Pinhole Photography: from Matchbox to Working Camera | Evgeniya & Dominic Righini-Brand | Skillshare

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Pinhole Photography: from Matchbox to Working Camera

teacher avatar Evgeniya & Dominic Righini-Brand, Graphic Design & Photography

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Introduction & Overview


    • 2.

      How Does Pinhole Photography Work


    • 3.

      Pinhole Camera Optics


    • 4.

      Example Pinhole Cameras


    • 5.

      Tools & Materials


    • 6.

      Making the Camera: Body


    • 7.

      Making the Camera: Pinhole


    • 8.

      Making the Camera: Shutter


    • 9.

      Making the Camera: Clicker


    • 10.

      Loading the Camera


    • 11.

      Adding Winder


    • 12.

      Using the Camera


    • 13.

      Unloading the Film


    • 14.

      Next Steps


    • 15.



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About This Class

You don’t need to buy a camera to take a photograph! A camera is a box with a hole in it, and you can build your own camera using a 35mm film, recycled materials and everyday household objects. 

I am Dominic Righini-Brand, I am a professional photographer and I have been experimenting with making my own pinhole cameras since I was a student. In this class we’ll be exploring how cameras work and I’ll be showing you how to build a 35 mm matchbox pinhole camera.

Creating your own camera is a really fun and exciting process, and pinhole cameras are a great way to get into photography and learn how cameras work. This class is suitable for beginners, photography students, professionals and anyone interested in photography.

I cannot wait to see your pinhole cameras and the photographs you take with them! Join in and let’s experiment!

In this class you will learn:

  • how pinhole cameras and rudimentary optics work;
  • how to calculate pinhole size, aperture and image size;
  • how to design and build your own 35 mm pinhole camera;
  • how to load, lightproof and use your pinhole camera.


Crazy Camera — Research & Inspiration board on Pinterest

Photography Glossary — Glossary of Photographic Terms

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Evgeniya & Dominic Righini-Brand

