Images without lenses - asssignment idea

This assignment combines two methods of experimental image making without using conventional cameras and lenses. It is a low-tech approach, with a bit of testing gives instant results, and is a good introduction to darkroom processes and use of light sensitive materials.

Aims of assignment

  1. To become familiar with the darkroom, preparation and use of processing chemistry, enlargers, and light sensitive materials.
  2. To experiment with design techniques and find out the effects of using various different materials for making photograms.
  3. To make a pinhole camera, investigate its advantages and disadvantages, and find out what types of images you can produce.

How to do it


cartoon: picture of an enlarger, scissors and box of photographic paper.
  1. Prepare darkroom, chemistry, etc.
  2. Find objects / materials with interesting textures and shapes. Transparent and translucent items can make effective photograms, eg. light bulbs, old bottles, plastic and glass objects.
  3. Using safe lights arrange items on photographic paper under enlarger.
  4. Expose the paper - you may need to make some test strips to find the correct exposure time. Then process using developer, stop and fix.
  5. You should have a paper negative image. Wash and dry it, then make a contact print following instructions in the final step below.
cartoon: picture of a photogram image of a light bulb.

Pinhole camera

  1. Make pinhole camera, use box or tin, any size or shape. A biscuit tin or shoe box is ok. Make it lightproof and paint it matt black inside to prevent reflections.
    cartoon: picture of a tin of biscuits with a hand reaching for the biscuits.
  2. To make pinhole pierce a very small hole in a thick piece of aluminium foil or very thin tin. Make a big hole in the side or lid of the pinhole camera and attach the material with the small pinhole over the top. The smaller and rounder the pinhole itself is, the sharper the image will be in the end. Make a shutter or flap out of a piece of card which can be put over the pinhole and taken off easily.
  3. In the darkroom, under safe lighting, load pinhole camera by fastening a piece of photographic paper inside the box opposite the pinhole.

    a drawing showing the construction of a pingole camera

  4. Make exposure by placing box facing subject, remove cover from pinhole. Find exposure time by trial and error. For an average sized biscuit tin on a sunny day a rough estimate would be 5 minutes. Put the box on a stable surface, you can't expect to hold it still for this amount of time.
    Tip - don't point the camera into the sun, this will fog your photographic paper in seconds!

    cartoon: A woman taking a picture with a pinhole camera.

  5. Return to darkroom, remove paper from camera, and process using developer, stop and fix. Wash and dry resulting paper negative.

Make a contact print

Produce a positive image from your paper negative. This is done by placing the paper negative face down on top of a new piece of photographic paper, emulsion to emulsion, sandwiched into a contact printer under an enlarger. Make a test strip to find out the correct exposure time. Expose, process, wash and dry.

a photograph taken with a pinole camera.

For more ideas and information about pinhole photography visit these links:

  1. Justin Quinnell's pinhole cameras
  2. The Pinhole Gallery