Foam Board Pinhole Camera




Introduction: Foam Board Pinhole Camera

I absolutely love photography regardless of whether its digital or mechanical cameras you are using. The funny thing about photography is regardless of the type of camera you are using, they all ultimately work the same. The camera on your cell phone ultimately works the same way that cameras did hundreds of years ago.

This is a great activity whether you are teaching a class on photography or just sharing a fun activity with your family. Its relatively inexpensive to build the camera, but the chemicals and other supplies can be a bit pricey. However, once you have them they can be used over and over again.

The goal of this instructable is to tell you step by step how I built these cameras and discuss a variety of options you might have for setting up a dark room to use to develop film.

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: Materials Needed for the Activity

Depending on what materials you already possess, here are the materials you will need to complete this activity. You might be able to slide by with fewer of the darkroom supplies depending on the setup in your home or school.

For the Camera:

  • Black Foam Board 20" x 30" (Believe it or not you can purchase this material at Dollar Tree for $1.03)
  • Black Construction Paper
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Tape (Scotch or Masking)
  • A Pin (For making an aperture)
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Black Caulk (For filling gaps in the joints of the camera should any exist)
  • Box Cutter, Xacto Knife, Hobby Knife (Something to Cut the Foam Board)
  • Ruler (For guiding the knife to cut Foam Board)
  • Patterns for parts of camera (Included at the bottom of this page)

Creating a Dark Room:

One of the first cameras was called a "Camera Obscura" which in latin means "Dark Room" This is important on two fronts. First your camera must be completely light proof, and secondly the room that you are developing the film must also be light proof. Now when we are using these pinhole cameras, we will be using black and white paper film instead of color. This allows us to use special lights that only give off a limited spectrum of light that won't affect the film, but will enable us to see in the room.

Ideal Dark Rooms:

  • Walk in Closet
  • Bathrooms
  • Basements

With any of these rooms, you want to prevent any light (other than from the dark room lights) to enter your workspace and affect the film as you are loading it into the camera or as you are developing it. You might need to pull blinds down in adjacent rooms or cover windows to prevent light from entering. You can use heavy duty trash bags and black ducktape to make quick and inexpensive covers for windows.

I am also working on a PVC frame for a mobile darkroom. I will also use heavy duty trashbags and gorilla tape to make the "tent" for the darkroom. When completed, I will include it as a separate instructable.

Dark Room Lighting:

Unless you live near a photography store like I do, I highly recommend Amazon, eBay, or other internet sites for economical options for obtaining darkroom equipment. For smaller spaces you really don't need large lights. You will however need some sort of cheap lamp base or utility light fixture to attach your dark room light.

Here are some good examples:

Again, depending on your needs you could go smaller or larger. Because you most likely won't be using these light bulbs frequently, they should last you a long time. Really just a one time expense. Shop around for the best possible price.

You can also buy filters for regular lights like this:

Materials for Developing Film

There are several key materials needed for developing paper B&W Film:

Step 2: Making the Camera

The above video should show you step by step how to construct the pinhole camera. The only steps it doesn't demonstrate is using the black caulk to fill the joints in the camera corners.This step isn't always necessary but if you hold your camera up to the light and you can still see light in the corners, you will need to apply the caulk to fill the gap. This is a quick and easy way to block out the light.

Step 3: How Do You Take Pictures?

These cameras are very easy to operate.

Loading Film (Warning!! - Only load film in the darkroom setting or you will expose film prematurely)

Loading film into the cameras is very easy and it should be to avoid complications. Simply take the half of the camera without the tinfoil on it, and tape the film in the center of elevated rectangles (You can either tape the corners or place a loop of tape on the back of the film. These rectangles create a light proof seal that will protect the film. Once the film is secured put the two halves of the camera together.

Taking the Picture

Taking a picture with any camera involves allowing light to enter into the aperture of the camera for various lengths of time. On these cameras the aperture is the pinhole, while on regular cameras (digital or mechanical) the aperture is a mechanical hole that can increase or decrease its diameter depending on your needs.

The second part of this process is controlling how long light is exposed to the aperture. This is controlled by the shutter. The shutter is really just a door that opens and closes at various speeds depending on how much light you need.

To take pictures with your pinhole camera all you need to do is lift up the shutter (black contruction paper flap) for a determined amount of time and then close it. This time can change depending on the weather and how much light is present. Believe it or not it takes longer to take pictures inside. The artificial lights inside are not as bright as the sun.

Step 4: Sample Photographs

You can achieve some pretty complex effects even with these very simplistic cameras. You shouldn't expect amazing clarity since your camera doesn't have a lense to focus the light, but you can get some very good pictures.


Just to clarify, when you actually take a picture (when not using a digital camera) the picture inside the camera is actually called a "negative". This means that the image appears opposite of the real world. This occurs for several reasons. The film captures the image because light bounces off the object you are taking a picture of and enters the aperture (hole in the camera).This light then comes in contact with the film that is covered with a special coating that is light sensitive which turns black. The areas that do not turn black and remain the color of the film occur because light was not reflected off of those areas of the object. These areas are most likely darker colors because darker colors absorb light where light colored objects reflect more light.

Converting Negatives to Positives

To get a picture that resembles real life or a "positive", the easiest way I have found is to have my students scan the negatives into the computer and use microsoft paint to "invert the colors". By reversing a negative you will get your posistive.

Double Exposures

Double Exposures occur in a camera where the film doesn't shift to the next slide and you essentially take two pictures on top of each other. You can create double exposures with these cameras by doing the following:

  • If your f/stop is roughly 30 seconds (how long you leave open the shutter and expose the film to light) you would take the first picture for 15 seconds and then close the shutter. You could then move the camera or leave the camera stationary and move yourself and take a second one.

A good example is the first picture at the top.

Be the First to Share


    • Trash to Treasure Contest

      Trash to Treasure Contest
    • Raspberry Pi Contest 2020

      Raspberry Pi Contest 2020
    • Wearables Contest

      Wearables Contest

    2 Discussions


    Reply 5 years ago

    Same here. They are easy to make and I love the antique look the pictures have.