Graphic Design & Photography

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1. Introduction & Overview: You don't need to buy a camera to take a photograph. The camera is a box of a hole in it, and you can build your own using a 35 millimeter film, recycled materials, and everyday household objects. Pinhole cameras are a great way to get into photography and learn how cameras work. This is Dominic from Attitude Creative, I'm a professional photographer, and I've been experimenting with making my own pinhole cameras since I was a student. In this class, we'll be exploring how cameras work, and I'll be showing you how you can build your own 35 millimeter matchbox pinhole camera. This class is suitable for beginners, photography students, professionals, and anyone interested in photography. Creating your own camera is a really fun and exciting process, I cannot wait to see your pinhole cameras, and the photographs you take with them. So enroll now, and let's create something awesome. 2. How Does Pinhole Photography Work: Whilst the technology behind both digital and chemical photography may be relatively new, the theory and understanding behind photography dates back to ancient Greece and Chinese philosophers who experimented with naturally occurring rudimentary pinhole cameras. During the 15th century, camera obscura type devices were perfected as drawing aids. Leonardo da Vinci produced many detailed diagrams, descriptions, and illustrations. Ultimately, a camera is a box with a hole in it. A pinhole camera is a simple camera without a lens and a small aperture. Light from the scene passes through the pinhole and is projected on the opposite side of the box, producing an inverted image. Pinhole cameras using photographic paper or film produce negative images. Positive images can be produced afterwards in a dark room. Digital pinhole cameras produce positive images. This is because how digital sensors work and record images. Personally, I prefer film and photographic paper based pinhole cameras. 3. Pinhole Camera Optics: The distance between the pinhole and the image plane is the focal length of the camera. Light comes through the pinhole at about 150 degrees, which in photographic terms is really wide angle. Your pinhole camera must be light proof. Light must only enter the camera through the pinhole when the shutter is open. If your camera has any gaps or holes which let in excess light, your film or photographic paper will become fogged. Consider experimenting with different focal lengths to produce super wide, wide, and normal angles of view. Calculating the correct pinhole size is important. A smaller pinhole will produce sharper images. Vignetting occurs when the diameter of the hole approaches the thickness of the material in which it is punched because the sides of the hole obstruct the light entering it, anything other than 90 degrees. The best pinhole is perfectly round. Pinholes are normally produced using a needle or a dental pick and the metal from aluminum drinks can or aluminum baking foil. Fine sandpaper can be used to reduce the thickness of the material before creating the pinhole. The optimum pinhole size is 125th of the square route of the camera's focal length in millimeters. With 150 millimeter camera, this gives a pinhole diameter of naught 0.5 millimeter. If you don't like maths, do not worry. Simply enter your focal length as millimeters into a calculator and hit square root button and then divide the result by 25. The image circle projected on the image plane can be calculated by multiplying the camera's focal length by 1.92. Your camera's aperture can be calculated by dividing the distance from the pinhole to the image plane by the diameter of the pinhole. For example, a camera with a naught 0.4 millimeter pinhole and 100 millimeter focal length will have a calculated aperture of F 250. The depth of field in pinhole cameras is practically infinite. However, this does not mean the optical blurring does not occur. The sharpness of the image is dependent on the distance from the aperture to the focal plane, the aperture size, and the light source. 4. Example Pinhole Cameras: Have a look at my crazy camera Pinterest board for inspiration. Hear are some pinhole cameras I've built and some which have inspired me. This was my first pinhole camera, which I made while studying at Huntingdon Regional College. It's made from an old wooden box and uses photographic paper. This pinhole camera someone made using an empty tin of spam and it has a rudimentary winding mechanism. It has been dubbed the SPAMera. The Hexomniscope pinhole camera which was created by Matt Abelson, has six pinholes, which can be controlled by a cable release and it can take 360 degrees photographs. The camera uses 120 roll film. This pocket sized pinhole camera was made by one of my students at the British Higher School of Art and Design in Moscow. It was made using an old sock and can be folded away after use. This camera I made from an old pair of trousers and some recycled cardboard to demonstrate to students what you can make using your hands. It has a 100 millimeter focal length and an aperture of f-250. Here is another pinhole camera I've designed. It is made from mount board and recycled parcel wrap. 5. Tools & Materials: I'm going to show you how to make a 35 millimeter matchbox pinhole camera. This design is suitable for anyone who's never maid a pinhole camera before, and can be made using materials typically found around home. To make your matchbox pinhole camera, you're going to need the following materials. A matchbox. Standard match boxes are usually about the right size for 35 millimeter film. A new roll of 35 millimeter film, normal color film with a film speed of about a 100 to 200 ISO works best. For this class, I'm going to be using black and white film, because I can process my own film at home. An empty roll of 35 millimeter film with at least one centimeter stub of film sticking out. Use some expired film or ask your local photo laboratory because they usually throw these away afterwards. Alternatively, you can use reloadable 35 millimeter film cassettes, which can be purchased cheaply on eBay. For this class, I'm going to be using reloadable film cassettes. Thin card. You can use the card from the film packet. An empty aluminum drinks can. This we'll use to make the pinhole lens, you can also use baking foil. Fine sandpaper. Black electrical tape, because it is lightproof and great for building pinhole cameras. Your pinhole camera must be lightproof. Light must only enter the camera through the pinhole. Sellotape. The plastic from a spiral binder or any small piece of thin curved plastic. A fine sewing needle or pen. Scissors. A sharp craft knife. A black marker pen, this is used for coloring insides of the camera. You can also use acrylic paint. The camera's insides should be black, because black absorbs light. 