D.I.Y. Monday: Pinhole Camera How-To [part 2]


If you read part 1 of this DIY, you now know what a pinhole camera is! This post is devoted to how to build a pinhole camera from scratch and the next two posts will be decorating your pinhole camera and tips for great pinhole photos. 🙂 YAY! this post is pretty long & technical. if you have any confusion on a certain step, there are tons of other tutorials all over the internet (each one being a little bit different). A huge thank you to my wonderful dad for doing most of this tutorial. He's super amazing at building things, so I was very lucky to have his help. Enjoy!  


Step 1. Decide on the enclosure or housing. We used a wooden pencil box from a craft store. You can use almost anything box that is dark inside.


Step 2. Determine the internal divisions. Divide up the space inside to hold the film roll, the area for the film to move across the pinhole (this determines the frame size) and the area for winding the film forward. Since our wooden box was larger than we really needed for the three main areas, we used the remainer as an area (to the left) to store extra film rolls.



Step 3. Measure areas and cut black foam board to provide area separations. Make slots in the foam board for the film to advance across pinhole (see photos above). Do this on both sides of the pinhole area. then glue the foam board into place with craft glue.  




Step 4. Provide height spacer (we used a metal nut) and a foam board wedge for the top of the film roll to hold the roll in place.







Step 5. Drill a 1/4" hole in the center of the pinhole area. Cut a small square piece of a Soda can and glue into place over the hole that was just drilled for the pin hole. After you let it dry, punch a pin hole in Soda can metal with a pin and fashion a shutter for the front of the camera.   

Here's my shutter…. 



I used a piece of craft foam and a piece of paper to make my shutter. The foam is glued to the wood on three sides (no glue in the area where the paper shutter slides in). The paper shutter has a slight fold on the outer edge to make it easy to pull quickly.    







Step 6. Drill a 1/4" hole for the winder on top of the enclosure. Measure for wooden dowel rod with wooden spool on top for length. Glue metal nut inside winder area at bottom for a guide and add a rubber washer inside on top for a retainer.   




Step 7. Paint inside of camera black, do not paint pinhole. Let dry. I used acrylic craft paint. 






10.) Install film and test. We used a piece of tape to attach the film to the winding bar. We learned that two rotations of out winder (bobbin) is the correct rotation after each exposure. 


This is how you take a photo! Simply uncover and recover your pinhole. I took very quick exposures (appx. 1 second each). 

ETA: To get the film back into the roll without exposing it, simply take it into your closet (any completely dark room) when you have finished the roll, open the camera and push the film back into the camera by hand (it's easy) OR take it to your photo lab (still in the camera, of course) and they can manually roll it for you in their dark box! 


We hope that our tutorial has been helpful to you today! This is the most experimental project I've done here. Lots of things need to be learned through trial and error (most of all film rotation techniques!). There are tons of great resources (other tutorials, youtube videos ect) all over the internet if you have any questions or need more clarification. There is more than one right way to build a pinhole camera. In fact, every single camera will be at least slightly different & that's the beauty of it! Feel free to take this basic information and translate it for your own lovely custom camera. ♥        

In Part 3 I'll show you how to paint and decorate your handmade camera with a cute custom strap! XO. elsie

  • so fun!!!! i really want joel and i to build one together! thanks for everything you do for us miss elsie!


  • I have made some cool pinhole cameras in my life but mine were always made out of a quaker oats container or a hatbox. Yours is so much more put together but just as easy to make! Great job!

  • cool! ive never seen it done with actual film. i’ve only seen it with the photography paper…(but then you need a photo developing room)…this is WAY easier 🙂


  • This so adorable Elsie! What a fun project and I’m sure it was more special to make it with your dad. Thanks for sharing!

  • i love this idea, i really want to try it. I can’t help but wonder how do i get the roll back into the canister to get developed without exposing the film?

  • Mike, I just added that to the tutorial. You have to do it by hand (in a dark closet or room) OR take it to your lab still in the camera and ask them to manually roll it in their dark box! GOOD question. 🙂 Elsie

  • This is an amazing tutorial! It is the first time I’ve seen one so well build and cute. Thanks! Can’t wait to give it a go!

