Using the Paint Can Pinhole Cameras
Notes by Paint Can Pinhole Camera designer Jim Kosinski
(Please follow photo paper or film instructions regarding light sensitivity)


Load the camera

1. Open camera top.

2. Cover the pinhole, located in the center of the front label, with the flexible magnet held in place by the elastic band.

3. Insert & secure photographic film or paper at the back of the camera with the emulsion facing the pinhole.

4. Tightly replace the top.


A properly loaded Paint Can Pinhole Camera: the emulsion side
of the film or photo paper faces the pinhole & the aperture is
covered by the magnetic shutter.


Make a photograph

1. Completely stabilize the camera, so it is steady and still.

2. Uncover the pinhole to start your exposure.

3. Re-cover the pinhole to end your exposure.

4. Develop the negative or paper. Contact print, enlarge or scan/invert your negative.

An Exposure Guide for Black & White Papers
These exposures work well for most Resin Coated (RC) papers or films when they are placed at the back of the camera. They are starting points. Light subjects need less exposure, darker subjects need more. A little experimentation will be required to get a feeling for the camera. So in the beginning it is best to take pictures outdoors where there is an abundance of light!

Approximate Outdoor Exposure Times
Gallon Size Paint Can Camera

B&W Papers
ISO ~6
sunny: 40 to 80 sec
cloudy but bright: 2.5 to 4 min
heavily overcast: 4 to 8+ min

FILMS ISO~100
sunny: 6 to 12 sec
cloudy but bright: 20 to 40 sec
heavily overcast: 40 to 80+ sec


Quart Size Paint Can Camera

B&W Papers
ISO ~6
sunny: 20 to 40 sec
cloudy but bright: 1 to 2 min
heavily overcast: 2 to 4+ min

FILMS ISO~100
sunny: 4 to 8 sec
cloudy but bright: 10 to 20 sec
heavily overcast: 20 to 40+ sec

Adjust exposures accordingly for films not rated close to ISO 100. With light meters use the formula f/stop = distance from pinhole to film or paper divided by pinhole diameter (0.02 inch or 0.5 mm).

For those who like to calculate exposure times, the gallon sized Paint Can Pinhole Camera has an aperture equivalent of f/320; the quart sized Paint Can Pinhole Camera has an equivalent of f/200.

Indoor exposures on B&W papers are very long and need testing. For example, two 500 watt lights were placed 4 feet away from an average subject. An exposure of 4 to 5 minutes with the Quart Camera was required. Taking pictures indoors, without strong lighting or large windows might take hours to expose correctly. You can experiment with a flash (fire it off several times) to add light and reduce exposure time. Exposure times for conventional films are faster.


Safe Handling of Films & Paper
Working with pinhole cameras is a great way to learn the photographic process, from exploring your own vision, to processing a negative and finally, to making a positive print in the darkroom or on a computer. One of the main problems to solve is keeping light sensitive materials protected from exposure. Read the instructions that come with your film or paper! Black & white RC papers can be handled under safelight and are very easy to process. That allows you to see what you’re doing, and using them is an ideal way to start learning the darkroom craft! Two special films, the litho and ortho types, can be used under red safelight. These films can also be processed in b&w paper chemistry. Color or black & white films must be handled and processed in total darkness.


A pinhole camera negative and positive by Jim Kosinski of the schooner Olad in Camden, Maine.
The original is on sheet film & the blue color was added digitally.



Processing Your Negatives & Making Positive Prints

Almost any small space can be turned into a darkroom by blocking the incoming light with black plastic & other opaque materials. It is a time honored tradition to create temporary darkrooms in bathrooms, laundry rooms, closets and the like. However, if you do not have space for a darkroom you can still do pinhole photography. The first image from an exposure is a negative. To turn this image into a positive you can take a picture of the negative with your pinhole camera and all the tones will be reversed! It’s simple and the results are pretty good. For higher quality, contact printing is the way to go in the darkroom. Pinhole negatives, even paper ones, can be placed in an enlarger to make bigger prints. It’s easy to scan pinhole negatives, then manipulate and print them from a computer.