6. Making the Camera: Body: If you have not already done so, discard the matches from the matchbox. We do not need to use this. Remove the inner part of the matchbox and mark out a 24 millimeter square, this is going two bee the shape of our photograph. Feel free to experiment with different shapes and sizes. For example, if you want to have a more traditional rectangle photograph, then measure and cut out a 36 by 24 millimeter hole. Carefully cut out the frame using a sharp knife, whereas trying to keep edges as neat as possible. This can be a little tricky because you're cutting through a box and you cannot easily apply lots of pressure. Rough edges and card fibers will appear around the edges of your photos. To reduce internal reflections and light spillage, color the inside of your matchbox using a felt pen or acrylic paint. Remember paint takes time to dry. Now take the outside part of the matchbox and draw two intersecting diagonal lines. Exact the center point, and mark out a one centimeter square. This is where the pinhole lens is going to be mounted. Using a craft knife, carefully cut out the square, whereas keeping the edges as neat as possible to avoid fluffy fibers obscuring the image. You should have something that looks like this. 7. Making the Camera: Pinhole: [MUSIC] Now we need to make a pinhole for our pinhole camera. Using some sharp scissors, puncture and cut open our aluminum drinks can. You will need to cut out a small square big enough to cover the hole we've made in the outside of the matchbox. Be careful when cutting out your drinks can because the edges are sharp and you can easily cut your fingers. Also, wash your can before attempting to make a pinhole. Now using some fine sandpaper, gently sand down your aluminum on a flat surface. I am using a cutting mat to protect my table. Your aluminum needs to be as thin as a cigarette paper. This is really important because the material needs to be thinner than the pinhole's diameter otherwise your image quality will be affected. Now, find and mark the center point. Using a fine sewing needle or pin, gently stick into the aluminum. By this, you will need to be really gentle. Do not apply too much pressure otherwise the hole will be too big. My matchbox pinhole camera has got a ten millimeter focal length. The pinhole should be naught 0.1 of a millimeter. Sounds impossible, I know, but with a little bit of skill and practice, you'll be able to make a hole this size. I'm using a magnifying glass to help me measure my pinhole. Sometimes after making the initial impression with the needle, you will need to gently sand the pinhole with the sandpaper and then make another impression. If it all goes wrong, don't panic, you can simply start again. You can make a lot of pinholes with the aluminum from a single drinks can. If your pinhole is too small, there will not be enough light and you'll need a longer exposure time. However, if your pinhole is too large, for example, naught 0.5 or naught 0.8 millimeter, your images will appear fuzzy and out-of-focus. Place the aluminum onto the box so that the pinhole is exactly in the center of the square hole in the outside of the box, and tape it in place using electrical tape. Do not cover the pinhole with electrical tape. 8. Making the Camera: Shutter: Now, we need to fashion accrued sliding shutter for our camera. The shutter is what covers the pinhole when we're not taking photographs. Cut out two small pieces of fin cut. A square approximately 32 millimeters and a rectangle about 25 by 40 millimeters. In the square piece of card, cut out a one centimeter square in the center. Put some black tape on one sighed of the rectangular piece to help prevent light leaks. Alternatively, you can use black card. Place the square piece of card over the pinhole and tape down three sides, leaving a gap at the top into which the rectangular piece of card can slide. Check that the shatter can be pushed down to fully cover the pinhole. 9. Making the Camera: Clicker: Now that we've made our sliding shutter, we need to make a clicker because deciding how far to wind the film between each photograph can be a little bit tricky. If you wind the film too little, you can get double exposures, too much and you'll have large gaps between your photos. You need some fairly stiff plastic, which is thin, springy and curved. The spine of a spiral ring binder is ideal. Cutoff one of the loops like this. Take your new 35 millimeter film and place the pointed end of the plastic so it enters one of the sprocket holes in the film. Take the plastic to the film canister securely and test the clicker by gently pulling out sum of the film. The clicker should ride on the back of the film smoothly and make a click as it drops into the sprocket holes. When you're using your camera, you'll need to wind down the film about eight clicks. 