Introduction: Wooden Pinhole Camera by Scott Yu-Jan

Picture of Wooden Pinhole Camera by Scott Yu-Jan

Hello internet!

Before I start I just want to say this is my first instructables project ever, so I will try to be as thorough as I can in explaining the steps and my process.

So, this is a wide angle long exposure pinhole camera I made during my first year at Emily Carr University. It shoots on 8 x 10 Photographic paper, features a 0.47 mm diameter lens, a tripod mount, and a 280 F-stop (very long exposures). It's the first wood project I have every worked on so it is a fairly easy build.

And remember! If there is anything I left out feel free to ask me in the comments down below. Lets get started!

Step 1: Prototyping Is IMPORTANT!

Picture of Prototyping Is IMPORTANT!

Even if you are going to be following this instructables post step by step I would still highly recommend prototyping. It will allow you to build much faster and more accurately with less hesitation. You can also do this in CAD software but at the time I didn't know any so I had to improvise with some cardboard and magnets.

Here is the rough idea and measurements. Now that we know what we're building lets head to the woodshop!

Step 2: Frame Pieces

Picture of Frame Pieces

1. Started off by cutting up some half inch plywood for the base, top, and sides.

2. Glued and clamped a smaller half circled shape piece of a quarter inch plywood to the base and top to act as a guide for the film (photographic paper). This is important because I don't have a dark room at home this helped a lot when I fed the film in the dark.

3. Glued and clamped the rest all together.

Step 3: Bent Lamination Backing

Picture of Bent Lamination Backing

1. I took a couple scrap pieces of insulation foam boards and cut up a nice negative of the curved piece

2. After sanding it very smoothly I stacked them and glued them together with some super 77

3. I cut up some birch and oak veneer into the rectangles and got the wood glue ready

4. To get a good successful lamination one must apply a generous amount of glue and and put it all together into the vacuum bag quickly for the glue begins to settle right away.

  • I can't quite remember how many layers of veneer I used. It was around 7 - 10 layers.

5. Give it at least 24 hours to dry completely.

Step 4: Lightproof Backing

Picture of Lightproof Backing

1. While the bent lamination backing is drying I started making a light proof cover for the back to sit beneath the lamination.

2. I used a black piece of paper in which I covered on both sides with electrical tape to make the backing.

3. Simply stapled it to the back around the curve.

4. For some corners and possible light leak areas I simply used some black silicon to cover them up.

Step 5: Claming on the Lamination

Picture of Claming on the Lamination

1. Now that the black sheet is making sure the backing is fully lightproof the lamination is ready to be clamped on.

2. Clamp the curve as close to the frame of the camera as close as possible closing up the gap that forms at the curve.

3. Don't clamp it up too hard though or else you'll end up with a crack like I did. It was my first wood project so I knew accidents were bound to happen so I was ready with some solutions. We'll get to that later.

Step 6: Lid, Shutter, and Insides

Picture of Lid, Shutter, and Insides

1. Trimmed off the excess of the lamination

2. To cover up the top and bottom I used some of the veneer left over from the lamination.

3. Built a quick lid that was a bit bigger than the opening of the camera and used some sheet foam from the dollar store on the edges to give it a very snug and lightproof fit.

  • In addition I also used some of the black silicone from earlier on the corners and edges

4. On the scroll saw I made a quick sliding piece to use as the shutter.

5. I didn't have any photos of this but I cut out a square piece of aluminum from a coke can and sanded away the paint and finishes. Cut out a piece that fits over the shutter and poked a hole to act as the lens with the thinnest needle I could find.

  • The thinner the needle the more crisp and in focus your photos will turn out but it also means your photos will take longer to expose

6. Finally I finished all the insides with an acrylic black paint. Once again I forgot to take photos of this part so you'll just have to use your imagination!

Step 7: Final Touches (the Solution)

Picture of Final Touches (the Solution)

1. I chiseled out the a square at the bottom and took the tripod mount off of a broken digital camcorder.

2. I stuck some bolts coming off of the frame and drilled some holes on the lid for them to come through

3. Picked up some drawer knobs from home depot.


Got a few pieces of scrap leather from a near by handmade leather goods shop and covered up the crack!

The left over leather was cut into shapes to decorate the front lid. Leather underneath the knob holes also allowed the knobs to screw on nice and snug not letting any light in.

