Through the eye of a needle

What do you get if you cross a coke can with a match box? A pin hole camera, that's what.

By: Nicola Robey,   3 minutes

Match Box Camera

What do you get if you cross a coke can with a match box? The answer: a day of cutting, taping, shaping and exploring the joy of amateur pin hole photography.

It’s fair to say that I used to be an awful photographer. Even with a photography A Level under my belt, I could never quite get it right. Images were either out of focus, over exposed, or turning purple because of dark room impatience or being late for the bus.

But now, a tap of a finger, a filter applied and voila, everyone can create a screen captured moment of sheer perfection, even me. Mastering shades of sepia, cropping out a photo bomber with a single swipe. or banishing red eye with a magic wand – and all this from a smart phone in the palm of your hand.

Instantaneous digital photography has opened up an art form to almost everyone, producing results that only a matter of years ago would have taken years to perfect.

Whilst this is a huge leap in making a once elitist practice more accessible, at the same time, it does feel quite disingenuous. It’s as if we’re pasting over our lack of commitment to the form with an Instagram brush.

So for my latest Feed I set about fashioning a matchbox pin hole camera, to experiment and challenge my photographic prowess once more.

Following the instructions from this website, I gathered my materials and set to it.

Here’s how to go about fashioning your own…

1. Carefully cut a 2.4 x 2.4 cm square out of the inside of a matchbox. You want to make sure that the lines are clean to avoid an uneven frame in your pictures. Although I quite like to see the fibres around the edges of my images. To make sure there’s no reflection inside your matchbox, it’s important that you colour it in with a black marker pen so that light can be absorbed.


2. Cut a 1.5cm x 1.5 cm square from your coke can and pierce it with a sharp pin or needle. Try and make your hole as small and clean as possible. The smaller the hole, the sharper the image.


3. Cut a 6×6 mm square in the front of your match box, and colour the whole of the inside of the box black (if you can reach). Tape your lens to the front of the box, making sure it’s held tight, with no light leaks.


4. To elevate your pin hole camera to the next level of sophistication, include a clicker. This means you can easily gauge how far you’ve wound on each frame. This consists of finding a plastic ring binder, chopping off a rung and taping it in place, so that the pointed end sits nicely in one of the film’s holes. To see if it works, simply pull a little film out and hear it click into place.


5. You can use a piece of tape as your shutter, but I decided to go all out and build one in. For this you need two more pieces of cardboard. Cut a 2 x 6 cm piece, and another square of 3.2 x 3.2 cm with a 6 x 6 mm square cut in its centre.  Tape the rectangle to sit underneath the square. The hole should rest directly in front of your pin hole.


6. With some nifty skill, pull your new film through the back of the matchbox, taping it seamlessly to the stub of your old film. Make sure your old film canister is pointing down. You want this to be the new vessel for the film you take.


6. Once you’ve mastered that part. all that remains is to tape up your pin hole camera with at least two layers of electrician’s tape. This way you avoid any light getting into your shots and spoiling them. You also don’t want to tape over the ends of them film so it can’t move.

I loved dropping my film off, coming back the next day and picking up my prints, with all the uncertainty that went along with it. It’s a photographic gamble, and it’s exciting.

And the results, whilst a little a hazy and over-exposed,  I’m strangely proud of my pin hole prints. Next time I tackle the matchbox, I know to use a lower speed film and adjust the shutter speed to less than two seconds a go. And that’s something that Instragram just can’t teach you.





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