Ansel Adams and the explanation is best read in full so I’ve placed it below.

Image 1 – ‘To take this picture of a fence and barn in California, landscape photographer Ansel Adams replaced the lens of an ordinary camera with a thin metal disk pierced by a pinhole opening 0.5mm (1/50 inch) in diameter.  The film was exposed for a full 6 seconds.  The way the pinhole produced an image is illustrated in the diagram (left).  Only a few rays of light from each point on the subject can get through the tiny opening and these strike the film in such tight clusters that blurring is reduced to a minimum.  The result is a soft but acceptably clear photograph.’

Image 2 – ‘For the second photograph of the same scene, Adams increased the size of the opening to 3.2mm (1/8 inch), which meant reducing the exposure time to 1/5 second.  The result is a hopelessly fuzzy picture.  As shown in the diagram (right), the larger hole permits a greater number of rays from each point on the subject to enter the camera.  These rays spread before reaching the film and are recorded as large circles.  Because of their size, these circles tend to run into one another, creating a blurry photograph.’

Pin Hole Cameras – A do it yourself guide – Chris Keeney

Chris’s book gives detailed instructions on how to make a whole range of pinhole cameras from items that you can find lying around the home.  ( To be  fair you also need to buy quite a few bits but the camera bodies can be made from things you already own.)

It includes an introduction on why he loves pinhole, a brief history of the pinhole camera and then a couple of short chapters that give brief, concise information on the film or paper to use, how to actually make a good, usable pinhole and the right equipment to do so.  The rest of the book is divided into ‘Camera How-To Exercises’, detailed explanations of how to make 8 different pinhole cameras including an SLR pinhole.  At the end there’s a small gallery of images and a very brief description of darkroom techniques.  All the chapters are illustrated with good ‘step-by-step’ photographs which is good as I feel that without them some of the explanations are a little confusing.

He doesn’t go into detail about how to work out exposure times and how to precisely measure a pinhole, other than scanning it and measuring in Photoshop (which is fine if you have a scanner) instead he suggests that you use the online resources available, which is fair enough as there is a lot of information out there.

The things I found most useful were tips about using 600 or 1000 grit sandpaper (available from most auto supply stores apparently, I’ll let you know how available it is when I’ve got my hands on some) to sand rough edges off the back of your pin hole, which needs to be round to give you a sharp images.  Also he suggests what needle sizes are best to achieve a usable pin hole.  Beading needles will give the smallest holes as they are the thinnest and these can be bought from a good haberdashers and measure about 0.4mm in diameter.

I was a little frustrated by the lack of information in this chapter as after reading it I was still not sure which needle would give the right size pin hole for the focal length of my camera but I suppose it gave me a better idea where to start.

I looked Chris up on the internet and discovered that he has a website where he has created an incredible list of pinhole resources as well a  huge list of other pinhole photographers working around the world.  There’s some really amazing stuff on there and it’s well worth a look.

Lo-Fi Photo Fun – Adam Bronkhurst

Adam’s book covers a huge range of photographic techniques, cameras, experiments and projects.  His passion for experimental photography is clearly evident and slightly infectious :-).  I’m sure that I will refer to this book in future posts but today I’m just going to concentrate on the section on pinhole.

In different parts of the book he describes how to convert your Holga and SLR into pinholes as well as how to make a cookie tin pinhole camera.  There is also information on Solargraphy using beer can and film canister pinhole cameras.

What I like about Adam’s book is that, similar to Chris’s, there isn’t page after page of mind boggling information. Instead you get a small gallery that shows good examples of each experiment  followed by clear concise information including the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of each technique backed up by useful bits of additional information.  I feel it gave just enough information to get you started and encouraged me to then go and research it further.

Under ‘Pinhole Basics’ there is an F-stop and exposure calculation chart which I found very useful.  You don’t need to be a NASA scientist to decipher it and most importantly it includes the needle sizes required to make a specific diameter hole!!  So in theory I now know that if my Coffee Can camera is roughly 5.5″ long (that’s the focal length) then I should use a size 10 needle to make a 0.45mm hole which gives an f-stop of f/280.  I can then work out rough exposure times from the ‘Exposure Times’ chart.

I hope you’ve found this useful and if you can suggest any other books that I might find interesting then please get in touch or leave a comment below, I’m always happy to hear your thoughts.

