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Making a cyanotype pinhole in-camera?

Writer and photography / Malin Fabbri

The myth: A pinhole camera cannot be used to make cyanotypes! Malin Fabbri confirms the myth.

It has been said that the exposure times for a pinhole camera are just too long to make a cyanotype print.True or false?

For testing this theory we used a bucket pinhole camera with f/295 hole and exposure time of around 1-5 minutes when using ordinary black & white silver gelatin paper – depending of course on the strength of the light. Where the black & white paper would normally sit, a coated cyanotype paper was inserted, and the camera aimed at the garden.

Exposing the paper for 8 hours – a very long exposure time by any standards – did not result in the slightest imprint on the paper. Not a shadow.

A fresh paper was inserted. This time the exposure time was weeks instead of hours. Five weeks to be exact – in the Scandinavian summer time, when the sun shines for most of the day and most of the night. This resulted in some unimpressive streaks on the paper. See image on left.

Image above: Cyanotype after 5 weeks of exposure in-camera.

Image above: Cyanotype after 6 months exposure in a pinhole camera.

Not being disheartened, another paper was inserted, and exposed for six month. For half a year the pinhole was sitting there, letting in light through it’s little hole, exposing the paper. The result? After the rinse, a slight blue patch showed in one corner, but certainly nothing worth the effort. See above right.

True or false? The conclusion: True! To combine pinhole and cyanotype, the in-camera method cannot be used. Instead, make a negative using the pinhole camera, and use the negative to print a cyanotype.

Reader contributions

After the article was published a few readers came forward with their experiences. Thank you. Here is Sarah Warwicks experiment.

Sarah Warwick's Pinhole camera used to make a cyanotype
Sarah Warwick’s Pinhole camera used to make a cyanotype
The cyanotype made with the pinhole camera
The cyanotype made with the pinhole camera
Read more about cyanotypes
Beginners guide to cyanotypesBlueprint to cyanotypes – Exploring a historical alternative photographic process
by Malin Fabbri and Gary Fabbri
A well illustrated step-by-step guide to cyanotypes.
A lot more information on the process, chemicals, coating, exposure, printing, making negatives, washing and troubleshooting is available in this book.
Strongly recommended for beginners

10 thoughts on “Making a cyanotype pinhole in-camera?

  1. Hi Kimberly,
    It was the classic formula. I’m not sure the other one would work either, but please try it and let us know! 🙂

  2. Thanks for posting this. You saved me a ton of work. I was going to try the same thing you did, but now that I already know it won’t work, i think that I will play tennis instead.

  3. I have made one! Having read this article, I tried with a larger hole. The image is blurred, but tree outlines are clear. Also shows sun tracking ( as in solargraphy project) for the week i left my biscuit tin exposed

  4. ah hell, i just spent all night making a perfect box pinhole cam cause someone gave me a pack of cyanotype paper. i i did a quick google search but couldnt find anything. if i would have only typed the word “suitable” earlier and found this post:-(

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