The Bin-cam pincam

How I recycled a redundant food-waste caddy as a pinhole camera.

My local council recently made some changes to our waste recycling collections. Food waste would no longer be collected separately but would instead be put in the garden waste bin. However, residents were told that the redundant food-waste caddy would not need to be returned.

I couldn’t not recycle it and let it go to waste!

The food caddy is a simple moulded plastic design with fixings for the handle and the hinge for the lid being part of the moulding. So apart from the lid opening, there are no holes in the container. Furthermore the lid, which is locked in place by the rotation of the handle, closes over a raised lip on the container’s top edge. The construction is perfect for adaptation as a pinhole camera and the internal size just about right to take a 10″x8″ sheet of photo paper.

I reckoned it only needed a hole to be drilled over which a pinhole could be fitted, something to ensure the top lip would function as a light seal, and a shutter mechanism fitted.

With a piece of paper taped in place I worked out the best position to drill a 25mm diameter hole in the front of the bin. Once drilled, I measured the projection distance and used Pinhole Assist to calculate the ideal pinhole diameter.

The optimal pinhole diameter of 0.72mm is a bit wider than my pin cams usually require (0.3 to 0.5mm) and needed a wider pin than I am accustomed to using. However I found a larger pin and punched first-time a clean hole which measured 0.79mm, checked by high resolution scan, in aluminium cut from a beer can. The pinhole was fixed in place inside the bin with glue and electrical tape, later reinforced with duct tape.

I stuck strips of sticky-backed black foam to the inside of the lid where it would close on the moulded lip of the container. Initially, I had intended to use black electrical tape as a shutter but the tape wasn’t adhering well to the plastic surface of the bin. I decided to craft something more elegant from offcuts of plywood and sticky-backed black felt. A handle moulded as part of the front edge of the container provided a pivot point that I could drill through without going through the container wall.

All that was left to do was to test it. My favourite location for testing new cameras is Queensferry and the Forth Bridge. I took advantage of a convenient brief sunny interlude and with the help of Pinhole Assist, gave a sheet of Harman Direct Positive Paper a 7min 36secs exposure.

Here’s a straight scan of the result. There’s some fogging but the image is well exposed and pleasingly sharp (I never expect or look for sharpness in a pinhole image!). I’ve had issues with fogging DPP in the past and need to work out whether this was due to over exposure to red safelight when loading, to less than perfect opacity of the (well weathered) plastic from which the bin is made, or a combination of the two. There’s nothing in the image to suggest light leaks which I would expect to see as specific areas or streaks of over exposure.

With the benefit of scanning and thus having a digital file to play with, this is what a little tweaking of the histogram produced.

In my next post, How safe is my safelight, I try to find the source of the fogging.

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2019

Pinhole images through a vortoscope: Is it a first?

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day (WPPD) is celebrated annually on the last Sunday of April. For several years I’ve joined my friends in the Edinburgh Lo-Fi Photography Group for a pinhole photowalk and trying each year to do ‘something different’ with a light-tight space, some form of light-sensitive media and a very, very, small hole.

While the ultimate goal in celebrating the Day is to produce a single image that will be uploaded to the WPPD website, it is also a fun, social occasion with friends, a sharing of ideas, coffee, an interesting location, cake, pincam comparisons and inevitably food and drink in a pub or restaurant afterwards. To make the day interesting photographically I usually prepare several pincams and this year I carried three. My intention was to make one pre-planned image for WPPD19 and to simply have fun with the others to see how they turned out.

First was the ‘Not Just Any Belgian Collection Biscuit Tin’ pincam, then came the ‘All Butter Scottish Shortbread Collection Penta-pinhole’ pincam and finally, the ‘Olympus OM1n Vortoscopic Bodycap Pinhole’ pincam. Each will be explained below in some detail. (This will be a long blog post)!

The Not Just Any Belgian Collection Biscuit Tin pincam

Choose one pinhole from three … the lower landscape pinhole is uncovered

I last used this 90mm deep biscuit tin which holds a sheet of 10″x8″ paper, a few months ago while experimenting with SE1 emulsion on tracing paper. The success of that experiment was iffy at best but it did confirm the accuracy of the f/360 pinhole apertures (it has three to choose from) and the angles of view achievable. It seemed a safe bet to put it to use for WPPD19 loaded with a sheet of Harman Direct Positive Paper which would subsequently be developed in fresh Ilford Multigrade.

