Pinhole photography and cyanotype

Is it possible to make pinhole photography with cyanotype? Inês Valente gives it her best shot and shares the results.

Writer and photography / Inês Valente


I (Inês Valente) have done a lot of research over the years on making cyanotypes in pinhole cameras and have never come to a plausible conclusion. 

From Pinhole to PrintTo begin with, for those who don’t know, pinhole photography is photography that is taken without a lens, just a small hole made with a pin serving as the entrance of light. It can be done using a camera, a box or a can or any container that is light-proof. In the container, a hole is made with a needle and only through this hole the light in. If you want to know more about this type of photography there are lots of websites and books you can consult including here at AlternativePhotography.com and in the book From Pinhole to Print you will learn the basics. Around the world World Pinhole Photography Day is also celebrate every year on the last Sunday in April.

But back to the question, can we do pinhole photography with cyanotype? On some websites it says that it is impossible, since the ISO of paper sensitized with cyanotype is very low and therefore when exposed to the sun through a hole in the size of a needle, it cannot be sensitized. On other sites it says that it is possible but that the exposure time can be several days or months. I tried and I will show you the results I got. (Editors note: There have been quite a few attempts over the years see some here.)

For this experiment, I used a beer can as a “camera”. More or less an hour after I coated paper with cyanotype emulsion and the emulsion had dried I placed the sensitized paper on the same day inside the pinhole camera.

A can used as a pinhole camera.
A can or any light-proof container can be used as a pinhole camera.

I left the can in a window to expose the paper inside. The pinhole camera was facing the outside for a month and this was the result I got.

Cyanotype exposed in a pinhole camera.
The resulting cyanotype exposed in a pinhole camera after a one month long exposure.

Like in pinhole photography, we obtain the negative of the image and not the final image, so the next step was to scan the image and invert it in Photoshop. For comparison, I later made another pinhole photograph using the same can but instead of cyanotype paper I used photographic paper. This is usually the way pinhole photographs are made.  I exposed it for the same period of time and the results were quite different. 

Pinhole photographs compared with cyanotype pinholes

So, in conclusion, yes, it is possible to do pinhole with cyanotype but the results may not be as clear as we would like. Furthermore, I could say that it is more of a solargraphy than a pinhole due to the very long exposure time. My experiment only lasted a month, so you could have different results leaving it exposed for longer, this will be my next experiment!

Inês Valente, a Portuguese photographer and visual artist, studied photography at the Portuguese Institute of Photography. In 2019, she founded the “Maria Azul” brand, aiming to promote cyanotype and alternative photographic processes through workshops and DIY kits. Her work has been featured in various publications, including Lomography Magazine and SHOTS. She can be found here on Instagram @inesrvalente and @mariaazulcianotipia and Facebook.com/inesvalentephotography

 
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

by Gary Fabbri, Malin Fabbri and Peter Wiklund

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Learn how to build and use a pinhole camera. Step by step to a quick and easy way to learn pinholing.
 

2 thoughts on “Pinhole photography and cyanotype”

  1. A kind thought, Brian. New Cy is two or three stops (4x to 8x) faster than Classic Cy, but this is still a very long way short of making pinhole cyanotypes possible. In my e-book ‘Cyanomicon’ – freely down loadable from my website – I have estimated the likely exposure time as around a year. See §4.6, pp.107-8. Reciprocity failure and background fog would guarantee failure. The only possibility that I predicted is a direct image of the sun as it tracks across the paper – exactly as Ines has recorded.

  2. I’ve made hundreds of pinhole cameras with students and probably a thousand cyanotypes with them as well. We usually loaded our cameras with 4×5 film (b&w) – –
    since darkrooms at schools was a rarity, I would take their cameras home, take out the fiml, process it and bring the negatives back to school where we would make cyanotype prints. Not exactly what you are talking about here. When I tried to load cyanotype paper into a pinhole camera the results were
    grim. No image whatsoever. I’m wondering if it would be possible to use the ‘New Cyanotype’ process by Dr. Mike Ware since the sensitivity of the cyanotype is greatly improved – – should shorten the exposure time substantially. Just a thought.

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