Let the light in: A quick introduction to Pinhole Photography by Sudha Shanmugam



World Pinhole day is celebrated every year in the honour of the primitive photography process which leads us to the basic terms of making a Picture. In an increasingly digitalized world where the camera has become an app in mobile phones and clicking away thousand picture a day, everyone is a photographer now… Photo prints  are not physical anymore, it is more on a memory card used for sharing basis.

History of Pinhole Photography

However, photography was only invented in 1839 the principle of the Pinhole has been known ages as early as the 4th century mostly followed  the Obscura method…But only the in 18th century Pinhole photography became popular for its mere artistic approach of imaging result which lasted for years.

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What is Pinhole?

A pinhole  is a simple camera without a lens and with a single small aperture. A pinhole –effectively a light-proof box with a small hole in one side. Light from a scene passes through this single point and projects an inverted image on the opposite side of the box. Pinhole camera is comically primitive. Typically homemade they lack lenses, traditional shutter, light meter and focusing controls (Pinhole see any object just like our eye, far away object or any close ups are clear). Films like 120mm,35mm,instant film or a negative sheet are used for exposing the scene or the object, which are later developed under chemicals in the dark room and then made into prints. There are many ready Pinhole cameras available but the craft of making one at home from scratch is the real beauty. Besides being primitive, Pinhole camera is cheap and almost guarantees unpredictable, bizarre and fascinating results with sweet surprises. The effort of making DIY camera and then the  developing process and then making the print all combine together to that amazing end result that is truly worth all the efforts. Not all exposed images come out clear and sharp but the addiction toward Pinhole Photography makes you go over and over again to get that perfect image.


As the aperture is just the size of a Pinhole, optimally  the size of the aperture should be  1/100 or less of the distance between it and the projected image. Because a pinhole camera requires a long  exposure, its shutter may be manually operated, as with a flap made of light weight material to cover and uncover the pinhole. The exposure extends from 5 sec to an hour or a day or even a year.

The long exposure makes the Pinhole image a magical one. Light and movement are well captured, it makes the image look like time has been frozen for a while, and the result ends up with  ghostly movements, happy surprises, and unpredictable ones.

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Camera :Watch Canister

Film   : Paper Negative

Exposure : 20 mins on natural window light

Pinhole to me

It’s my fourth consecutive year trying, making and researching on Pinhole Photography… at times, it gives me the best picture and sometimes a complete failure, all in all it’s an amazing learning process… pinhole doesn’t give a ready image every time you click… it depends on the film climate and exposure measures which make the process completely unique. Four years has become an addiction now….It’s almost like baking or cooking the complete process is handmade and you applaud yourself for making an image all by hand from scratch rather than taking it. It takes a day to make an image …It’s not for the people who are in a hurry. When the movement is well captured, it feels like the physical image really breathes at last.

A portrait series called

“Cream lily Petticoat Project” is in progress where portraits are made under ancient printing process called Gum Bichromate, Cyanotype, and Palladium Prints. Dealing with chemicals is riskier and the price mode is extraordinarily high compared to digital. It’s only the passion for Art that will drive you all the way. Exhibition on Alternative types of photography and printing is my future dream and I want to create the awareness of The unique beauty of Art called Photography . Finally, I’d like to say, “There is a strong determination to prove that it is the artist, not the equipment that makes the image”


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About Me

I am Sudha Shanmugam from Chennai, more into Analogue and the Alternative process of Photography. Recently I did a workshop on Ancient Wet Plate Collodion under the prestigious Mr. Mark Osterman and Mrs.Scully Osterman in Eastman House Rochester NY and also from  Arpan Mukherjee the Master of making collodion images from India.

I am planning for an Ancient portrait Photography Studio in Chennai soon ,where you can take that one precious Vintage Portrait to be proud of.

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