[Student Projects, Photography]
John Bordley's Chemistry and Art class at the University
of the South, each student was required to do an individual project.
I had no idea what subject to do mine on until Dr. Bordley suggested that
I make a pinhole camera and take pictures with it. Since I had never heard
of a pinhole camera, much less made one, he had to explain to me that a
pinhole camera is a homeade camera that produces negatives by letting light
in through a tiny hole. Since the light is reflected off whatever the camera
is aimed at, it produces an actual image on the film instead of just a
blur of light. The camera can be made out of any container, as long as
this container doesn't let light in until the hole is uncovered. I also
found information on several webpages, especially The Pinhole Page (link
no longer available), about pinhole cameras. I owe thanks to Dr. Bordley
for providing advice, film, and chemicals; to Bud Sutherland in the Woods
Labs basement for generously donating the hardware I needed, including
an entire roll of black electrical tape; and to my classmate Amanda Wolfe
for her collaboration and commiseration in the evil darkroom.
I began this project with the goal of experimenting with as many combinations
of variables as possible to find the best way to take pictures with a pinhole
camera. My plan was to make two different cameras, one out of a round container
and one out of a rectangular box, to see if the shape of the camera affected
the picture. In each camera, I planned to have two positions for a pinhole,
with one position farther away from the film than the other, to test the
effect of the distance from the pinhole to the film. I also planned to
make several pinholes of different sizes in order to find out how varying
the size of the pinhole changed the image produced. Additionally, Dr. Bordley
had three types of film available, paper film (coated with a silver bromide
emulsion), Kodak Ortho film, and Ilford Ortho film, so I intended to see
which kind produced the best pictures. Finally, I knew that I would be
changing the amount of time I exposed the film to light, and I also knew
that, since I planned to take pictures in sunlight, the intensity of the
light would change.
With all these variables in mind, I began to construct a camera using a cylindrical Kroger Oats box that Dr. Bordley had in his office. I spraypainted the inside of this container black to keep light from bouncing around inside the camera and cut two holes in it, one in the bottom (24 cm from lid) and one in the side (13 cm from other side). Then I drilled four "pinholes" in pieces of aluminum like the approximately life-size one shown below.
That hole, which doesn't show up clearly in this picture, was the smallest, with a diameter (measured under the microscope) of about .02 inches. The second smallest pinhole's diameter was about .03 inches; the next one's was about .04 in., and the largest one's was about .07 in. Lastly, I made shutters for the pinholes out of cardboard and attached them with black electrical tape. The picture to the right shows the camera soon after this point.
To take a picture with this camera, I would Scotch Tape a piece of film to the side of the box opposite the hole I wanted to use--so if I wanted to take a picture with the side hole, I would tape the film to the side facing that hole; and if I wanted the bottom hole, I would tape the film to the lid. This part was done in the darkroom, of course. Then I would take the camera to the place I was trying to take a picture of, aim the camera, lift the shutter while I counted seconds, and then close the shutter when I thought the film had been exposed enough. The next step was to develop the film, so I would return to the darkroom, remove the film from the camera and the tape from the film, then place the film in the developing solution, then the stop bath, then the fixing solution. Finally, I would rinse the film and take it out into the light so I could see what (if anything) I had created.
What Actually Happened
After building the camera, I started taking
pictures using the smallest pinhole, the Kodak film, and the side hole.
Since I had never used a pinhole camera before, I planned to take a few
pictures with this setup to practice and to make sure I could, in fact,
get a picture. My first two pictures, however, were completely black. Thinking
that light could be getting in through the thin plastic lid, I covered
the outside of it with the black electrical tape. When the black spraypaint
began flaking off the lid's inside, I also painted a cardboard circle black
and fitted it inside the lid. At Dr. Bordley's advice, I loaded the camera
with film and took it outside but didn't actually lift the shutter to expose
the film. I also used all three different types of film to determine if
the film itself was the problem. However, the next six pieces of film I
developed were still either fogged or completely dark. Then I put black
tape on the bottom of the camera to keep any stray light from coming through
there. I also guessed that the red-painted light bulb that was used in
the darkroom was affecting the film, so I started working in the darkroom
using only the very dim overhead safelight. When the next four pictures
I developed were still completely black, I decided to repeat the procedure
of loading the camera but not exposing the film, but keep the camera inside
the lab. When I developed this film, it was only slightly fogged. From
this result, I decided that my camera must be letting light in, so I covered
the entire box with the black electrical tape. The fuzzy picture above
and to the right shows the camera as it finally looked.
I took my next several pictures inside and was relieved when they were mostly clear instead of totally black. Dr. Bordley also bought a new box of Kodak film, since what I had been using was a few years old and running out. At last, aiming the camera at a window, I produced my first clear picture, shown to the left. On my twenty-second picture, having taken Dr. Bordley's advice and aimed the camera out of a different window, I suddenly realized, to my amazement, that the image on the developed film was a tree, with buildings at the bottom. This negative is shown to the right, with its inverse image, the actual picture (thanks to Adobe Photoshop 3.0), at the far right. With that, I was ready to begin the actual project.
The Actual Project
After having spent nearly two weeks making the camera produce pictures,
I did almost all of the project's actual research--varying the variables--in
two days. By the end of them, I had taken and developed thirty-one more
pictures of the tree and buildings mentioned above and thoroughly hated
the darkroom and the smell of photographic chemicals. For each picture,
I aimed the real camera, with the f stop set at 11, out the window and
recorded the light meter reading. I used this reading to make an educated
guess at a good exposure time, aimed the pinhole camera, and took the picture.
I developed the film by leaving it for two minutes in a solution with a
1 to 3 ratio of Kodak Dektol developer to water, then putting it in a stop
bath solution for thirty seconds and a fixing solution for one minute.
Along with the light meter reading, I recorded for each piece of film the
exposure time, the pinhole used, and the position of the pinhole (bottom
or side). I had already abandoned the idea of making another camera, and
I ran out of time to use different types of film.
Results, In Theory
Judging from my pictures, when using a pinhole camera:
--As pinhole size increases, the size of the image increases, the amount of light reaching the film increases, and the detail of the image decreases.
--As the distance from pinhole to film increases, the size of the image increases, the amount of light reaching the film decreases, and the detail of the image decreases.
In theory, therefore, this is what should have happened:
|Smallest Pinhole||2nd Smallest Pinhole||2nd Largest Pinhole||Largest Pinhole|
|Shorter Pinhole-to-Film Distance (Side Hole)||Greatest detail and smallest image; Most underexposed using shorter distance||Detail, image size, and exposure between that of smallest and largest pinholes, but closer to smallest than to largest||Detail, image size, and exposure between that of largest and smallest pinholes, but closer to largest than to smallest||Least detail and largest image using shorter distance; Most overexposed|
|Longer Pinhole-to-Film Distance (Bottom Hole)||Best detail and smallest image using longer distance; Most underexposed||Detail, image size, and exposure between that of smallest and largest; closer to smallest||Detail, image size, and exposure between that of largest and smallest; closer to largest||Least detail and largest image; Most overexposed using longer distance|
Joy Reeves, 1997.