The History of Pinhole Cameras

400 bc Aristotle

In around 350-300bc, aristotle starts to realise the concepts of pinhole photography. After viewing a solar eclipse through a sieve, he writes "Why is it that when the sun passes through quadri-laterals, as for instance in wickerwork, it does not produce a figure rectangular in shape but circular?”, and “Why is it that an eclipse of the sun, if one looks at it through a sieve or through leaves, such as a plane-tree or other broadleaved tree, or if one joins the fingers of one hand over the fingers of the other, the rays are crescent-shaped where they reach the earth? Is it for the same reason as that when light shines through a rectangular peep-hole, it appears circular in the form of a cone?"  He never found the answer.


1000 Alhazen

Again like Aristotle, in 1000ad, Alhazen wrote about pinhole images in his books. But, he also made the worlds first camera obscura. After that he figured out why the image was upside down: Light travels in straight lines, therefore if light were to travel through a hole at a 45-degree angle from the top, it would end up at the bottom.


1500 Artists

In the 1500’s, artists started using camera obscura’s as a drawing aid. It helped them get their perspectives right in pictures. The artists would place their subjects at the end of a room with light shining through it, and place the camera so the image would project onto a surface. They then traced the image it projected.


1604 Johannes Kepler

Johannes Kepler names the camera obscura, camera obscura, meaning chamber darkened.

1727 Johann Heinrich Shultz

In 1727, Johann Hienrich Schulze, a German scientist, mixes chalk, nitric acid, and silver in a flasks and notices that it reacts when exposed to light. Others thought it went dark from heat. He then took experiments further and cut out letters to place on the flask. He then exposed it to full sun. When he brought it back in, there were words written in the mixture. He would then shake the bottle and do it again. This would eventually lead into the invention of film.

1826 Joseph Niepce

In approximately 1826, a scientific researcher, Joseph Nicephore Niepce creates some of the world’s first photographs. Using a camera obscura, he projects images onto pieces of paper coated in silver chloride. This created what they called ‘light paintings’. But unfortunately every time he brought them into light for viewing, the images blackened and faded away. So Niepce focused his attention to other substances that react to light. He concentrated on Bitumen of Judea. In the 1800’s it was used by artists who would draw an image onto a copper plate covered in it. They would then cover it with acid so it would etch an image into the copper. It was then taken off so the copper could be used like a stamp. Niepce dissolved the bitumen in lavender oil, and coated it onto a sheet of metal or glass. After it dried, a drawing was placed on the surface an left out in the sun. This created a positive photo.


1834 Hercules Florence

Hercules Florence coins the term 'photography'.



1839 Louis Daguerre

In the late 1820’s, Daguerre Sets teams up with Joseph Niepce to improve his Heliograph. Niepce’s heliograph needs ridiculously long exposures to capture an image, hours up to days of sunlight. They improve on that, but it still needs unacceptably long exposures. After Niepce’s death in 1833, Daguerre sets out to improve those exposures. He concentrates on the light sensitive properties silver has, as Johann Heinrich Schultz demonstrated before him. To make the daguerreotype, he exposed a silver plated copper sheet to a vapour given off by iodine crystals. This made a light sensitive silver iodide on the surface of the plate. This plate was then exposed in the camera obscura. Unfortunately, this also required a long exposure to get a sharp image. But Daguerre also discovered that a shorter exposed invisible image could be chemically developed to produce a visible image.


1998 NASA

In 1998, NASA launched the New Worlds Imager, a pinhole camera destined to take photos of alien planets. It is made up of 2 spacecraft, that work with each other to take photos of distant planets. The pinhole is one craft, it is about a kilometre wide with a ten metre hole in the centre. The other craft 'collects' the image. The have to be about 200,000 km away from each other to get the best photos. That's half the distance from Earth to The Moon!


2016 The resurgence of pinhole photography

In the 2000's, pinhole photography has been coming back, like records have been. A lot more people have started using them, just as a fun thing to do, or for a school project.

The Shoebox Pinhole Camera
The Shoebox Pinhole Camera