On the weekend of the 14and 15 of July 2012 we held a pinhole photography event.  This was led by the world renowned pinhole photographer Justin Quinnell.  Justin has been teaching and practicing pinhole photography for twenty years and is a published author with his images appearing in feature films, NASA’s website, TV and many publications.


image of Justin quinnell

Justin Quinnell explains the wonders of pinhole photography (Image credit: Sinead McNicholl Armagh Planetarium)


During that weekend we had been very kindly sponsored by Red Bull who provided us with the necessary cans for the project.  Thus we set out to make as many pinhole cameras as we could, using a can, some tape and photographic paper.  These were to be five-month duration cameras which we hoped would take a photograph from the summer until the winter equinox (December 21).  The result we were aiming for was an amazing picture on which the sun’s path was recorded each day.


image of Red Bull pinhole camera

Makeing a pinhole camera. The cans were sponsored by Red Bull (Image credit: Sinead McNicholl Armagh Planetarium)


At the time of making (July), I thought the time would never come around to take our cameras down, as five months seemed so far away.  I placed up my cameras and pretty much forgot about them, well that was until the middle of December.  The excitement started to build as the deadline drew near for taking down the cameras.  I think everyone in my office will testify to how excited I was!!  But let’s rewind back to July and when I was explaining to a friend that I placed a pinhole camera outside my house.  I was asked was it for surveillance and did it have a flash!  So, what exactly is a pinhole camera, how does it work…. and does it have a flash?


The principal of pinhole photography (image credit: Wikipedia)


A pinhole camera is the simplest camera that you can make, and yes, I said that YOU can make, you don’t need to go to Curry’s or Jessop’s to get one of these.  Basically it is an optical imaging device in a chamber or box used for science experiments, art and fun.  Cameras have been made out of various objects, they have utilised sea shells, shoe boxes, drinks cans and I remember Justin telling me of one he made out of a wheelie bin!  A tiny hole replaces the lens and when light passes through the hole, an image is formed on photographic paper inside the box or chamber.  For example, let’s say that you want to use the pinhole camera to take a picture of a statue.  The statue will bounce off a certain amount of light.  The very small hole in your pinhole camera captures all the rays of light that the statue emits and projects it upside-down onto the photographic paper.  Sounds complicated, but it’s not.  A piece of insulating tape can be used for a shutter and hey presto we have our camera.


The first person to take a photograph using pinhole technology (Image credit: Wikipedia)


The knowledge of pinhole photography has been around for centuries, but it wasn’t until the year 1850 that David Brewster, a Scottish scientist, took the first photograph using a pinhole camera.  The principles behind it had already been explored in 1545 by Gemma Frisus who used the device to view a solar eclipse.  But we can also find this process of using pinhole technology in nature as there is an animal which has been around since the dinosaurs’ reign on Earth which uses a pinhole for sight.  It is the mollusk, Nautilus, which lives on the bottom of the South Pacific and Indian oceans at depths of between 200 to 2,000 feet (60 to 600m).


image of nautilus

The pinhole eye of the Nautilus (image credit: Wikipedia)


Pinhole camera technology has also been applied to modern science when scientists during the mid-20th Century discovered that it could be used to take photographs of X-Ray radiation and gamma rays.  The ordinary lens absorbs these rays and thus the pinhole camera found its way onboard spacecrafts and into space.  In fact the first soft X-ray pinhole of the sun was made on 19 April 1960.  But, as we speak a project funded by NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) could be taking the humble pinhole camera to international stardom.  Led by Dr. Webster Cash from the University of Colorado, the New Worlds Imager team aim to develop the world’s largest pinhole camera to take pictures of exoplanets.  Exoplanets are worlds orbiting other stars beyond our Solar system.
The device will measure around one kilometre (0.6 miles) or more in diameter, with a hole about 10 meters across punched in the centre.  If the on-going studies demonstrate its feasibility and NASA approves the mission, the New Worlds Imager will change our view of the universe.  The exciting thing about this project is that if the New Worlds Imager identifies a system possessing planets in the habitable zone, similar to Earth, the Imager could pause its general survey to take a closer look at the planets it found.  Analysis could be made of the planet’s atmosphere, looking for water vapour, carbon dioxide, oxygen and even life.


Getting back to our project at Armagh Planetarium, we used a much smaller pinhole camera using a Red Bull can for a type of photography called Solargraphy.  We wanted to trace the path of the Sun over five months.  With solargraphy the pinhole camera is fixed in position for an extended length of time, in our case 5 months.  Justin described this type of photography as “capturing a period of time beyond what we can perceive with our own vision”.  The popularity of this art is increasing and this is evident through an online project based on solargraphy spearheaded by estudio redondo, a team based in Madrid.  With a love of photography, moving images, creativity, culture and innovation the project “Time in a Can” was born.  Photographers from all five continents have taken part in this amazing experience which can be viewed on www.timeinacan.org.



Pinhole photography is fun to experiment with, the materials are easy to find and the results can be breathtaking.  So why not give it a go!  Above is Justin Quinnell’s step by step video on how to make your own pinhole camera and what to do once you take it down.  You can also visit Justin’s website at www.pinholephotography.org/ .  If you decide to give it a go then please feel free to email your images into us to have a look at!  For now have a look at our images below from July to December 2012.

Can you see the chimney pot in this image? (image credit: Martina Redpath)


Looking South towards a Church in the Moy (Image credit: Sinead McNicholl)


Outside Planetarium Caption: Do you recognise the dome? (Image credit: Sinead McNicholl)


The busy stairway at Armagh Planetarium (Image credit: Sinead McNicholl)


The path of the Sun as seen from the Irish countryside between the Moy and Armagh (Image credit: Colin Mackle)

1 Comment

Jeffrey Jones · January 23, 2014 at 16:09

That’s really an amazing blog about the beauty of pinhole photography. Its very easy to find the materials to customize a camera with pinhole technology and the results would be breathtaking as mentioned. Appreciated!

I just came across customizable, flat-pack design, the Original Pin offers a user-friendly and intuitive method of changing your camera’s “personality.” By mixing and matching the wooden parts, you are able to create something that is both durable and unique: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/830540667/original-pin-made-from-wood-cut-by-lasers-built-to

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