A Handmade Pinhole Camera for a Middle School Student


In our modern world, new technologies are rapidly replacing older technologies, and as a result, knowledge of older ways of life is forgotten. When it comes to photography, many middle school-aged students have never seen film cameras, as most are accustomed to digital and cell phone cameras. Fortunately, there is a fun and engaging way to teach children about film photography. Teachers can work with students to help them build their own pinhole cameras and to instruct them in the use and processing of photographic film in order to create their own images.

Things You'll Need

  • One shoe box or similar box for each student
  • Black paint
  • Heavy black construction paper
  • Glue
  • Knife
  • Number 10 sewing needle or similar
  • Black electrical tape
  • Film with canisters
  • Dark room chemicals (optional--requires specialized knowledge and safe handling procedures)
  • Paint the inside and outside of the shoe box black. Instruct your students to paint the box completely so there are no light spots. This will ensure that light does not overexpose the film and ruin the photos. Allow the paint to completely dry before proceeding. Taping or gluing black construction paper to the box is a faster and less messy alternative.

  • Cut a hole into the box. This hole should be about one quarter inch in diameter and should be located in the center of one of the long ends of the box. If you are concerned about student safety then cut the hole yourself for each student.

  • Create the pinhole. Use the needle to pierce a hole into a small piece of the heavy construction paper. The hole needs to be as round as possible, so it is best to instruct students to slowly push and rotate the pin into the paper. The needle should only be pushed in about halfway before slowly being removed.

  • Tape the pinhole over the box's hole. Make sure the pinhole is centered over the hole and securely taped to the box.

  • Create the camera's shutter. A small rectangular piece of construction paper should be taped over the pinhole with one piece of tape placed over each short side of the paper. Make sure one side is hinged. The other side should be easy to untape and re-tape. When it is time to take a picture, this side will be lifted so that the pinhole is exposed. After the picture is taken the student should re-tape the shutter over the pinhole.

  • Tape film to the inside of the box. Film should be located across from the pinhole with the emulsion side facing the pinhole. When using roll film, the emulsion side is the inside of the curl. Remember to handle film in darkness, as light will overexpose and ruin it.

  • Take a picture. Once your photo subject is identified, point the pinhole toward the object, open the shutter and expose the film, then tape the shutter back down across the pinhole after the appropriate exposure time. The amount of exposure time depends on the type of film you are using and the amount of light either outside or in the classroom. This could range anywhere from one to 16 seconds or more. For clear, sharp pictures, be sure to keep the camera very still. It is probably best for students to tape the camera on one end of their desks and place their subject on the other end.

  • Develop the picture. Take the camera to a dark room, remove the film, and place it into the dark film canister. Students are then free to reload the camera to take additional pictures. Pictures can be developed either using darkroom chemicals or at a professional film development store. Please note that darkroom chemicals require specialized knowledge and safety precautions. If you possess the required knowledge and decide to use darkroom chemicals be sure to thoroughly educate students ahead of time on the process, the dangers of darkroom chemicals and the method to safely work with them. The students should be provided with the appropriate safety equipment and carefully monitored in the darkroom.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use of darkroom chemicals (optional) requires specialized knowledge and safe handling.


  • Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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