How to Take Photos with a Pinhole Camera: Operating Principle and Tips

How to Take Photos with a Pinhole Camera: Operating Principle and Tips
4 January 2024 No Comments Bez kategorii Cezary

Pinhole cameras usually are not complicated, so taking pictures using them also isn’t. I’d like to share my knowledge to the people, who starting their adventure with pinhole camera photography. However, i hope that also experienced photographers will find here some useful information.

How does a pinhole camera work?

To correctly operate pinhole camera we should realize how does a pinhole camera work. Light is projected on light sensitive material through very small hole – hole size is usually less than 0,5mm. F stop of pinhole is much, much higher than glass lenses- it might be150, 200 or more. So, exposure time is long.

Smaller pinhole cameras uses 35mm or 120 roll film. Popular ISO speed is 100, 160 or 200. Using that kind of films exposure times starting from 3-4 in sunny day. But in cloudy day, before dusk it might be few minutes.Sure, you can try handheld shots, but shaken, blurry image is not always is our goal. So, we need to minimize the risk of shaking or moving the camera during exposure. First of all you will need the tripod. You can get any, but i recommend a sturdy, stable construction even for small pinhole cameras. This way you will avoid unwanted shaken and blurry images.

Unfortunately, sturdy tripod might be heavy and it’s not sutable for trip with limited luggage. So, it’s good to have few options. Good are mini tripods, which you can carry in photo bag or „gorilla” tripods, which are flexible and you can shape them or wrap.

Next important question is how to open and close the shutter without risk of shaking the pinhole camera?

Some of pinhole cameras has cable released shutter, some has simple sliding or rotating shutter. Large format pinhole cameras often has no shutter at all, only lens cap, which cover pinhole area. How to use all that shutters?

Cable released shutter is very stable and safe. You should use long cable release (min. 20-30 cm) to avoid moving or shaking the camera.

Easy trick to safely open/close sliding shutter is to cover with finger or whole palm the pinhole, when shutter is closed. Than slide the bar to open shutter and wait 2-3 seconds (until you sure that camera is not shaking). Remove the finger from the hole and start exposure. Cover the shutter with finger/palm again before you will close the shutter.

There is many brands and models of pinhole cameras. They may vary. This blog is about vermeer pinhole cameras. So, now i will describe how to take photos with a pinhole vermeer camera.

Wrocław, St. John the Baptist Cathedral, pinhole photo taken using deep red filter

How to take photos with a pinhole vermeer camera?

Vermeer cameras are offered in two versions: as medium format cameras and large format cameras. medium format pinhole cameras uses 120 film type (with backing paper), large format need film holders. General rules are similar, the difference is that large format cameras are loaded with single sheets of sensitive material, thus only one or two photos you can make using one holder. Why two? Poular 4×5 inch, 5×7 and 8×10 inch film holders are double sided. Anyway- you need to have a bag of loaded spare film holders, if you want take more outdoor shots.

Medium format camera allow to take many photos on one roll of film. Depending of frame size it might be 4 (6x17cm), 6 (6x12cm), 8 (6x9cm) or 12 frames – in 6x6cm format.

Vermeer pinhole cameras has two winding knobs, sliding shutter and filter socket. two knobs help to keep film tension and allow to precise transport film to the next frame.

So, to take the photo make a photo using a pinhole camera first place the camera on the tripod. You need to calculate exposure time according to pinhole camera F value and measured light. You can measure light scene using light meter or DSLR camera or even your smartphone. There is many applications which work as camera light meter. To calculate exact time you should use exposure chart provided with pinhole camera or use software. Mr. Pinhole is online calculator, which allow to calculate exposure times and design pinhole camera. offer downoadable version of exposure calculator, which help also to calculate compensation for Schwarzschild effect.

Ensure that film was transported to unexposed frame and gently open sliding shutter to avoid shaking of camera. I recommend also use the filters. Basic set is UV filter for colour films and yellow and orange for b&w films. UV filter help to avoid bluish on colour films. It cut ultraviolet component in light. Yellow and orange filter makes the sky darker and increase contrast of whole monochrome photo. Red filter makes that effect stronger. All that filters are good for landscape photography. The UV filter is transparent and don’t requires changing the exposure time. Lengthening of exposure time is needed with yellow, orange and red filters- factors are usually engraved on barrels of filters.Sure, that using of filters is not mandatory, but in many situations it might increase the quality of pinhole photo.

Want to buy a pinhole camera? Check out the available models!

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