Make a pinhole camera with a book

A local library in Batemans Bay, NSW, Australia was thinning out its books and offered a prize for the best craft item made from one of their surplus books. Ted Richards made a pinhole camera and tells us how. Today, the 24th April 2022 is Worldwide Pinhole Day, and we encourage all to take part.

Writer and photography / Ted Richards

I asked for a large, thick book, which I was given, and then bought two more cheap books from an opportunity shop to practice on.  You will discover that you have to practice and re-do many steps as you go along.

How to make a pinhole camera with a book

I screwed and glued the pages together to make a solid light-tight block of the pages. Then, using a jigsaw, I cut out a rectangular space in the block of pages.

The camera space being cut out with a jigsaw
Cutting with the jigsaw.

I made the camera to fit neatly into the cut-out space. The space was measured and the camera plan was drafted onto a photographic mounting board, then cut out with a metal straightedge and a sharp blade.  The small gap for the pinhole was cut out at the same time.

Cardboard that will be the camera marked with the folding lines.
Camera plan ready to cut out, showing scoring lines and pinhole gap shaded at the top.

The cut-out camera shape was scored along the lines where it was to be folded, then folded and fixed with ordinary adhesive tape. This “camera” now had a slot for loading and unloading “film”, as well as a gap for the pinhole.

The camera showing the aluminium, not yet pin holed, and the space in the book where it will be fitted.
The camera and the book showing aluminum for the pinhole and slot for loading film. Complete with screws binding the pages together.

The pinhole lens was made simply by pushing a needle through a thin strip of self-adhesive aluminum tape that was glued centrally over the camera’s pinhole gap.

The shutter, positioned on the outside of the book’s back cover, was measured. A gap was cut out of the cover to align with the camera’s pinhole.

The back cover of the book with the ‘shutter’ in place and open.
The completed shutter attached to the rear cover of the book, showing pinhole and sliding shutter.

The shutter was also made from a mounting board cut to size. A bevel-cut aperture was cut into it with a matching bevel-cut and light-tight sliding piece. That is now the camera’s shutter.

The back cover is permanently glued to the block of pages but the front cover remains free. It has a flannel light-trap so that, when it is closed, it is light-tight and can be held closed using concealed magnets.

The finished camera in place. The yellow cardboard shows where the ‘film’ will be slid in, in a darkroom. The book is then closed and taken into the light to make the exposure.
The finished camera in place. The yellow cardboard shows where the ‘film’ will be slid in, in a darkroom. The book is then closed and taken into the light to make the exposure.

How to take a photograph with a “book pinhole camera”

In a darkroom, I loaded a piece of black and white photographic printing paper (the ‘film’), cut to size, into the camera. I then set the camera up firmly and made an exposure by sliding the shutter open and closed. Exposure time in full sunlight was about five seconds. The result, after normal darkroom processing, was a paper negative.

Moving into the twenty-first century, the negative print was scanned with a computer scanner and then I used Photoshop to reverse the tones (Ctrl+I) and make a positive image.  The image was cropped and sized as wanted and then I made an ink-jet print of it. Believe it or not, I have now made a pinhole black and white photograph.

A typical pinhole negative taken with the book-camera, and
A typical pinhole negative, taken with the pinhole book-camera.
The positive print.
The positive print from the pinhole camera made with a book.

PS:  I did not win the prize for the best item.

Ted Richards has been a photographer all of his working life. About twenty years ago, he became interested in alternative processes, trying cyanotypes, salted paper and the Van Dyke process.

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