DIY Pinhole Camera & VanDyke Brown Contact Printing

Finally the week had ended, it was time to visit the art shop yet again. My mission which I fully accepted was to build and deploy a pinhole. This would actually be my first pinhole camera I’ve ever made. (Unfortunately I wasn’t privileged or enlightened enough to had have achieved this sooner, even in my teenager years or even in my twenties.) 

What I’ve learned from all this experimenting and the sheer fun of making, taking and developing, and the final result. I conclude – it should really be thought in every school in the land!

The young are missing out on something truly exciting and creative. On the educational side of things it involves physics, chemistry, history, art and getting outdoors for a darn good reason. 

4x5 Pinhole Negative
4×5 Pinhole Negative

The pinhole camera also known as the camera obscura. Is so easy to build from all manner of things. Therefore I wasn’t settled on just one I had decided the number four would be appropriate. Subsequently four cameras were constructed.  I figured as much, in my case the materials were inexpensive and to hand. While I could always involve friends to come along and make an image or two in the future. This was certainly my justification for such an ample quantity.  

Building a Pinhole Camera

List of requirements

  • A suitable box or tin to make into a Pinhole camera
  • Black matte spray paint
  • Metal foil (not tin foil) or Aluminium Can
  • Fine needle for beading
  • A trusty calculator
  • Computer and a flatbed image scanner
  • A school ruler
  • Black Matte Tape

Step 1 – Spray the inside black

Take the enclosure in my case a metal tin. As the Rolling Stones says – Paint it, Black! – to ensure there is no reflection inside the enclosure.

The box, tin or whatever you’ve decided to use should be light proof. The outside doesn’t need painting at all. Whatever you choose ensure it can fit the sheet film you wish to use. In my case it’s 4×5.

Step 2 – Make the pinhole

In the art shop here in Graz, they had hidden away some rather thin but strong enough brass colour metal foil. Much thicker than tinfoil.

  • Cut 2cm X 2 cm square pieces of foil.
  • Hand drill a tiny hole through the foil with the needle.


Step 3 Calculator the pinhole

Gather all your square pieces and place them on a flatbed scanner along with a ruler and scanner the image.

Now you can work out the size of each hole in compare to the width of a millimetre from the ruler. To do this open the image in Photoshop and use the Ruler Tool to measure the pixels.

Step 4 – Fit the pinhole inside the container

Once everything is dry it’s time to fit the pinhole inside the camera

Finally finish camera ready to take out and shot.

The four pinhole camera are ready
The four pinhole camera are ready

Developing the Negative

I used three tray in complete darkness to develop my 4×5. Developer, Wash and Fixer.

Rodinal is my favourite developer and Ilford Rapid Fixer. 



Contact Printing with 4×5 Pinhole Negatives

To most I think they are not aware that you can contact print with various alternative process the negative once developed from your homemade pinhole camera. It certainly completes the entire process from taken the image to finally producing a piece that you can admire on the wall.

Printed with VanDyke Brown

Placing the 4×5 negative onto prepared paper with VDB produces a really lovely result. I would say 4×5 is the smallest film negative that is practical for contact printing. I have contact printed medium format negatives but they were really tiny pictures.

Herz-Jesu-Kirche Graz - Contact Print using VanDyke Brown
Herz-Jesu-Kirche Graz – Contact Print using VanDyke Brown

Same 4×5″ pinhole negative also with Cyanotype process.

Recipe to make 100mL solution of VDB

This solution is enough for 30  10×8″ prints

Part A Solution:
33mL distilled water (room temp)
9g     ferric ammonium citrate

Part B Solution:
33mL distilled water (room temp)
1.5g   tartaric acid

Part  C Solution:
33 mL distilled water (room temp)
4g     silver nitrate

Once the separate parts are thoroughly mixed, add the Solution B to Solution A, in a dark glass bottle  that can hold > 100mL solution. Next, add Solution C to the bottle, cap, and label the solution for your records.

Once mixed, Vandyke Brown sensitizer lasts up to one year if stored and refrigerated between uses.

Original Source: Recipe and Instructions for VDB

Another interesting recipe and technique – Beyond the VanDyke Brown 

VDB Contamination

Full-bodied tone can also be lost through contamination, a true source of woe for the printer. Vandyke solution reacts with metal, so steel trays and brushes with metal ferrules should not be used. The sponge brushes used for applying vandyke solution should be kept separate and not used for Cyanotypes or gum bichromate. Traces of potassium ferricyanide or dichromate in the brush used for vandyke will weaken your print. Your trays should not have traces of these chemicals either. You may need to change the water in the final wash tray if it has been used for cyanotype, gum or palladium.

Source –

Using X-RAY Film

Rodinal with X-Ray Film

With blue x-ray film (exposed at iso 50), I develop in rodinal 1+100 for about 8-10 minutes, gentle agitation every two minutes. (Turning on the light during a diy stop bath severely fogs my film.)

Fixing is really quick (1-2 minutes) due to the thin emulsion. Blue x-ray film can be handled under a safelight that’s used for wet printing, but a red led lamp works very well too and will allow you to use green x-ray film as well.



Each year one day is dedicated to Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. There even a Kodak Brownie day too. Who would’ve had thought!


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