Subjects for a Pinhole Camera – #1 Water

Pinhole photography is an amazingly creative medium with deep roots in history and camera obscuras. Pinholes have been in use a long time, originating as perspective viewing devices as far back as 1425 by Filippo Brunelleschi. Camera obscuras are based on the pinhole principle – one example exists in Edinburgh, Scotland in a tower on the Royal Mile below the Castle. Some of the first pinhole photographs were made by Sir David Brewster in 1859.

Surprisingly, from my Kickstarter experience, I have found many people have an interest in pinholes but have no idea what to do with a pinhole camera. So I thought I’d start a series of posts to show you and your children what a magical experience pinhole photography can be by focusing on one subject at a time.

A little background – a pinhole camera is a box with a hole on one end and film on the other, and a bit of tape over the hole. That’s it. Point the camera, take the tape off for the right length of time, put the tape back on, develop the film, and you WILL have a picture. Everything else is bells and whistles added on. Flyer, my Kickstarter 3D-printed camera, is about as simple as you can get for 120 roll film.


Pinhole cameras see water in an entirely different context than we see with our eyes. Since pinhole cameras have very small apertures and high f/stops, exposures are often seconds or minutes long depending on light. During that time, water keeps moving, either flowing in a thick milky stream or rippling in the breeze, or sometimes you are lucky to catch it flat calm with gorgeous reflections.

Try taking pictures of water – children playing around a sprinkler, streams flowing around rocks, a flat calm lake, stormy waters, even a simple kitchen faucet.

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado (Clipper 6x18, Ektar 100)

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado (Clipper 6×18, Ektar 100)

Stream near Mt Baker, WA (c) 2005 Clint O'Connor

Stream near Mt Baker, WA (c) 2005 Clint O’Connor

"Tranquil Bay"

“Tranquil Bay”

"Parted Waters"

“Parted Waters”

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Printing Your Own Cameras from STL Files

strip-xmas13-078-10For 3D printing enthusiasts, you can print your own pinhole cameras! If you’ve never done pinhole photography, it’s ridiculously simple. Load the film, open/close the shutter, advance the film, repeat X times, send the film off for processing. After nearly 20 years of pinhole photography, I’m still amazed and astounded at some of the images I get back. I’ve learned to expect the unexpected.



Parts & Assembly

There are mechanical parts kits you can get along with the STL files to complete the cameras. Since most of the parts come in bulk quantities, it’s cheaper for you to get the parts kit than to order all the individual parts. However, the parts kit is not really necessary if you are a bit creative (as 3D printing enthusiasts generally are).

Assembling the Flyer 6×6 (PDF)
Assembling the Clipper 6×18 (PDF)

Minimal Parts

Flyer 6x6 Parts

Flyer 6×6 Parts

The minimal key parts are:

  • Screws: M3-8mm (4-40 in a pinch), 3 for Flyer and 1 for Clipper
  • Red Window: the red window can be cut out of a dark red transparent office folder as a circle 1/2″ in diameter, and glued in with rubber cement
  • Pinhole: the pinhole can be made out of tin foil 3/4″ in diameter, punctured with a needle (Google for how-to), and glued in with rubber cement
  • Shutter: (Clipper only) a piece of black gaffer’s tape (similar to masking tape but opaque)
  • Optional: 1/4-20 nut for a tripod
  • Recommended: weatherstrip to provide pressure on the film while winding

Don’t forget the all important signature rubber band (2 for Clipper) – it serves to hold the lid on while film is in and as a reminder that film is present in the camera. When around the base instead (Flyer) or both on one side (Clipper), there’s no film in.

[button href=”″ title=”Make your own Flyer 6×6″ shape=”square” size=”regular” block=”false” circle=”false” icon_only=”true” info=”tooltip”]Make your own Flyer 6×6 [/button] [button href=”″ title=”Make your own Clipper 6×18″ shape=”square” size=”regular” block=”false” circle=”false” icon_only=”true” info=”tooltip”]Make your own Clipper 6×18 [/button]

Flyer 6×6, Clipper 6×18 Win Honors!

Flyer 6×6 and Clipper 6×18 are now in the New Mexico History Museum! The “Poetics of Light Exhibition is running through January 10, 2016 – if you pass near Santa Fe, you should go see this stunning display of pinhole photography. Their photographic archives can be searched online at


The cameras will remain at the museum permanently. The two photographs on current display with the cameras are Loch Lomond (Flyer 6×6) and the Great Sand Dunes (Clipper 6×18). The quote at the bottom of the display case reads:

[blockquote]As a deaf man, the visual impact of images has always been very important to me. I love the unique perspective of pinhole cameras and the analog quality of film. I visualized how I could bring modern 3D printing technology to old school photography and make a new generation of pinhole cameras. The Kickstarter attracted people worldwide to get back into film, people who are using film but had not tried pinhole, and younger people who had never tried film. My favorite question from the Kickstarter was “where do I get pinhole film?”[/blockquote]
Loch Lomond (Flyer 6x6, Ektar 100)

Loch Lomond, Scotland (Flyer 6×6, Ektar 100)

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado (Clipper 6x18, Ektar 100)

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado (Clipper 6×18, Ektar 100)


Pinholes and Tripods

I am so used to this that I forget that photographers new to pinhole photography or film photography might not realize how critical a tripod or stable mount is to getting the sharpest pinhole images. Pinhole cameras with the correct size pinhole can take surprisingly sharp images. However, pinhole images take at least 1/2 second (about as fast as you can manually open and close a shutter) and often several minutes. In low light, you could be talking hours.

Recommended techniques vary according to the exposure and shutter mechanism, and whether you have a tripod.


Setting up a tripod shot

Setting up a tripod shot

With a heavy tripod, you can get away with most anything regardless of exposure time, including manually activating the shutter. If you have a light tripod, you may need to weigh it down with a bag or weights to prevent movement, especially when there’s a wind or when activating the shutter could cause unwanted movement. I frequently use an Ultrapod II for super lightweight and compact travel or a Slik Sprint Mini II for a travel tripod. Here, I’m setting up a shot on the Slik at Beeston Castle on the Cheshire plain (UK).


Stable Mount

If you are shooting in the range of 1-2 seconds or less, you want to make sure the camera is stable, resting on a solid base such as a rock, tree, fence, or other immovable object. Since the camera may move while operating the shutter, even with a remote cable release or light tripod, you’ll want to press the camera down so it doesn’t move as you open or close the shutter.

If you are shooting in the range of 10 seconds or more, you may be better off momentarily pressing the camera down while opening the shutter and then letting go. Press the camera down again when closing the shutter. There might be a slight wobble as you let go or press down, but it will be very short compared to the exposure time, and continuing to press the camera down might induce later unwanted motion as your hand tires or shakes.

The featured image shows a braking wheel on the Alamosa car on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. This was a 2 second exposure on Ektar 100 – the camera was braced and held down (no tripod) on the railing surrounding the small platform. train was moving at speed, creating the blur of the tracks and surrounding scenery.

No Stabilization

(c) 2014, Brian Richman, used by permission

(c) 2014, Brian Richman, used by permission

You may not always want to use a tripod or stable mount. Movement resulting from operating the camera may result in a softer focus or blur, creating a dreamy look in the image. This photo (used by permission) by Brian Richmond perfectly illustrates this and won first place in the 2014 North Texas Business Council for the Arts annual arts contest “On My Own Time”.