Step 8: Pinhole Photography

Picture of Pinhole Photography

They developed as negatives and then I scanned them into the computer and inverted the colors in Photoshop.

The exposures were quite long but I was very pleased with the amount of detail. I also tried doing a solarography photo. If you do not know what it is google it. It's a very cool technique to take color photos with black and white film without the need of developing it.

Anyways thank you for looking at the process of my project. I hope you guys liked it. If you have any questions leave them in the comments down below.


KeepCalmL (author)2016-01-19

Thanks for this great post. We shared it in our facebook page:

longp2000 (author)2014-08-05

I made one very similar to this. I also turned my walk in closet into a dark room for a short time (at my wife's utter horror) and developed my on B/W pictures. This design works well.

styjDesign (author)longp20002014-08-05

oh nice! how complex was developing the B/W pictures? Because I've been sneaking into my schools darkroom to get them developed which isn't technically allowed but I worry that developing myself at home would be too much of a hassle. I'm an amateur at all this film stuff. Thanks for the comment!

longp2000 (author)styjDesign2014-09-19

The hardest part was make the dark room light proof. I used three tarps that were installed over one another. I setup up the chemical baths and water trays side by side in a 1-2-3-4 fashion. Once I developed the picture out of the pin hole camera I laid it on a blank piece of photographic paper and used a desk lamp to create another photo. It is not a professional setup by any means but it worked for me. Here is one of the images I made of my late son in 2003-2004.

michaelgc (author)2014-08-12

This would be a great project for my middle school stem class, it could incorporate 3d design in AutoCAD, history, science, etc.

styjDesign (author)michaelgc2014-09-08

your totally right! that would be very cool, it would be a very interesting process. Thanks for the comment and good luck to you! if you have time you should definitely post some of that process on to instructables and share the link with me.

JM1999 (author)2014-09-08

Step 6: Lid, Shutter, and Insides, I think you have a few clamps...

middleslot (author)2014-08-13

awesome. this is way more sophisticated than what i remember making at school 30 years ago. ha..... i think then we used a toilet roll as the body. love the photos

bernadene.varty (author)2014-08-11

These photographs are stunning! Just wondering what film you used? I'm a complete film photography novice but can see you haven't used standard 35mm film, like most DIY matchbox pinhole cameras call for. What have you used and where could I get something similar?

hey thank you! Well i am a completely amateur at film photography too. So pretty much because I don't know how to develop 35mm film I decided to just use Photographic paper. Its big and is capable of taking very crisp photos but the only down side is they are negative photos. Therefore I have to scan them into the computer and invert the colors and print them out again. Theres a lot of different types of photographic paper, here's a link to one here. Good luck!

That's briliant, thanks so much for sending that link! Now all I need to do is construct a pinhole camera for myself! I don't have any of the equipment you used so my version would have to be a lot simpler - is it essential that the photographic paper sits on a curved backing or could I just use a box? Does the distance between the paper and the pinhole affect the image at all? Thanks again for your info!

It will definitely be okay for the photographic paper to be sitting flat in a box. It would just no longer have the wide angle sort of effect. The distance between the paper and the pinhole does affect the image results but thats all pretty unpredictable. I used this site at the time to try and calculate my size pinhole based on the distance

it wasn't super accurate however it was good enough for me to get some crisp photos. A lot of it though is just trial and error. You can try taking photos with some different size pinholes. If you have a chance you should upload some of your photos I would love to see the results. Good luck!

cajun0 (author)2014-08-12

awesome….I am on the way to get some materials to try this!!!!! But I don't know what the knobs do. are they for decoration?

styjDesign (author)cajun02014-08-12

oooh oops i guess i didn't really explain that part. The knobs are pretty much there to keep the lid tightly shut. So once you remove the knobs the front part of the camera pops off completely for me to slide in the film. Good luck and if you run into anything don't hesitate to shoot me another question and if you get a chance you should definitely post a photo of your result or process when ur done, i'd love to see how it turns out!

jasper2014 (author)2014-08-10

Looks great but most will not have the skill level or tools. I made mine out of a oat meal style round container and uses 8 x 10 film or paper. F256 for exposure. Some fading on the edges but very wide angle. Keep posting. I like the look of yours more than mine.

