Blog

Quest for the perfect indoor pinhole camera

By: Deborah White, Category: At The Museum, Date: 12 Oct 2010

How do you create a pinhole camera that can be used inside a room with no windows or natural light and have the ability to demonstrate its own workings? 

Boy did Exhibitions staff have a great session yesterday! My fabulous Wildlife Photographer of the Year and My Photo Studio team members - Mike Smith, Carl Bento and Tanguy Le Moing - and I spent an hour and a half in the museum’s photography studio in our latest quest to design the perfect pinhole camera – which may sound kind of odd when you consider the simple design pinhole cameras require to work! But our team had more than the usual conditions to consider.

Firstly, we had to design a pinhole camera that could be used inside our exhibition space that has no windows or natural light. Pinhole cameras are notoriously difficult to use indoors because of a lack of natural light and, when your camera allows in only a pinprick of light ... well, you get the picture - or not as the case may be! Because we wanted to show our visitors just how simple cameras actually are we were committed to not using a lens. But lenses are the only way to intensify indoor light enough to get a good picture. So what to do? We discovered that using directional, intense lighting and a short distance between the camera and the object works nearly as well. Stay tuned for a picture of me taken with the pinhole camera at a distance of 1 metre and an owl’s face at a distance of 30cm.

Ok, so we tackled the problem of light. Now all we had to do was discover a robust way to really communicate with our visitors the simplicity of camera design. To do this, we ideally didn’t want to use a camera! After much prototyping with boxes, postal tubes and other ordinary items, we decided to do what museums do best – use a showcase! That’s right. We are now experimenting with turning one of our acrylic showcases into a camera. All we need to do is darken the showcase, prick a hole in one end and frost the other end to become the ‘viewing pane’. Sounds easy, right? Stay tuned...