Tales of a Fifth Grade Pinhole Camera

Exploding volcanoes, potato clocks and ‘How many drops of water fit on a coin’: these are the experiments that come to my mind when you mention an elementary school science fair. I dreaded replicating one of these awful experiments with my daughter so instead I suggested we build a pinhole camera. Never one to be afraid to be different, Phoebe jumped at the suggestion.

We constructed a pinhole camera from a thrift store clunker, thanks to instructions found on Silverbased’s website (http://silverbased.org/plasti-pinhole-pt1/). It’s great fun to do but make sure you have a tray to catch all the spare bits that tend to fly off. A magnifying glass is handy as well. While I did all the demo work to the innards of the camera, Phoebe constructed the pinhole from an old soda can. We fully documented her part of the project with a little digital camera. I think her favorite part of the project was destroying the existing plastic lens with a nail and hammer. Of course, that’s usually my favorite part, too.

The camera was ready to go and it was much better than the first trash-cam I originally constructed more than a year ago. I even got the film advance working and the lens cover acting as the shutter and everything. One afternoon, Phoebe decided on the intervals of exposure to film and ‘clicked away’. Much to her dismay the roll was entirely blank. It appears she forgot to advance the film after each exposure. Hey, we’ve all made that mistake before, haven’t we?

With less than 48 hours to go before the deadline, I quickly repeated the experiment using the same object and time intervals. The results were surprising to even me.

As we couldn’t measure the pinhole to approximate the f-stop (I couldn’t get the software to download correctly) we had to guess at exposure times. Turns out the 40 second exposure (first picture) was pretty good. The second picture (2 minute exposure) bordered on over-exposed and the third (4 minutes) was obviously overexposed. We even incorporated that blank roll of film into the project by using it to decorate the cardboard display.

It was great fun doing a project with my oldest daughter. I feel very fortunate that both of my daughters seem to genuinely enjoy photography and are eager to grab one of Mom’s ‘crazy cameras’ when we go on our little photo excursions (especially my Polaroid or Fuji Instax). Beyond instilling some appreciation for film photography, it was nice to spend some time one-on-one with my eldest, something that doesn’t always happen in our busy family of five.

So, did she win? Unfortunately, it appears that pinhole photography has no real ‘translation to real life’ like the other projects that won (potato gun, laundry detergent testing and swabbing the floor and growing disgusting mold on petri dishes). Of course, as lovers of film photography, we know truth. Happy World Pinhole Camera Day!

About ipdegirl

analogue girl in a digital world View all posts by ipdegirl

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