DIY Photography Hacks: how to make a digital pinhole – and make it telephoto

DIY Photography Hacks: how to make a digital pinhole - and then make it telephoto

Do you fancy a fun project that will reinvigorate your inner artist? Our latest DIY Photography Hacks post takes you step by step through making a digital pinhole camera by bringing a low-tech homemade pinhole ‘lens’ to your high-tech DSLR! This is photography at its most basic.

DIY Photography Hacks: how to make a digital pinhole - and then make it telephoto

Forget complex lens constructions and extravagancies such as variable apertures and focusing; this digital pinhole technique is based on nothing more than light passing through a pinprick-sized hole to project an upside-down image onto a sheet of photographic paper – or your digital camera’s sensor.

Pinholes have fascinated us for centuries. Around 340BC Aristotle observed the optical principles of light projected through pin-sized holes. In the 18th century, artists used camera obscuras to sketch over projected images. It wasn’t until the 19th century that modern photography started using chemical processes to fix the images permanently.

There’s something magical about capturing an image without a lens. Pinholes give a softer, more romantic view of subjects such as landscapes, waterfalls and cityscapes, and give portraits and nudes a certain dream-like quality.

However, pinhole photography doesn’t work well with most moving objects because of the long exposure times required. The extremely dim light that the tiny pinhole allows through requires exposures of several seconds. So if photographing people, you’ll need your subjects to sit very patiently for their portrait!

In keeping with the era that pinhole photography developed, Victorian subjects, such as windmills and piers, are particularly suited to this digital pinhole technique.

How to make your digital pinhole camera

How to make your digital pinhole camera: step 1

Drill a body cap
We’re going to use a Canon EOS body cap as the mount for our pinhole. Start by drilling a small pilot hole into the exact centre of the cap, and then work your way up with progressively larger drill bits, until you have a hole that’s 1cm wide. Give the cap a good clean to get rid of any stray filings.

How to make your digital pinhole camera: step 2

Cut up a drinks can
After enjoying what’s inside the can – although we don’t recommend drinking alcohol when operating power tools and using sharp implements! – wash it out. Then use a craft knife or strong scissors and cut the aluminium can into a piece large enough to hold easily; it will be trimmed down later.

How to make your digital pinhole camera: step 3

Punch a dimple
Flatten the cut aluminium piece as best you can and place it, painted side up, on a block of soft wood. Lightly hammer a needle into the aluminium, not all the way through, but enough to make a strong dimple. Driving the needle through a cork first will help you to hold it – and avoid hammering your fingers!

How to make your digital pinhole camera: step 4

File a hole
Turn the aluminium over and sand down the ‘dimple’ with an emery board – the kind used for filing your fingernails. Work slowly and spin the aluminium around as you work, so you file the surface evenly from all directions. You are aiming to create a really small hole with no burrs.

How to make your digital pinhole camera: step 5

On a knife edge
The idea behind not punching the hole all the way through the aluminium is to have a small hole with a sharp edge. By filing off the material, you’re thinning the edges of the hole without leaving a ragged edge. The thinner the edges and the more circular the hole, the higher the quality your pinhole images will be.

How to make your digital pinhole camera: step 6

Cut some tape
When you’re happy with your pinhole, it needs to be cut down to size and fixed to the inside of the body cap. Black lightproof tape, such as electrical tape or duct tape, works best. Cut a small hole for the pinhole in the tape with the craft knife and secure it over the hole in the body cap.

How to make your digital pinhole camera: step 7

Fix the cap
Clean off all dust thoroughly before attaching the pinhole cap to your camera. It’s not a good idea to put your finger on the pinhole as finger grease can block it, but a further strip of tape on the outside of the camera can act as a protective cap. Now go out and shoot some creative images!

How to make your digital pinhole camera: step 8

Open the image
Back at home, open your image – or our masterclass_start.jpg from the Video Disc. Go to Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Shadows/Highlights and select the following settings: Lighten Shadows 10%; Darken Highlights 1%; Midtone Contrast 20%.

How to make your digital pinhole camera: step 9

Blend it in
Next, go to Enhance>AdjustLighting>Levels and drag the Blacks slider from 0 to 5. Then drag the Midtone slider from 1.0 to 1.15, and hit OK. Go to Enhance>AdjustColour>AdjustHue/Saturation, move the Saturation slider up to +8, and hit OK.

How to make your digital pinhole camera: step 10

Finishing steps
Select the Crop tool, and just crop off some of the dark area at the bottom, just up to the sea on the right-hand edge. Go to Enhance>AdjustSharpness, set Amount to 100%, Radius to 4, and Remove to Gaussian Blur. All you need to do now is clone out any sensor spots (at 100% view).

PAGE 1: How to make a digital pinhole camera
PAGE 2: How to make your digital pinhole telephoto


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