  • I really want to try this one day!

    A great family project!

    Love it!

    (looking forward to see the final result – all decorated and fancyCUTE;)

    Thank you!

  • We made one in high school photography class with a large oatmeal canister. I really loved the way that the photos turned out and always wished I could remember how to make them. Thanks for the tutorial Elsie!! I might just have to make this soon. <3

  • Super awesome! Thanks for sharing with us and I can’t wait to see what you took with it.

    I remember making a pinhole camera out of a oatmeal box when I was in high school.. yours is MUCH cuter!

  • so much fun! and much cuter than any pinhole camera I ever made.

    I recently found your blog and Red Velvet through a friend, and I instantly fell in love! She conveniently sent it to me a few days before I was going to be making a trip to Springfield, so I tried to stop by your shop on Saturday, but like many stores in the area, RVA was closed 🙁 I’ll just have to make another visit ASAP! Thanks for all of the inspiration.

    BTW I’m really hoping that your indie business class comes back SOON as I’d love to be a part of it.

  • Elsie, you did SUCH a good job with this. I am amazed! That is the best pin hole camera I have ever seen!!!!

  • Thaaaanks!! Great instructions Elsie!! i’ll send you my pinhole-photos very soon!! Kisses from Spain!

  • This is perfection!! I’m making one this weekend out of a vintage owl coin bank!! Even if it doesn’t work, it will be fun figuring it out!! You are just the cutest, Elsie!

  • Wow, that looks waaaay better than the pinhole cameras I made out of cereal boxes as a kid! (Probably works better, too…)

  • this is so stinkin cool!

    i’ve been loving your blog for a while now and just had to tell you that your crafty coolness and awesome diys like this are what keep me inspired :] thanks for being awesome!

  • This is awesome! THANKS! I have been wanting to make one of these for the longest time, this one is adroable 🙂

  • too awesome. when made one when I was in elementary school long ago…I really want to try one out myself 😀 Thanks for the instructions!

  • I went to a summer camp one time where we made pinhole cameras out of quaker oatmeal cylinders. It was super fun and I loved developing my film in a dark room.
    Cool tutorial. I’ll have to make my own camera. C:

  • love this elsie! going to need a little help in the tool department from the bf:) but can’t wait to try it. i am also looking forward to see your pictures taken with this!

  • I tried to make one but it turned out bad! But then my boyfriend tried and he made an amazing one

  • You can also make pin hole cameras minus the film, all you need is the photo paper. You do basically the same thing with the pin hole, but you set up the piece of photo paper in the back of the box… (I guess this works better if you have your own developing studio)… So nix that. LOL!

    Great tutorial!

  • Super neat! I just discovered your blog, but you already have me scheming up little projects. I’ve always wanted to make a pinhole camera, but didn’t quite know how to go about it. Thank you!

  • Okay I made it and its friggin awesome. I just haven’t figured out how to get the film frames in the right spot. I keep getting half a picture. Any tips?

  • oh my! and its working? i had no idea you can make a home made camera! how cool is that! thank you for sharing Elsie!

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  • Hi! I saw this post because I got a DIY cam from Urban Outfitters from my girlfriend when she visited SFO. Problem is getting the film to stay in place after winding. What did you do to stop the winder from rolling back? Because chances are, if you keep using the winder, it’s bound to go loose.

    Love from the Philippines!


  • AMAZING, I didn’t even know about pinhole cameras. I’m definitely looking forward to build one, thanks to you! This looks so fun and entertaining, you’re such a talented woman.

  • I cant wait to do this with my daughter! Great tutorial, Ive been having fun the last hour lookin around in you blogorial, Love it!

  • I did something like this for one of my classes at college but with a box of matches. Now, this is really crafty! I might send this link to my professor! Loved it!

  • Your camera is super cute! You could use an empty film canister to reel in the pictures already taken. I did this with a pinhole camera I made from a cereal box. Just don’t forget to tell the lab if it’s a different film!

    Love your blog! I found it through StumbleUpon. 🙂

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