Making a cyanotype pinhole in-camera?

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

Writer and photography / Malin Fabbri

Pinhole cameraIt 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 summertime, when the sun shines for most of the day and most of the night. This resulted in some unimpressive streaks on the paper.

Cyanotype in a pinhole camera
Cyanotype after 5 weeks of exposure in-camera.
Cyanotype in a pinhole camera
Cyanotype after 6 months exposure in a pinhole camera.

Not being disheartened, another paper was inserted and exposed for six months. For half a year the pinhole was sitting there, letting in light through its 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: Most likely true! To combine pinhole and cyanotype, the in-camera method is difficult. There will probably be others who succeed but the images are not sharp. 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 Warwick’s 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

Also read how to make a cyanotype with a view camera.

Recommended reading - Learn more in the pinhole book
From pinhole to print – Inspiration, instructions and insights in less than an hour by Malin Fabbri Gary Fabbri and Peter Wiklund
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From pinhole to print – Inspiration, instructions and insights in less than an hour

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

  1. 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:-(

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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! 🙂

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