You might also find the following articles interesting:

Project 52 – An Introduction

Project 52 – Pinhole Cameras

Project 52 –  The results of my first attempt at pinhole photography

The first week of my project resulted in just four images (the rest were barely visible on the negative) all of which were ridiculously blurred!  I’m taking a glass half full attitude.  I did actually record an image and that’s better than not recording anything at all.

These were all taken using the Hole-one EX cardboard kit pin hole.  I had to tape the back on once the film was loaded as it kept falling off but it would seem that quite a bit of light still managed to get into the camera as there are dark stripes across the majority of the negatives. I’m guessing that there are quite a few places that the light could be getting in such as the joints at the front so I’ll be applying a bit more glue before I use it again.

Below are a few more detailed shots of the camera.  The film winding knob is on the top of the camera on the right in the shot below. (With the arrow drawn on it to remind me which way to wind it.)

(The viewfinder does not work!)

The little ‘ON’, ‘OFF’ tabs visible in the two images above are to open and close the shutter (or in simple terms push a piece of card over the hole).

Based on the suggested exposure times I started with an exposure of about 5 secs and then took a whole range all the way up to about 30.  Of course I was not organised enough to write down what exposures I used for which shots and I’m sure that at least four images were accidentally exposed twice.

I taped the camera to the tripod with gaffa tape in the hope that it would hold it still enough in the slight breeze.  But it was difficult to tape it down without covering the film winder.

Reasons the images are so bad:

1. It was too dull – and I didn’t expose for long enough. (It is possible that the images that did come out were so badly blurred because they were actually double exposures,  the double amount of light was sufficient for the image to record but the overlay of images (of the same thing, with slight movements) resulted in the significant blur.

2. It was too dull – The lighting was very, very flat (lacking in contrast) this meant that the negatives would be very flat, with very few bright highlights or dark shadows.

3. The camera was simply wobbling too much.  The shutter button was hard to move, the camera was not securely attached to the tripod and it was breezy.

4. Light was leaking into the camera through badly stuck together joints.

5. Because I am conditioned to using a viewfinder I found it difficult to just point the camera and shoot.  I also wanted to see if I could get either Simon or I in the shots (as this is supposed to be a portrait project) so tried to use the viewfinder to get a rough idea of the composition.  I think I missed one of the fundamental points of these little fun pin hole cameras and that is that it’s supposed to be a bit haphazard and FUN, a surprise when you get the film back.   The technical reason the viewfinder doesn’t work is due to something called parallax error.  A quick explanation is that ‘what you see is not what you get’ unlike an SLR camera where ‘What you see is (exactly) what you get’ which is what makes them so great.  Anyway I will explain this in more detail in the next post.

So I’m going to write this week off as a good start, I developed the film at home I recorded something on film, it could have been worse.

Here are close ups of the four (terrible) photographs in all their glory!

You might also find the following articles interesting:

Project 52 – An Introduction

Project 52 – Pinhole Cameras

Please feel free to leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Pinhole cameras have always fascinated me.  I think this is quite simply because all you need is a light tight box with a hole in it and a piece of light sensitive material and ‘voila’ you can produce an image.  No need for expensive pieces of kit or even a lens.  I’m not saying that you don’t have to be in possession of the right equipment (there is a list of what I plan to use at the bottom of this page) but most things I’ve picked up fairly cheaply or are items I’ve recycled or got from Free Cycle. If you own a pinhole camera or have made your own then please get in touch, I’d love to see some of your images and what cameras you used to capture them.

I am going to try 4 different types of pinhole: A coffee can pinhole that takes 120mm roll film cut into squares; a pinhole that takes a 35mm roll of film made from a match box; a kit camera made from card that you glue together yourself and takes a roll of 35mm film and lastly I am going to try and turn one of the body caps for my 5D MKII into a pinhole so that I can capture digital images.  Today will be spent gathering all the bits needed to create working camera’s from these two bits of packaging.  It could take a while!

Below is a very simple diagram that roughly shows how I am going to turn the coffee can into a pinhole.  And here is a link to a MATCHBOX PINHOLE where you can find out all you need to know about how to create your own matchbox pinhole camera!

I don’t have a darkroom at home but I am lucky enough to have access to one for printing so to save myself additional costs in developing the films I’ve bought the chemicals required for home development of negatives.  This will allow me to develop the negatives wherever I want so I can check if the exposures are correct rather than having to wait to get them back from the shop.