styjDesign (author)jasper20142014-08-11

thank you. and yea i've seen some of the results on similar pinhole camera models. I love that kind of wide angle effect you can get in those round containers. And yes i agree i don't think many people would be able to do this project. It does take a little more time and honestly I only made it so complex because it was for a school project or else if i was just looking for great photography results I would have made a much simpler one. Thanks for the comment.

kkoshar (author)2014-08-10

Beautiful camera and great images. Years ago when I made and used pinhole cameras, I used wire size drill bits to make the pinholes instead of actual pins. The hole is less ragged and since you know the bit width, you can actually calculate the fstop.

styjDesign (author)kkoshar2014-08-11

Thank you very much. And yes that is actually really clever and saves a LOT of time. What i had to do to get a cleaner hole was to sand the aluminum sheet over and over and checking to see if the hole was clean by shooting a laser pointer through it and checking the shadow. Calculating the fstop was just insane because it was pretty much just trial and error.

yellowcatt (author)2014-08-10

Very nice work.

I will send a link for this to a friend who is a photography lecturer, he does a fair amount of pinhole work:

You may want to post a link on

They can probably give you advice on developing film.

styjDesign (author)yellowcatt2014-08-10

Hey, thank you very much I really appreciate it. Looks like there's a whole community of people doing these pinhole camera stuff! I'll definitely look into that. Thanks

jlsunris (author)2014-08-10

I don't get it. How does this take pictures?

styjDesign (author)jlsunris2014-08-10

It's just a very veryyyy simple version of a camera pretty much. Im not too good at explaining but if your interested this link explains it pretty well.

mattthegamer463 (author)2014-08-10

Nice, I've thought about doing paper negative for a while, do you have an estimated ISO equivalent for the paper or do you just wing it and the paper is forgiving enough with the exposure? Was that solargraph undeveloped or did you still develop after the 2 week exposure? Thanks

Well about the ISO at the time I remember I found a few websites and apps that calculated it for you pretty nicely. You tell it the size of the pinhole you have and how far the pinholes from the film and it calculated F-stop of F280. However although most of these sites and apps tell me I would then need exposures of couples hours I just ignored them and kinda winged it by choosing brighter environments. and for the solargraph no i didn't need to develop it. The sun develops the film into weird pink and green colors and then all one has to do is scan it into the computer and invert the colors. My turned out pretty bad because those two weeks happened to be very cloudy. But if you google solargraphy there are some very beautiful results.

TitanBlue (author)2014-08-05

Great idea. Do you think you could explain how it works though?

styjDesign (author)TitanBlue2014-08-06

Well it's not very complex it's pretty much just like any pinhole camera. All i did differently was added a curve for the backing so the film absorbs the light at a bigger angle creating a wide angle effect. But if your wondering how pinhole cameras works it's pretty simple. Instead of using complex glass or plastic lens systems to expose the light to the film it uses a simple sheet of metal with a tiny pinhole on it. With the hole being so small the light getting in gets focused onto the film. Hard to explain but easy to understand when seen in action. I first learned about it from this howcast video. You can check it out here if your interested!

Uncle Kudzu (author)2014-08-04

What a beautiful camera! I do pinhole photography with old and toy/junk cameras, but I have yet to build one from scratch. Your camera is an inspiration!

styjDesign (author)Uncle Kudzu2014-08-05

Thank you so much, I am really glad to hear that!

Cadet Park (author)2014-08-05

For your first instructable. This looks like you've been on instructables for years. This is amazing and you really deserve to win

styjDesign (author)Cadet Park2014-08-05

thank you so much, I really appreciate it!

crank_girl (author)2014-08-04

Love it! What a great job. How do you develop without a darkroom? (completely ignorant about such things)

styjDesign (author)crank_girl2014-08-05

I am too! I know NOTHING about developing film. I'm a total amateur but I was lucky because I had some friends who are into photography and we just had a machine at school that develops photographic paper in the dark room. BUT i did do some research on developing, black and white photographic paper apparently is fairly easy compared to doing the whole film developing process. It only takes a chemical liquid or two in a tray to get it done. If your thinking to do something similar on your own here's a website i'd look into.

Thanks for the comment, i'm glad you liked it.

crank_girl (author)styjDesign2014-08-05

I will take a look - thanks!

gabrieltaft (author)2014-08-04

Wow, I love the style of the casing.

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