Over time I have looked at ways of incorporating different types of technology in my Media Studies Class. Many of my students were unaware of the history of mass media technology, and in particularly the development of photography. I came up with a hands on demonstration of the basic properties of light and the pinhole effect.
The first step was to create a pinhole-can projection screen. I took an empty soup can and put a small hole in the bottom. I wasn’t overly concerned with the size of the pinhole so I used a small nail. I then placed a piece of wax paper the open end of the can and held it in place with an elastic band.
If you point the pinhole end toward a light source and keep the wax paper end in dim light you get a projected image on the wax paper. This will work in a dimly lit room and with the pinhole pointed toward the window.
Once I had the method worked out and had some supplies available I was then able to let students try this out in the classroom. Only a few students had any experience with pinholes in a science class and so the students thought this was a remarkable “cool” effect.
Since the course is Media Studies with an emphasis on Media Literacy, time was not available to extend the activity into pinhole photography. That changed as digital photography became more accessible. I looked for ways of combining the activities.
This became important because, while digital cameras have made classroom photography projects more manageable in terms of time and resources, they also distance the users from the basic simplicity of photography. In fact, as digital photography became dominant, fewer and fewer students understood how the process of capturing an image worked. Even though many of them had some knowledge of how to use basic imaging software, very few students knew that a they were using a digital darkroom. Since the terminology used in any imaging software is based on darkroom techniques, the students lack of background made these darkroom terms seem very strange and arbitrary.
The pinhole-can projection screen helped bridge this gap between the new and the old. The next step was to create a means to let students try pinhole photography using the digital camera.