Our walk passed a large concrete arrow set in the grass. Apparently the arrow had served some purpose to the RAF during the second world war. It seemed an ideal subject for pinhole imagery. I set up the pincam on a high tripod, aiming downward and used the lower landscape pinhole so as to raise the horizon and include the shadow of the pincam in the image.

Using the lower landscape pinhole together with the pincam aimed downwards ensures the inclusion of the pincam’s shadow.

The All Butter Scottish Shortbread Collection Penta-pinhole pincam

The shutter is an old 5″x4″ darkslide fitted with high-density foam and magnets
Five pinholes concurrently uncovered to provide five overlapping image planes

Like the Belgian Biscuit tin, this pincam had been last used in my experiments with emulsion on tracing paper. It is much shallower at only 55mm and although very wide, the angle of view of each pinhole is insufficient to cover the 10″x8″ paper that fits inside the tin. By using multiple apertures light would be projected by the peripheral ones into the areas of the paper unexposed by the central one. This would also create the interesting idea of overlapping image planes.

The challenge would be to produce five near identical pinhole apertures. This would ensure evenly balanced exposures in the periphery while the central area would receive light from all five apertures. From experiments with three holes I reckoned I could meter the subject, divide by five and deduct that well-known pinhole unit of measure: the ‘bit’. I marked out and drilled holes in the tin lid. The f/160 pinhole apertures were created by pushing a dress-making pin part-way through squares of thin aluminium foil which were then measured for accuracy and consistency before attachement to the inside of the tin. Measurement was made by scanning each pinhole at 9600dpi, measuring onscreen at full size and comparing against the known measurement of a steel rule scanned and viewed at the same resolution and size.

steel rule vs pinhole. Scanned at 9600dpi and viewed on screen at full size, surprisingly accurate measurements can be made for consistency across several pinholes

The twist I wanted to put on the image made with this camera was based on the fact that the meeting point to start our walk was to be outside a theatre. Now the universal symbol for the theatrical arts is a mask and with the potential for the overlapping image produced by this pincam to ‘mask’ the subject, I thought I would take it a little further and make a mask for a member of our group to wear while posing for my WPPD19 image!

a simple papier-mache mask with a few splashes of acrylic paint

Unfortunately the person I had in mind (whose ‘big’ wild hair would have set off the mask very well) was unable to attend the meetup so I ended up wearing it myself and taking a selfie! I quite underestimated just how close the pincam to subject distance would need to be: this was taken at about 30cm – it really needed to be half that or even closer!

Not quite as intended – the jury’s out on whether this is worthy of WPPD19 submission.

The Olympus OM1n Vortoscopic Bodycap Pinhole pincam

It was while browsing my local craft store for mask materials that I spotted some 5cm square mirrors. Some years ago I had been introduced to vortographs, an interesting technique that once tried quickly found its way to the dark recesses of my memory. Something clicked and I decided it would be fun to make a vortoscope through which to make pinhole images. (A good starting point to learn about vortoscopism is

A vortoscope is a gadget that produces kaleidoscope-like images. It is made up of three (I guess it could be more) mirrors formed into a tube-like construction of triangular section which is placed over a lens (or in my case, over a pinhole aperture). The resulting image consists of a central direct section surrounded by peripheral reflections. The ‘diameter’ and length of the vortoscope affects the size and clarity of each of these sections and the abstraction of the image.

I made mine from a pack of 5cm square mirrors which I cut to size with a glass-cutter, a toilet roll core, copious amounts of hot-melt glue and some sticky-back foam. The bodycap has long been adapted for pinhole but to be sure I did re-make the pinhole aperture to the optimum 0.29mm for the 49mm projection distance when mounted on my old Olympus OM1n camera.

I was pretty pleased with the results. The camera was loaded with Kentmere 400 film from a bulk roll and subsequently developed in Ilfosol 3. I make no apology for showing all of the images here, warts and all, because I think they are quite cool! These have been scanned and slight adjustments made in Afinity Photo for exposure and levels. Most of the images were between half and one and a half stops underexposed which was probably down to my poor metering!

WPPD19: which image to submit?

At the time of writing, I have not yet decided which of all the pinhole images made on the day I should submit as my WPPD19 image. I’m open to suggestions.

Pinhole day this year was the first in a long time that I can remember having good, almost too good, weather for pinhole photography. It was unusual for me to come home with nothing I could call a failure!

The best thing about the day? Time spent with friends, sharing our enjoyment of simple image-making pleasures.

A final anecdote

We came across many bird watchers, apparently drawn to reports of two rare species of duck having been spotted along the coast where we were walking. Like us, each of them carried the tools of their hobby: while ours were tin cans and changing bags, theirs were tripods, spotting scopes and big digital cameras with huge long lenses surely capable of resolving the tail-feather detail of sparrows in flight at 1000 metres!