I have three chemical storage containers marked ‘Developer’, ‘Stop’ and ‘Fix’ which I can fill with the right dilutions of chemical and then take out with me along with a developing tank and a ‘dark bag’ (a light tight bag where I can transfer the film to the developing tank).  I hope this means that I will be able to take photographs using the coffee can pinhole, wherever I want and develop them on the spot.

The kit camera I’m going to use  is called a ‘Hole-On EX’ and can be purchased HERE.  I found mine in a little shop in Brighton.  It comes with a metal pinhole aperture and clear instructions.  It’s fairly easy to construct but it did take patience and I would recommend a slightly faster drying glue than the recommended PVA as you have to hold the bits together while it dries and this increased the time it took to make considerably.  There are lots of other kits available just type ‘Pinhole Photography Kit’ into Amazon or Google.

The plan for the next 4 weeks…..

Week 1 – Kit pinhole – HOLE – ON EX with 35mm ISO 125 (Ilford FP4) black and white film

Week 2 – Homemade coffee can pinhole with 120mm (chopped up) ISO 400 (Ilford HP5 probably) black and white film

Week 3 – Homemade matchbox pinhole camera with 35mm ISO 200 Colour film

Week 4 – Body cap pinhole and 5D MKII digital body


Film developing:

  • Developing tank (I got mine through FREECYCLE along with a dark bag, paper and other bits and bobs.  You can find them 2nd hand on sites like Second Hand Darkroom or alternatively buy them new from sites like Sliver Print or AG Photographic)
  • Dark bag
  • Film developing chemicals (available from Sliver Print or AG Photographic) Developer, Stop and Fix
  • Light tight collapsable storage bottle for keeping chemicals (Stop and Fix) that can be reused
  • Somewhere to hang film to dry, preferably somewhere they can drip without doing damage
Homemade DIY pinhole cameras:
  • Coffee tin/can and small match box
  • Drill to make hole in bottom of coffee can and also for the camera body cap for the digital pinhole
  • Sandpaper to sand back any rough edges on the drilled hole
  • Old drinks can, to cut up and make the actual pinhole from
  • Sharp pin or needle to make pin hole (for more details on aperture please see below)
  • Scissors
  • Craft/Stanley knife
  • Ruler
  • Black electricians tape
  • Black card or thin card e.g. a cereal box or film box
  • Old film cannister (I’m going to save the one I’m using with the Kit camera to use with the matchbox camera
  • New film
  • Old spiral binder (to make the counter for matchbox camera)

Making an Aperture

You would think getting the right size aperture to be able to calculate the correct exposure time would be pretty important, yes?  Well it depends what you read.  The Matchbox Camera website suggests the following exposure times as the aperture created with a normal small pin is roughly f/90:

Outside – sunshine: 1 or 2 seconds

Outside – cloudy conditions: 5 seconds

Indoors – normal room lighting: 5 – 10 minutes

Here are the exposure times that came with the HOLE-ON EX …

The exposures are much longer and the ISO more sensitive so the aperture must be much smaller.  But both of these suggest that you take a lot of shots with varying exposures in the hope that you get something to your liking.  Pretty haphazard!!

Alternatively, if numbers are your ‘thang’ and you’d like to work it all out to the millimetre then click here to go to The Pinhole Gallery’s exposure calculating page or try Mr Pinhole’s Exposure Calculater, this takes it to a whole other level!

If you have a darkroom and enlarger at home then you can try this method  that Mike, a friend of mine, told me about.  I have never actually tried this and I’m sure Mike’s explanation would be clearer than mine but, hey,  here goes!  Take the negative holder out of the enlarger, place a clear plastic ruler into the space left so that when you turn on the light the measurements on the ruler will be projected onto your base board, but much enlarged.  Move the enlarger head as far up as it will go so that your ruler is made as big as possible.  Place a piece of paper on the base board and, using a 2nd ruler to measure, adjust the head of the enlarger until 1 millimetre is the same size as 1 centimetre or 10 centimetres on the real size ruler.  Mark the millimetre onto the paper and divide up using your ruler.  In theory you will now be able to place a piece of metal into the negative holder so that the light shines through the pinhole you’ve made and measure it accurately by the markings on your piece of paper.  Start with a very small hole and gradually enlarge it until you have the size you want.

