Create a Digital Pinhole Camera

Attention photographers! Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day will soon be upon us! For the past 12 years, a small group of international volunteers has diligently and passionately worked to create an annual picture making holiday on the last Sunday in April. The event celebrates the simple pleasure of making a photograph without the aid of a lens. All are welcome to participate and many upload one of their lensless images to the web gallery which boasts an amazing collection of images from past events. The site also includes an international listing of workshops, meet-ups, photo walks, and other events all independently planned and organized by devoted enthusiasts.

Pinhole photography is generally thought a useful tool to introduce children to various elements of chemistry, science, optics, and photography, but for the experienced photographer it can be an interesting break from our high-tech world. Many have found that experimenting with techniques outside of their comfort zone have stimulated exciting new ideas and energized their photographic practice.

Simple containers or oatmeal boxes are popular objects for beginner camera conversion projects and items that many have tried and experienced. But, did you know that with only a few inexpensive items and about a half-hour of time you can easily transform nearly any film or digital camera (that has a removable lens) into a pinhole camera? Not only does this alleviate the need for chemistry and a darkroom, but also offers interesting picture making possibilities. The steps outlined here are for a Nikon DSLR, but can easily be adapted to your own situation.

supplies and tools


Body cap for your camera
49mm UV filter
Aluminum from a drink can


Drill with 1/4” bit
Sewing Needle
Electrical Tape
Glue or Adhesive
Black Marker
Emory paper (very fine sand paper)


Drill a 1/4" hole roughly in the center of the body cap. The body cap is how we’ll mount the pinhole aperture to the camera body.

Use scissors to carefully cut a 3/4" square of aluminum from the can. It needs to be small enough to fit into the back of the lens cap, but large enough to cover the hole drilled in step one.

Place the square of aluminum on a piece of cardboard or cutting matt and firmly press a sewing needle into the middle of it. Don’t puncture the aluminum, but instead just dimple the surface.

Turn the aluminum over and use the emory cloth to lightly sand the dimple in small circular motions. Sand until the dimple disappears and a small hole appears. Hold it up to the light and if it looks round and clean it’s finished. If not, continue sanding until it does.

Center the aluminum onto the back of the body cap and tape in place with the electrical tape. Color the back of the aluminum with the black marker so it doesn’t reflect light back to the sensor and causing fogging. Do not marker over the hole.

Take the UV filter and put a small bead of super glue on the metal ring and press it to the front of the body cap. This important step prevents dust from entering your camera. Allow to dry.

Replace the lens of your camera with the new pinhole-lens body cap. Start shooting and experimenting!

It’s easy to become obsessed with minutiae like pursuing the perfectly shaped and sized pinhole, but I strongly encourage you to build something and try it! If you find the image is too blurry, make a slightly smaller hole. You might also test it with multiple tiny apertures or different shapes and see how they influence the image. There’s a lot that can be done, but unless you start making pictures you’ll never know!

I’ll look for your photos in the pinholeday gallery!

Online Resources
Nick Dvoracek Pinhole Photography

Instructional Books

F295 Historic Process Workbook by Tom Persinger
Photographic Possibilities by Robert Hirsch
Pinhole Photography by Eric Renner

Books With Great Pinhole Imagery

The Invented Camera: Low Tech Photography and Sculpture by Jo Babcock
Explorations Along an Imaginary Coastline= by Martha Casanave
Ghosts in the Landscape Craig Barber
Camera Obscura by Abelardo Morrell
I Am Not This Body by Barbara Ess
Tom Persinger is a photographer, writer, historian, and the founder of F295.

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    • And you can go "telephoto" by inserting extention tubes between the cap and the body.  The light falls off, though, so you have to increase exposure.

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    • A small step for DIY geek and and a giant leap backwards for IQ

      What is the point of taking a $1000 camera and making the images look worse than the cheapest cellphone camera?

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    • I don't see the point. Pinhole photography is an interesting technique for large format, but pretty much useless on 35mm. Crop sensors make it even worse. Diffraction just kills the image with small sensors. On 8x10 film, or even 5x4, pinhole photography starts to get interesting.

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