One of them was passing me when he spotted the Olympus round my neck: “Oh! What sort of lens is that? I’ve not seen one of these before.” he asked. Willing to be engaged in a spot of photographic gear talk I removed said ‘lens’ from the camera to show the pinhole end of the device. “It’s not a lens, it’s a vortoscopic bodycap pinhole.” I replied.

Oh dear! The clues were written all over his face. This conversation was going nowhere. It was quite clearly considered that I was some wacko with a screw loose! I need to invest time in the study of ornithology.

Pinhole (in)consistency

The trials and tribulations of using multiple DIY pinhole cameras to produce consistent exposures across a single project.

My ‘best’ pinhole images, in terms of how I perceive the way others appreciate them, have usually been made with my commercially produced Harman TiTAN Pinhole Camera. For myself, however, the images I find most satisfying to create are those made with DIY pincams created from boxes, cans and bits of card or foamcore with a true pin hole punched in foil or sometimes directly into the material of the camera.

Amongst the seemingly endless proliferation of commercially made pincams all with accurate, etched or laser-cut pinhole apertures the aesthetic of what I think of as true pinhole images is becoming lost in the quest for detailed resolution and sharpness. What I seek from a pinhole camera is a serendipitous softness in which light and time create something unseen by the naked eye.

However when multiple cameras are being used to create several discrete images which will ultimately be presented as one, the serendipitous nature of the DIY pincam has to be somewhat controlled in order to achieve a degree of consistency.

The 8xIllyCoffeePincam

For the past few months I’ve been working on the idea of using eight coffee cans to create what I imagine to be a circular, overlapping 360º presentation of the images made in each pincam. The assembled 8xIllyCoffeePincam is shown above.

Each can is fixed to a circle of plywood which has a tripod quick-release plate bolted through its centre. The interior of each can has been sprayed with flat black paint and the lids have been lined with a strip of black felt. The cans are made of steel and two holes have been punched directly through the side of each with a regular dress-making pin. Exposure time is controlled by a strip of black electrical tape. One aperture is positioned centrally on the vertical and the second is one third up from the bottom. This second aperture enables a raising of the horizon line (or lowering if the camera is positioned upside-down!) recorded on the image, i.e. the same effect as lowering or raising the front standard on a large format view camera. Because the media (paper or film) in the can is curved, using the lower aperture will also cause the horizon in the image to bow depending on the width and curvature of the media.

My idea is to select a position to locate and level the camera and then to evaluate and record individual images, one at a time, with each of the eight pincams. I’ve experimented with the camera before, each time resulting in a few tweaks and a refining of my technique as a result. Now I need to know if these refinements are enough for success.

For this outing I had the camera positioned fairly centrally in Aberdour Harbour at low tide on a bright afternoon. Each pincam was loaded with a 5×4 sheet of Harman Direct Positive paper mounted vertically and the lower aperture was used to raise the horizon and include more foreground than sky. I used the Pinhole Assist iPhone app to determine each exposure, assuming that the aperture in each can was around f/150 and by holding my iPhone directly above and perpendicular to the central view of each pincam.

Here are the eight images that I recorded. Although each exposure was measured in a consistent manner, it is plainly obvious that my assessment of the size of each aperture was far from consistent. Only one or two (E and SE) were anywhere near accurate and even so they are underexposed by at least a stop.

To resolve the problem, I need to do two things:

  • Reassess and adjust each aperture to get all of them as near as possible the same.
  • Review how I measure each exposure.

Starting with the pincam used for the ‘E’ image, I took a standard dressmaking pin and marked it with some tape at the furthest point it penetrated the pin hole. I then went round each pincam to make comparison and was actually quite surprised at the range and amount of adjustment needed on each pin hole! The aperture on the pincam used for image ‘N’ was by far the smallest, confirming the almost non-existant image produced.

Having made the necessary adjustments I then had to establish the actual diameter I now have in each can. For this I took a piece of aluminium drinks can and with the same pin punched a hole up to the marker. I scanned this alongside a metal rule at 9600dpi and made relative measurements of the full size image on screen. On screen, the pin hole measured 25mm in diameter and a 5mm section of the rule measured 217mm. Simple arithmetic then determined my actual pinhole diameter to be 0.576mm. Measurement of the paper in the can showed the projection distance to the centre as 80mm. This produces an effective aperture of f/138 centrally.