10. Loading the Camera: Trim the leading edge of the film, the edge needs to be straight. You might also need to trim the end of the film from the empty film canister. Pull out a little more film and thread it through the Matchbox. Make sure that the emulsion side is facing the pinhole. The emulsion side is not shiny. Using some sticky tape, splice the ends of the film together as neatly as possible. Try to make sure the edges are lined up together so the film can easily pass into the empty canister. Take both sides and make sure that they're joined securely. Slide the match tray back into the matchbox. Turn the spindle in the empty canister so that the slack film is wound into it, make sure the edges of the film canister are pushed up tight to the matchbox and no film can be seen. The film is now loaded, but we need to make sure that the camera is light proof. It is very important that no light can get into the camera except through the pinhole when we're taking a photograph, excess light will fault the film and your camera will not work properly. Black electrical PVC tape is very effective at keeping light out. The most important places to seal are between the film canisters and the matchbox. Place strips of tape down the front on both sides. Use two layers and make sure it's stuck down firmly all around. Pay attention to the ends of each rail, make sure no adhesive tape sticks to the film, otherwise, you won't be able to wind the film when using your camera. Always use several layers of tape to secure the joints and light proof the camera. 11. Adding Winder: To make winding your film easier, you can make a simple winder using card and electrical tape. Cut out and fold a thin strip of card, like this. It should fit in the hole of the top of your film. Now, gently wrap this in electrical tape. This will make it stronger because we need to exert quite a lot of pressure when winding the film. You can also make it winder using the ring pull from the aluminum drinks can, or by fashioning it from wood using a penknife. Your winder will need to be able to fit in the top of the take-up film here. As you wind your film on, the film and the take-up spool will tend to spring back. To keep some tension on the take-up spool, place a little bit of tissue paper on its base and tape over it. Don't make it too tight or it will be too difficult to wind the film on. Our pinhole camera is now ready to be used. Make sure the shutter is closed. To wind the film on, turn the winder on the empty take-up spool anticlockwise. Listen for the clicks. Count about eight clicks between each photograph. 12. Using the Camera: Our matchbox pinhole camera, has an aperture of about F90. There's no need to be very accurate about exposure times when using film. Outdoor exposures can vary drastically depending on the light. On a bright sunny day, exposures could be 1-5 seconds. On a gloomy overcast day, it could be 30-90. Indoor photography, could be 5-10 minutes. My photographs were taken on a dark winter's day. I'm using an exposure time of 1-1 minute 30. In any case, there was a lot two experiment with hair, and mistakes will be made. If you're unsure about your exposure time, then bracket your exposures. This means taking photographs of an exposure time, and then taking another photograph of the same thing using a different exposure time. This tactic will ensure you get the correct exposure time, or as narrow as correct as possible. Because competitive modern photography, exposure times a quite long. It is important you do not move your camera, once you are taking a photograph. Find a secure, flat space where you can place your camera, once you're taking a picture. Windy days are best avoided, because pinhole cameras are small, and it can easily be blown away in the wind. 13. Unloading the Film: When the film cannot be wound on anymore, it is time to unload your film. The simplest way to unload your camera is to cut the box open and cut the film. However, if you're careful, you can raise your camera many times. Gently pill back the tape to find the end of the plastic clicker. Remove the clicker. This prevents it from tearing the film as it is rewound. Seal the tape back down again and wind the film back into its original canister. Remove the tape carefully from around this and cut off the film, leaving enough sticking out of the camera to splice your next role. 14. Next Steps: The film can be developed in a photo lab. However, it would be a good idea to tell the staff that the frame, space, size, and exposures might be irregular. Some labs do not print photographs which they deem to be of insufficient quality and clip the edge of the film to market reprints and future. Best ask for the film to be uncut. In any case, let them know, to be on the safe side. You might get some funny looks, just say that you're a student. You can also try digitizing your pinhole photos using a negative scanner like this. I'm using a Plustek OpticFilm negative scanner. Negative scanner price and quality range greatly from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars for a professional kit. If you do not have a negative scanner, you can scan your negatives using a traditional flatbed scanner. Simply place your negatives, shiny side down on the scan bed and place a white sheet of paper behind it like this. Preview and select the area that you want to scan. When scanning like this, it is best to set the scanner to its highest resolution possible. When you've finished, you'll need to invert the images in Photoshop. When scanning color negatives, you'll also need to work on the color balance. 15. Conclusion: The great thing about pinhole cameras, is that there's so many different types that you can make. So have fun experimenting and be creative. Make your first pinhole camera, master the process, and then make something different. Try making a digital pinhole camera. If you've got a dark room and some photographic paper, you can make a paper-based pinhole camera. Think about everyday household objects you can recycle and appropriate. Just about anything can be made into a pinhole camera. That's it for this class. I hope that you've enjoyed it and learned something new. If you liked this class, then please leave a review so more people can discover it. If you have any questions, leave the comments on the community board for this class and I'll happily answer and provide feedback. I cannot wait to seen your pinhole cameras, and the photographs that you take with them. Make sure to post your work in the Projects section for this class, and if you're going your work on Instagram, please tag attitudeskills so we can see that too. Also, don't hesitate in following our Facebook page to see what we're up to, get all the latest updates. Send us messages if you need to get in contact with us about something, and follow our Student Spotlight gallery. Thank you for enrolling in this class, and I hope to see you in our other classes.