To make negatives Without a Darkroom
Use your paint can pinhole camera, a photo changing bag and a film processing tank. Load the camera in the changing bag; then go make your exposure. Back in the changing bag, save the exposed image in a container for bulk processing later, or move the exposed image into the film developing tank. The tank can then be brought into the light and the developing chemicals poured in and out for the proper amount of time in the correct order. One thing to make sure of is that the paper size fits in both the camera and the developing tank. Photo paper can be cut inside a changing bag. In digital mode you can scan the negative and turn it into a positive with simple imaging software. You can resize, add colors and other effects easily, then print your image. This is a perfect marriage of ancient and modern technology!

For a quick exhibit, or just for fun, a photo can be resized quickly and inexpensively on a photocopier in photo or text mode. In text mode you can get increasingly higher contrast by copying the first copy, followed by copying the second copy, and so on. Copier images last a long time, too.


A Paint Can Pinhole Camera, film developing tank, paper or film, a photo changing bag and the right chemistry are all you need to make pinhole photos anywhere without a darkroom. Jim Kosinski photo



Customize your camera

Here are a few simple suggestions to get you started
• Make a spare shutter by cutting the flexible magnet in half; it can ride on the bottom of the camera.

• Add your own artwork by painting the outside of the camera or peeling off the white cover of the magnet to find a stick on adhesive. Painting the camera is a fun class project that protects the cameras from moisture.

• Make a sharper image by removing the paper from around the pinhole and sanding the metal down. This makes more of a thin plate for the light to go through instead of a tube like structure.

• Paint the inside of the camera flat black to increase the contrast of the negatives. This is not necessary but some folks think a camera must have a black interior.

Use filters
• Variable contrast printing filters can be used with variable contrast B&W papers, but just putting a yellow cellophane over the pinhole will give a softer negative.

• Any filter for conventional photography can be used with the pinhole camera. For example, a red filter will increase sky contrast with B&W film.

• Other filters colors can shift the grey scale around quite a bit. Most filters require an increase in exposure time.

Pinhole adjustments
* The following ideas can create sharp metal edges—BE CAREFUL!*
Always smooth any sharp edges with sandpaper, etc and cover any exposed metal with permanent marker or paint.

• Drill a new pilot hole in the side of the Paint Can Camera that’s big enough to accept any pinhole, slit or zone plate you might like to try.

• Multiple pinholes: adding 2 more pinholes around the camera, giving a total of 3 pinholes equally spaced, will allow you to make a 360 degree photograph. For capture, place rolled up film/paper in the center of the camera -or- place the film/paper all around the walls of the camera, with openings cut out where the pinholes are located to allow light through to the opposite side (this gives a really big negative).

You can turn a room into a giant camera obscura using only recycled materials and tape. The Camera Obscura! page will provide you with step by step instructions.



This man looks a bit like a spirit because he did not stay in the scene for
the entire exposure. Jim Kosinski photo



Art & Science Activities and Project Suggestions
Here are a series of activities that can be used with pinhole photography or in a science fair project.

VISION
Use the pinhole camera as a model of the human eye. Why does the image form upside down and backwards?

EXPOSURE
How long must an object be exposed in order to record an image? Line up several objects against a dark background. Remove one object at a time at regular intervals during the exposure. Which exposure is the best?

MOTION
How does a long exposure record motion? Photograph objects moving at different speeds, people standing in more than one place during the exposure, people moving their arms, hands, etc (moving vehicles & people walking by will not be recorded in a long exposure).

IMAGE SHARPNESS
What is the effect of pinhole size on image sharpness? Make a series of pinholes of different sizes and try them on your camera obscura.

FOCAL LENGTH
How does image sharpness, angle of view & proper exposure time change when the film or paper is placed at different distances behind the pinhole? Use a cardboard insert to hold your light sensitive materials at different distances behind the pinhole. What would happen if you put a simple lens, like a magnifying glass, over the pinhole?

PERSPECTIVE
How does the angle of the film or paper change an image's perspective? Place film or paper on a cardboard insert at different angles in the camera. Curve the paper or film for special effects.

CHEMISTRY
How does the developer concentration effect print quality? Mix developers at different dilutions to change print density & contrast.

A CLEAN ENVIRONMENT
Recover silver from used fixer using copper, steel wool and other common items such as nails, nuts & bolts, ect.

SCREEN OPACITY
What makes a good viewing screen? Try plastics, papers, waxed paper & other common items.


The Paint Can Camera is patented (US Patent# 6618556).
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