I'm looking to set up a large pinhole photography competition in my city. This competition would be open to members of a small college within this city. The plan is to leave a number of pinhole cameras around the college/city with exposure and usage instructions, and also details on how to return the camera to myself. I'll then collect and develop all of these images and then upload them online.

I was wondering if anyone has any experience in this area, and if they could perhaps advise me on the plan's implementation with special regard to the following:

  1. the best type of "box" to use as the camera
  2. the type of film I ought to use in my city (south of England - think wet, occasionally sunny weather)
  3. the chemicals I will need to develop the film
  4. anything else I should consider

The above decisions of course need to be taken with the knowledge that I'll need to manage about 50 cameras. The cameras will need to be cheap, sturdy and reliable, and hopefully a few pointers from experts will save me a lot of effort in the long run.

Why pinhole cameras?

I think a pinhole camera would be suitable for a few reasons:

  1. We're restarting a society, and a novel launch/event would get people interested. Pinhole cameras are fairly rare in my part of the world, and I'm sure people would be enthusiastic if they could use something new.
  2. The society doesn't have that much money, and pinhole cameras are cheap. Given that they are cheap, they can be easily distributed, and we can convince many people to use them. This would quickly promote the society.

  3. They are really easy to use, and need hardly any commitment or expertise on behalf of the user.

  • \$\begingroup\$ What's your goal, and what's in it for the participants? Seems like you could save yourself a lot of trouble and expense, and at the same time get better results if you ran it like any other photo contest: invite people to submit photos they take with their own pinhole camera. (Maybe offer to loan cameras out if you think that'd help people.) If you have reasons for doing it another way, you should be clear on what they are both in your mind and in your question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Caleb
    Oct 8, 2013 at 21:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ The competition would be within a small college, with a fairly close group of students. The attraction for them to participate would be to see their work presented publicly to all of their friends. However, there aren't many people who are that interested in photography at this college, and most won't even have any sort of SLR camera. I'm hoping that a cheap camera which could be used and returned quickly would a good way of engaging them with their surroundings. \$\endgroup\$
    – richnis
    Oct 8, 2013 at 21:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have done some shoebox pinhole photography, and from that experience I must ask if you are perhaps overestimating the capabilities of a pinhole camera? Why does it have to be a pinhole camera? Using 50 of those will only burden yourself with so much work that you run the risk of simply quitting in the middle of process. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 8, 2013 at 23:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good question! I've answered it in the main question. \$\endgroup\$
    – richnis
    Oct 9, 2013 at 0:37

1 Answer 1


You should first decide what type of sensitive material you are going to put inside your camera. Main choices of camera/material are:

  • Coffee can or shoe box loaded with photographic paper

That’s about the cheapest you can make. Exposure times can be long (one min or so) and you get high-contrast paper negatives that are easy to develop and contact-print. Main drawback is that the user can take only one picture before returning the camera to you.

  • Some kind of box loaded with sheet film

This is optimal quality-wise, but more expensive, harder to develop (total darkness) and has the same drawback of only allowing one picture. Exposure times of ~ 1 s (sunny) to 15 s (overcast).

  • Roll-film loaded camera

Easy to develop, many pictures per roll (from 6 on 6×12 to 36 on 24×36). Sharpness is OK on 120, but poor on 135. Main drawback is that these cameras are hard to build, because you need a means to advance the film.

I think I would go for the easiest solution and load some boxes with photo paper. Film would be better but you need more budget and/or time to build the cameras.

Edit: If despite the complexity you opt for the roll-film solution and you have access to a fab-lab, you may want to try the 6×9 pinhole camera I designed. The page is in French but you don’t have to read it: just look at the pictures and download the design files. You will need a laser cutter, a 3D printer, 3 mm MDF, black paint, glue, and obviously a pinhole. However, although it’s a very nice camera for personal use, making 50 of them would be very tedious!

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks Edgar! I think I will go for the first option, considering cost and ease. Are there particular photographic papers that work well with pinhole cameras? Or am I best going with more general-use paper? \$\endgroup\$
    – richnis
    Oct 9, 2013 at 13:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Personally I have only used Ilford Multigrade RC paper, for mere convenience because it is the same paper I use for prints. I have read that grade-2 paper is better because it has lower contrast than multigrade exposed to daylight. I have never tried this option, however, because graded paper is harder to source. Ilford also makes a direct positive paper, which would be ideal, but seems to be only available on FB. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 9, 2013 at 15:33

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