You’re probably asking yourself, what is pinhole photography and why do I care? Both great questions.

Simply put, pinhole photography means that the pictures were taken on a camera without a lens. Not so simply put, a pinhole camera is a variation of the camera obscura, a lightproof box or closed chamber with a small aperture on one side. When light from the outside passes through this small hole, it projects an inverted image onto the opposite side of the box. Add a shutter to control the light and photo paper to capture the image, and voilà! you’ve got yourself a pinhole camera. While it may seem like an outdated method, I can assure you it is alive and well. Here are 10 reasons why pinhole photography gives us life.

Pinhole Photography By Nadir Kayacan
By Nadir Kayacan
Pinhole Camera Photography By Martin Svemart
By Martin Svemart

1. They’re the most versatile (and inexpensive) cameras.

The best thing about pinhole cameras is that you can make them yourself with just about anything: a shoebox, a matchbox, a cereal box, a coffee tin, a soup can, origami, a toilet paper tube, legos, concrete, or — true story, folks — a Chinese roast duck (though I suppose any kind of duck would work).

Chinese Roast Duck Pinhole Camera by Martin Cheung
Yes, that is a duck on a tripod. Photo Courtesy of Martin Cheung

2. It redefines what it means to be unique.

Maybe almost as strange as the roast duck… pine nuts. Instead of making pesto, Italian photographer Francesco Capponi turned his pine nuts into a pinhole camera, which he named the Pinholo (a play on the Italian word for pine nut, pinolo). Using his thumb as a shutter, he pointed the pine nut at his face and developed the miniature self-portraits in a dark room.

Pine Nut Pinholo Camera By Francesco Capponi
By Francesco Capponi
Pine Nut Pinholo Photography By Francesco Capponi
By Francesco Capponi

3. Size matters.

From super small to super-sized, here’s one for the record books: the world record for the largest print picture was taken on a pinhole camera, which also happened to be the largest camera ever created.

“The Great Picture,” which is 108 feet wide and 32 feet tall, was taken in 2006. The abandoned F-18 hangar #115 in Irvine, California was converted into the world’s largest pinhole camera. The photograph is a black-and-white negative print of the Marine Corps air station in front of the San Joaquin Hills.

Largest Pinhole Camera in the World - F-18 hangar #115 in Irvine, California
By Douglas McCulloh

4. Even NASA thinks it’s cool.

The New Worlds Mission project, which is funded by NASA, proposes the use of a giant orbiting pinhole camera in space so massive that it can capture earth-sized planets from other star systems. What is sure to break the record for the largest camera, the proposed camera would be the size of a football field, have a pinhole diameter of 10 meters and a focus length of 200,000 kilometers. Does it still count as a “world record” if it’s out in space?

Pinhole Camera Photography By Ponsiri Napapen
By Ponsiri Napapen

5. Pinhole photography = ultimate vibes.

There’s no better way to make a photograph look like it was taken in the 1800s than using a pinhole camera. Play around with double exposures by using multiple pinholes, or a longer exposure and a moving subject. Add mirrors inside your camera to distort the image, or even curve the film on the inside to get a spherical perspective. The possibilities are endless.

Pinhole Photography Double Exposure By Karla Hospodarska
By Karla Hospodarska
Pinhole Photography By Clare Angel
By Clare Angel

6. (Back in) time lapse photography.

Go old school with the time lapse! No need to know how to work a DSLR or know a single thing about ISO settings, all you gotta do is open the shutter and count to ten (or twenty, or three-hundred and eighty-nine…  you get the point).

Pinhole Camera Timelapse Photography By Ari Rapo
By Ari Rapo
Pinhole Timelapse Photography By Andrie Ladaga
By Andrie Ladaga

7. Make any portrait look iconic.

Something about the old-timey look of pinhole pictures makes any portrait feel like a part of history. Think Abraham Lincoln, Andy Warhol, or Truman Capote. With a pinhole camera, you can capture an entire moment rather than just a face.

Pinhole Camera Portrait by Augusto Lemos
By Augusto Lemos
Pinhole Camera Portrait By Larissa Honsek
By Larissa Honsek

7. Unpredictable and full of character.

The results when using a pinhole camera are always unique. You never quite know what you’re going to get, and that’s the beauty of it. The specks of dust, the light flares, the atmospheric feel… a pinhole camera has got it going on. It’s basically the OG filter.

Pinhole Photography By Alfred W. Tüting
By Alfred W. Tüting

9. Interactive and personal.

The process of taking pinhole photographs is incredibly interactive, making you a part of the photograph. From building the camera to developing the negatives, you are an integral part every step of the way. If you love photography and are happy to experiment, pinhole photography can prove to be a box-load of fun. You’ll create memories that go deeper than just the pictures.

Pinhole Photography By George Reed
By George Reed

10. Anyone can do it.

From famous photographers to Ms. Montogmery’s third grade class, pinhole photography is for everyone — beginners or professionals, alone or together, with a shoebox or a roast duck. Remember, it’s not about the end result, but about the process. Nobody’s perfect, and neither is pinhole photography, so don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The imperfections will become what you love most about your photographs.

Pinhole Camera Photo by The Toad Men
Photo Courtesy of The Toad Men
Pinhole Photo by Graham Carter
By Graham Carter

If you’re as excited about making your own pinhole camera as we are, get to it! We look forward to seeing your unique results on PicsArt photo editor with the hashtag #Pinhole!


Danny Rothschild is a writer, photographer, and graphic designer currently living and loving in Tuscany.