Oh Matchbox Pinhole Photography!


The iconic cooling towers of Didcot A power station are due to be demolished this month or next. Now, I know they aren’t the prettiest of things but there’s something really comforting about seeing the red lights in the distance on a long journey and knowing you’re nearly home.

Since we’re buying our first home in Didcot, and I’ve grown slightly partial to their looming presence outside my window, I wanted to memorialise them somehow as a piece of art. I knew I didn’t want just a standard photo of them. I decided I wanted to try and take a pinhole photograph of the towers.

I tried a few pinhole photographs at school, and one of my pictures (of a coke bottle on the school roof – not quite revolutionary!) is up in my bedroom now so I know I like how they look and remembered it being quite fun and easy. The only problem is I don’t have a dark room…

After searching the internet i found this tutorial which talks you through the stages of making a pinhole camera out of two rolls of film (one empty) and a matchbox. This technique allows you to roll the film, once it’s finished, back into the cannister and take it to a place that develops photos. PROBLEM SOLVED! The camera also seems to take quite nice pictures – you can see some examples on the matchbox pinhole group on Flikr — if you use it properly so I thought I could probably get something worthy of my walls out of it.

So I went to Boots, who kindly offered me lots of empty rolls of film, then gathered everything else together and started to make the camera…

photo 1

The process is really simple and the instructions were really clear so when I sat down at 10pm to make the camera I thought i would be an easy project. Here’s the first few steps:

Everything was going swimmingly until I had taped the camera entirely shut and went to wind the film on for the first time… Nothing happened. I had taped the whole thing so tightly shut that not a single piece of the camera could move.

This was quite lucky though as in undoing the tape I found the clicker had ripped my film and so I replaced that (using a ring binder this time that we dug out from somewhere) and then carefully taped the camera back up, checking with each bit of tape that I could still wind it on and hear the ‘click’.

photo 10


These were a couple of other problems I came up against:

  1. Even with a sharp knife the hollow nature of the matchbox made it really hard to get clean edges on the square which frames the photo, which means I will have a rough edge to my photos.
  2. It is actually really hard to jab a pin into metal repeatedly. I gave up on the ‘twist and drill’ technique as it wasn’t achieving anything and instead chose to put a cushioned nail file (which I used to file the aluminium so it was quite thin) on top of the needle and gently hammer it through the metal until I saw light.
  3.  I have no idea if the hole i made was big enough. I could see light through it, but i just didn’t trust it when it was eventually taped to the camera
  4. The say you can use any piece of thin circular plastic for a clicker. It’s a trap. Don’t use anything that isn’t a plastic binder. I originally cut the plastic ring off the top of a water bottle (the bit that the lid is attached to so you know it’s secure when you open it) and this tore my film. Loads of the film (ok, about one frames worth).
  5. By the time i’d made the camera I’d exposed loads of the film, so I think my first few shots are going to be white outs…
  6. It’s really hard trying to get the shutter up and down without shaking the whole thing, so my photos will probably be quite blurry.

Anyway, I took my finished camera out on Sunday when we did a 10 mile hike through the countryside to Little Wittenham and The Clumps. I’ve been playing around with my exposure times and making notes of what I’ve done each time so when l get the film developed I’ll know what worked best. I’ve only taken about 15 shots so far, so there’s still lots of film left to use up before I get any of the shots developed but hopefully they’ll look good – I’ll put them up when I get them back!

matchbox camera



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