From pinhole to print – Inspiration, instructions and insights in less than an hour

Anthony Mournian from the Photographers’ Formulary reviews the pinhole guide, and makes a few pinholes himself.

Writer / Anthony Mournian

From pinhole to print
From pinhole to print book

From pinhole to print” says it all. Simply and elegantly. In a booklet of less than fifty pages the authors have distilled the history and the process of pinhole photography.

Written in clear, direct language, and illustrated with drawings, diagrams and photographs that speak volumes, From pinhole to print performs exactly as advertised.

It inspires, instructs and gives insights into this ancient and always fascinating alternative process.


solargraph or solargraphics
“Havis Amanda” A solargraph by Tarja Trygg. Solargraphs are taken over extremely long periods of time, usually between an equinox and a solstice – about three months.

When I travel to Shanghai, China this summer I’ll be taking a copy to help me and my grandson, Paul, make pinhole photographs of the Total Eclipse of the Sun. There is no more awesome celestial event, and no better way to observe and to photograph it than with pinhole photography. If you are the least bit intrigued by pinhole photography, you’ll find this little book an indispensable aid to construction of your camera and the making of your print.

360 multiple pinhole camera
“Oakland Series 1” a 360 degrees image taken by Jan Kapoor. Jan uses a hexagonal box with several pinholes to do the 360 multiple exposure photographs.

The co-authors of From pinhole to print are Malin and Gary Fabbri, of Alternative, with Peter Wiklund of Stockholm Sweden. Their little volume is available for immediate purchase here.

No matter how sophisticated the camera, you have to take off the lens cap. After reading From pinhole to print by Malin and Gary Fabbri, with Peter Wiklund, I decided to try my hand at this ancient craft using small tin cans formerly the home of Heinz Tomato Sauce. My wife made a generous portion of Susie’s Special Spaghetti Sauce, leaving me with three nice cans, approximately three inches in diameter. I used From pinhole to print to figure out how large to make the pinhole, and pieces of an aluminum pie tin as the sites for the pinholes.

Malin’s booklet led me through the simple steps of constructing the camera

coating the inside with flat black poster paint. I sealed the inside of each pinhole with a small square of non-reflective black tape to prevent an inadvertent paintover of my carefully drilled and smoothly sanded pinholes on aluminum.

pinhole Lena Källberg
“Frozen dreams” An anamorphic pinhole by Lena Källberg.

Using lith film I took my first three photos of a lion-faced fountain in the front patio. After carefully mixing my chemistry I began the development of what I knew would be pristine paper negatives which I would later turn into positive prints by contact printing.

Success was not to be. None of the three shots came out. Nothing registered on the lith film though I exposed for 45 seconds, 90 seconds and three minutes. Nothing at all. I tried again, using Ilford FB Glossy. Same three cameras, same three exposure intervals, and the same miserable failure. What was wrong? The pinholes must be too small, I thought. I took the cameras to the other side of my workspace and opened them up. My “drill” was a number 9 embroidery needle with its eye embedded in the pink eraser on the end of a No. 2 pencil.

zone plate pinhole
“Winter tree” A zone plate pinhole photograph by William Sadovsky. Zone plates are a series of clear and opaque rings which can add a soft-focus or a halo to a photograph.

With the needle drill in one hand and a camera in the other, I stuck my index finger down inside the camera to cover the back side of the pinhole and to feel the needle drill as it came through. My finger rubbed across something coarse. I couldn’t see it because of the non-reflective black paint, but I could feel it. Something was in there. I turned on the overhead light and looked at the back side of the pinhole. A great, “Ah, ha!” went off in my head as I looked down to see the area of the pinhole still carefully covered with that wonderful square of black, nonreflective tape which I had used to cover the pinhole and to prevent painting over it.

Note to photographers: Don’t forget to take off the lens cover.
Or, in my case, don’t forget to remove the tape that covers the pinhole, inside or outside the camera!

This review was published in the Photographers’ Formulary Newsletter May 2009. To subscribe to their free newsletter, visit the website.

Anthony Mournian writes the Photographers’ Formulary monthly newsletter, prints silver gelatins – but can be lured into pinholing – especially now that he has figured out the lenscap has to be taken off!

1 thought on “From pinhole to print – Inspiration, instructions and insights in less than an hour”

  1. Hello.
    I’m new to this kind of photography and I’d like to know how much do I leave the light to enter the box. Some say to just leave the hole uncovered for 10/20 seconds or more than a minute. It’s a little confusing.


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