The Magic of Pinhole Photography

Yesterday, on a rainy afternoon, I finally got together with some of the children at my younger son’s school to make pinhole photographs.

Pinhole photography must be just about the simplest way to make a photograph — all that’s required is a light-tight box with a pinhole through one of the sides and, of course, some photographic paper or film inside to record the image.

It’s amazing how tricky it can be to describe analogue methods from a bygone era to the youth of the modern whizz-bang digital age.

The best way of course is just to get on and do it.  To see the children wowed by the process once the first image magically appeared in the developing tray was so satisfying.

Learning about Pinhole Photography

It’s no mean feat to ask children to stand still for two whole minutes!

In discussion with the children, I asked them what they considered to be great inventions of our time.

The first answers came flying in — the iPhone, the iPod, the Xbox…

OK, but let’s think about the wheel, the bicycle, the internal combustion engine, the aeroplane, the motor car, domestic power, the internet…

All these things seem so normal and unsurprising to us now that most just slip under the conscious radar.

I encouraged the children to rewind the clock, to the 10th Century as it transpires, to people noticing images projected through cracks in baskets or the dappled light of trees.

At the time, this must surely have been an incredible realisation.  Move forward to the 1800s and just as incredible would be the notion that an image could then be captured and fixed forever onto a piece of paper or film!

The pennies started dropping around the room, especially on seeing that first print appear under the safelight of the darkroom we cobbled together in a cleaning cupboard.

Learning about Pinhole Photography

Three minute silhouettes…

The Solar Eclipse of 1999

As I was scanning these prints, it reminded me of a pinhole photograph I made of the 1999 solar eclipse.

Two memories stick in my mind from that day…

The first was the sudden cooling of the air as the sun slipped behind the moon.

The second memory is much more striking — seeing the bitten shape of the eclipsed sun projected onto a brick wall through the leaves of nearby trees.

The gaps in the leaves had acted as pinholes too and I was immediately transported to understanding how incredible it must have been, all those hundreds of years ago, to realise this phenomenon of physics and the natural world.

1999 solar eclipse over buildings in London captured with a pinhole camera

My pinhole photograph of the 1999 solar eclipse