Pinhole Buddha

The pinhole box images and construction page seems to be the most popular. Maybe I should start a photography blog. I am presently experimenting with a pinhole box set-up that is more like a traditional camera obscura. I have tried this approach before, but was not satisfied with the quality of the digital capture of the image projected on the back interior of the box.

I’ll post results when I am more successful. In the meantime a few more pinhole box images using the wax paper screen.

When I darken the box more to reduce the amount of extra light entering it resulted in images that required more adjustments using imaging software. The golden box glow was gone and it now  appears as if there is some sort of screen in front of the statue. In reality it is the wax paper screen.

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Pinhole Image in A Box

Some new images and a few observations

  1. The cost of materials to construct a pinhole can screen and box is very cheap.  From a teaching point of view, very cheap is very good, especially when it produces effective learning opportunities.
  2. The construction process is neither difficult nor time-consuming. It does not have to be overly precise in order to produce visible results. Sorry, I’m a habituated to puns.
  3. The simple home-made cardboard box has a make believe toy quality.  The first response that students often have is surprise that the thing actually works. It is a low-tech how factor. This makes the activity of using and making them FUN. Learning as play. My daughter took one of the boxes to her class ( a Special Needs  School) for show and tell. It was a big hit and everyone wanted to try it.
  4. This activity can connect students to the past. They can better understand how and why people used earlier technology. It wasn’t silly and the results were not primitive.

For example this image makes good sense …………..

Covered photographer with 19th century box camera on tripod

……..once the student notices the difference when covering the pinhole box with a blanket.

Pinhole Image – Digital Capture

There are many useful sites about how to build pinhole cameras and develop pinhole photographs.  I, as mentioned in the earlier post on pinhole photography, was looking to accomplish two things in the classroom.

  1. Have a hands on demonstration of  how pinhole images are generated so that students could better appreciate and understand the basis of photography.
  2. Find away to  digitally capture the images, so that the time constraints of developing film and the  issues of using chemicals in a darkroom process could be avoided.

The first goal was accomplished by creating a pinhole can screen.

The second goal was accomplished by using the a pinhole can a pinhole box that functioned like a camera obscura.


The viewer opening at the back of the box  could be used to just look at the image on the screen of wax paper. More importantly the lens of the camera could be inserted to take a digital picture of the projected pinhole image.

To learn a bit more about the method of construction and see some  examples of  these digital captures go to the Creating Pinhole Can Screens and Boxes Page.

Pinhole in the Classroom

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.

Pinhole Screen Image