Mr Pinholespinhole size calculator helped me to work out the pinhole size I need for my coffee can.  The coffee can is 5.5″ (140mm) long so I enter that as the focal length and I am then told that my pinhole needs to be 0.02″ (0.498mm)  Millimetres are far easier to work out than inches so I’d stick with them if I were you.  So basically I need an aperture of 0.5mm which equates to an f stop of about f/300. From that I should be able to calculate my exposure times but if I’m honest I now have complete brain fry and I’m off to play with sticky tape and cardboard boxes in the hope that I actually have a camera that works by the end of the week.

You might also find the following articles interesting:

Project 52 – An Introduction

Project 52 – The results of my first attempt at Pinhole photography

Please feel free to leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 So what is Project 52?

I’ve wanted to embark on a project of some sort for a while but was never quite sure what to do.  So, I thought about it a bit, and then a little bit more and then some other photographer friends started to talk about doing ‘365 projects’ (a photo a day for a year) and then ’52 projects’ (a photo a week for a year) as this is more manageable, because to be honest a photo a day is pretty impressive, I have a lot of respect for anyone that has completed one.  So I’d decided to do a 52 Project but I still didn’t have a theme.  No matter what idea I came up with I always came back to the idea that I wanted to become better at shooting film and use this as a means to capture portraits.

The first proper camera (I say proper camera, as I don’t think you can count a Boots, point and press) I bought was a 35mm Minolta, please don’t ask the actual model as I have no idea and it’s long dead.  I did however drag it all the way around Australia with me and took quite a few photos (mostly of famous landmarks, rocks, interesting bits of rust etc, etc).  Admittedly I had no idea what I was doing; I knew there was a hole in the lens that changed size to let in more or less light and if the shutter speed was too slow then any resulting images came out blurred, but that was about the total sum of my knowledge of photography.  I used to send the printed images and films back home separately so that hopefully if anything went missing in the post I’d at least end up with prints or negatives.  So it wasn’t until I got back that I counted up the films and realised that I’d shot a roll of film a week; 1 roll, each week, for a year!  It’s a shame I didn’t have more of an interest in the subject back then as it would have been such a great time to experiment.  It did, however, spark an interest (and that’s the important thing).  So if I managed 52 rolls of film in OZ then I think I can manage it here.  What I remember the most is that I just used to shoot, if I saw something worth taking a photo of I did, I was obviously conscious of the amount of film I had left to shoot but not like I am now, now that I’m used to Digital.

I’ve always loved old things, my first sewing machine was a 1920’s Singer so when I started to get into photography it was only natural to collect old cameras and other related ‘bits and bobs’.  It might not be the grandest collection ever, but I find it interesting and they now decorate my office.  What is a shame, is that quite a few are still usable, they just need to be used.

So my ‘Project 52’  is going to be a BIG experiment. I will try and use as many of the cameras that I own as possible (and some I’ll borrow), I’ll experiment with different films (colour and black and white) and try and recreate effects I have seen in photographs by others using a range of different techniques.  The whole while concentrating on capturing portraits.

I’ve sorted out the films in the fridge (Simon will be so pleased to eventually get more space for food), I’ve dug out all my old darkroom kit, I’ve bought fresh chemicals and the cameras have been sorted so I’m ready to go!

I’ve divided the first half of the year into 4 sections; pinhole, medium format, large format and 35mm. The 2nd half of the year I’ll work out later, I’m not too bothered if I stumble across something I’d like to add in and have to change the schedule as I go.

I’m going to write an introduction to each section with information I’ve gathered together and ideas about what I want to try and shoot.  I am including a disclaimer at this point to say that…. ‘I am by no mean’s an expert in the areas I’m going to cover!  What I write is my understanding and interpretation of the different techniques and equipment I’ve researched’…..  I am, however, very open to hearing what others who are more experienced (or just interested) have to say, and learn as I go, so I would love to hear from you.  I also hope that I produce some images that I’m happy with but I find it hard to believe that each week I’ll create a masterpiece as this project is as much an experiment as anything else.  So if you have great examples of images that have been created with the equipment I’m using then please get in touch via my contact page  or send me an email to

At the end of each section I plan to summarise the techniques I’ve tried, hopefully show some examples of my own work and those of other photographers as well as links to websites and books I’ve found useful.

I’ll notify you of new posts via Twitter and Facebook so if you would like to keep up with my antics then please follow me on Twitter by clicking here or ‘Like’ my Facebook page by clicking here.

The first installment is about Pin Hole Cameras and you can link to it by clicking here.

You might also find the following articles interesting:

Project 52 – Pinhole Cameras

Project 52 – The results of my first attempt at Pinhole photography

Please feel free to leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.