For future outings with the 8xIllyCoffeePincam I will assess exposure using a spot meter to measure the deepest shadow in which I want to record detail and reduce the exposure given for that by two stops thus placing the shadows on zone III with mid greys falling on zone V. (NB: This is a very much simplified implementation of the Zone System and should not be followed without greater understanding of the system’s complexity). For convenience I will base the exposure on f/128 with a bit added for the sake of serendipity!

Now, confident that this time I’ve got it right, all I need is another fine day to go try it all out, again.

Getting back to silver gelatin on glass

A first attempt at making an anamorphic pinhole image inside a marmalade jar, and it won’t be the last!

At the back of a cupboard I came across a bottle of SE1 Emulsion. It was the remains of the emulsion I had used when I last coated a batch of glass plates, way back in July 2016 and even then it had been several months since the bottle was first opened. From my notes on the box, the emulsion was diluted with 16% Photo-Flo and amounted to about 50ml. I wondered if it would still work.

With Worldwide Pinhole Day 2018 just six weeks away, I have also been trying to think of something new (at least to me) to do this year. How about preparing and coating the inside of a glass marmalade jar with a pinhole in the lid, to create an anamorphic image around the inside of the jar that could be viewed from the outside? It’s not such a crazy idea but subject matter would need to be carefully chosen and exposure might be tricky.

emulsion and marmalade jar

I made up a small quantity of gelatin (1g in 200ml water) with chrome alum hardener (4ml of 2% solution in water) to sub the inside of the cleaned glass jar which I did by pouring in the hardened gelatin solution and flowing it over the entire area by gently rolling and rotating the jar before pouring away the excess. The jar was left aside to air dry, ready for coating with emulsion.

To protect the emulsion from light, I prepared a two-part light-seal from black card and Duck Tape. The jar would fit into one piece and a second piece with a hole in the top for access to the pinhole, would slide down over the first and the hole sealed to the lid of the jar with black PVC tape. A pinhole was punched/drilled into the centre of the lid and a piece of black PVC tape used for a shutter. From a high resolution scan of the pinhole I measured its diameter as 0.37mm.

light seal for the marmalade jar

Now sometime over the winter I had tidied out some of my early glass plate attempts, cleaning off the images by immersing them in very hot water and bleach, scrubbing them clean and then re-subbing them ready for re-use. The 50ml of emulsion that I had would cover quite a bit more than the marmalade jar so I used the excess to coat a few glass plates too: four each of 5×4 (for my Intrepid plate holders) and of 5×3 (for my pincam constructed for WPPD2014). Coating the marmalade jar was achieved in the same fashion as I have already described for subbing it. The coated jar and plates were left in a cool, dark place for a few days to dry completely.

With everything prepared, I was now ready to test out whether my well out of date, diluted emulsion would still work. I planned to set the jar on the floor of my old garden shed, thus exposing an image of the underside of the shed roof on the base of the jar and the shed interior around the sides. By way of a check I would also expose a plate of the outside of the shed, in the WPPD2014 pincam.

the marmalade jar pincam in position in the shed

From past experience I rated the emulsion at ISO 5. For the shed interior I metered EV(100) 8 and thus a 60 minute exposure, and for the outside of the shed EV(100) 13 which gave a 2 minute exposure.

For developer I used Ilford Multigrade diluted 1+19 at approximately 20ºC. The marmalade jar image was developed, as for subbing and pouring, by pouring developer, stop bath and fixer in turn into the jar and swilling it around to cover the surface. Fixer was poured back into the jar and left to stand until the image cleared. The plate from the WPPD2014 pincam was tray developed as normal. Both the jar and the plate were then rinsed in fresh water for a couple of hours before being left to dry.

Unfortunately the marmalade jar image was completely overexposed. The fact that the emulsion is black at least tells me it was still ‘active’ and it is just possible to make out some faint detail in the dried image.

grossly overexposed, it’s not what I’d been hoping for!

On the other hand the plate from the WPPD2014 pincam was perfectly exposed!

a perfectly exposed plate, 2 minutes on ISO 5 rated emulsion
the plate image from the WPPD2014 pincam scanned and inverted

I’m glad to have decided to expose a plate as a check. It tells me the emulsion is still good and that I need to be more careful with my metering for the marmalade jar. For the marmalade jar exposure I think I was fooled by the amount of light entering via the windows and door (which was left open during the exposure), having metered for the dark recesses of the shed. Unfortunately I only prepared one jar so it will be a wee while before I can have another go … but there’s still plenty time before Pinhole Day!