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A hole different outlook: Pinhole camera adventures

Want to snap it old school? Build the same pinhole camera we did

You’ll need

1 soda can

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1 #10 sewing needle

1 piece fine-grit sandpaper

1 8-inch x 36-inch x 1-inch piece of wood
(any kind of wood will work, from pine to zebra wood)

1 4-inch x 5-inch film holder

2 hinges

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2 1/4-inch T-nuts

2 1-inch precut wooden dowels

wood glue

20 brads

mitre or table saw

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power drill

duct tape


1. Making the pinhole. Cut a 2-inch x 2-inch piece of aluminum out of the soda can. With the #10 sewing needle, puncture a hole in the center of the aluminum. Run sandpaper over the aluminum to remove any lip from the puncture, then run the needle through the hole again to clear it. Our pinhole measured about 46 mm.

2. Getting the camera dimensions. Okay, cheat time! Rather than dust off our algebra books, we went to and used the “camera design wizard” to figure out our measurements. Just enter your pinhole diameter, film size and you’ll get the dimensions you need. Depending on your film size, you can make a pinhole out of anything from a mint tin to a shoebox. We used large-format 4 x 5 film, so we made a pretty big box out of oak.

3. Cutting the pieces. With a table saw or a mitre saw, cut each piece to your dimensions, with the grain running along the longest dimension of the piece. Next, you’ll use a router to make some “nesting cuts.” Using a .75-inch router bit, set its depth to .25 inch. Lay the side pieces flat, and router the top, bottom and back of each side. The bottom piece measures out 4.875 inches from the front; router out across the width to make a space for the film holder to sit. Router all four sides of the front of the camera so it fits snugly over all of the other pieces in the front.

4. Drilling the holes. You will need a .25-inch drill bit and 1-inch spade bit for this step. Measure the front piece to determine the center of the camera hole. Using the 1-inch spade bit, drill a hole all the way through.

Next are the holes for your tripod holders. With the .25-inch bit, drill a hole through one bottom piece and one side piece (so you can turn the camera for horizontal shots). With the 1-inch spade bit, drill into the existing holes down approximately 1/2 inch. Using a piece of scrap wood as a damper, hammer in the T-nuts until they’re flush. Glue the edges of the dowels and place them over the T-nuts. This will prevent any light leaking in from the tripod mounts.

5. Painting. Use a flat black spray paint to paint the areas that will be on the inside of the camera. This will help keep it light-tight. Let the paint dry.

6. Assembly. Apply wood glue to the bottom-routered edge of each side piece. Attach to the bottom piece and nail in the brads. Apply glue to the front and side edges and slide into place, following up with brads. For the back door, align your hinges and screw them into the back of the bottom and the back of the back piece. Next, line up and attach the clasps to keep the film holder tight against the camera. Finally, duct-tape the piece of aluminum to the inside of the front panel, centering the pinhole over the drilled hole.

You’re ready to shoot. Need inspiration? See our pinhole camera photos on p. 52.

As a 1999 graduate of Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, MA, Christopher Smith set out to make his mark in the designer world. Shortly after his arrival in Las Vegas, he started working for a small design studio, where is quickly ascended in the local design community. Wanting to branch out and see where else his designer eye could be used, he found his way to Greenspun Media Group where he started work on the Las Vegas Weekly and Las Vegas Life. Within his first 2 years he was promoted to Art Director of Las Vegas Life, where he received several awards for his work in this magazine.