In the summer of 2017 I decided that I needed a new pinhole camera. My previous pinhole camera I had made several years previously out of a mint tin, and it was so shallow that it was practically a fisheye pinhole lens.

I knew that I wanted a longer focal length, and since my Wife is a ceramicist I thought building one out of clay would be a good idea. Free professional help 😉

With Melanie’s help, I rolled out a series of clay slabs and cut six squares out. I was not that bothered about being precise, they were all roughly 150mm square to start with. Give or take.

…we didn’t use a ruler that frequently.

The Ceramic Pinhole Project - Six Slabs Laid Out
The Ceramic Pinhole Project – Six slabs laid out

Putting five sides together was simple, I just scored the joining edges and used slip (clay and water) to stick them together.

A water bottle lid was used to cut the main hole in the front of the camera, this would end up having the pinhole affixed to it. I made an X across the front so that I could line up the pinhole with the dead centre of the face.

The Ceramic Pinhole Project - Main hole cut out with an X
The Ceramic Pinhole Project – Main hole cut out with an X

Making the lid was a little more tricky, it needed to have a lip on the inside to aid light tightness, and stop it slipping off. This was where my professional consultant stepped in…

Once the above steps had been followed the raw clay was then fired in the kiln. (The ‘biscuit’ firing) This was to 1000 degrees C and took it from a grey colour to white.

Bisque fired clay is a fairly fragile thing, I was petrified of breaking the camera at this stage. Once the first firing was complete I coated the interior with a matt black glaze to reduce the risk of internal light reflections fogging my film.

I chose to leave the exterior of the camera unglazed, to keep the outer surface rough and less likely to slip through my fingers. I did plan to attempt to decorate it with cyanotype work…

The second firing saw the Ceramic Pinhole Camera being fired at 1280 degrees C, and when it came back out of the kiln what I thought was going to be a plain white exterior had red flecks all over it. This was caused by the presence of iron in the clay.

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I quite like it myself. No cyanotype needed for external decoration.

For the actual pinhole itself I used my favourite method: Cut a roughly 3 cm square out of a can of fizzy pop, then gently spin the tip of a pin (or needle, if you feel rebellious) into the metal. Give a regular rubbing down with wet and dry as you go and work very slowly and methodically.

I scored an X on the metal before I started, and made the pinhole in the centre of the square. Once that pinhole was made I was able to line up the two X’s I had made to place the pinhole as centrally as I could in the face of the Ceramic Pinhole Camera.

The Ceramic Pinhole Project - Close up showing pinhole in place, two X’s aligned
The Ceramic Pinhole Project – Close up showing pinhole in place, two X’s aligned

I have written a 5 Frames With… article about the Ceramic Pinhole Camera already, and pictures I have made are on display there. Here are a few more that didn’t make the final 5 Frames With article.

As for my flat, grey, contrast-less results. I purchased a box of ILFORD ILFOSPEED RC Deluxe Pearl Grade 3 paper and fresh (Ilford) chemicals.

To prepare the film for the camera I rip a 5×7 (or 7×5!) sheet of photographic paper in half, then remove a  1cm strip from along the shortest length. This fits the Ceramic fine. I rip – not cut – as I like the torn edges.

I have also started to make exposure calculations to attempt repeatable results. I estimate the pinhole itself to be f/405, which is giving me roughly exposure times of roughly 60-90 minutes. That slows down your workflow very nicely, I can tell you.

My darkroom is the kitchen. I can’t use it until after dark which means I am averaging one exposure a day at best. It’s a long, slow process but ultimately a very satisfying one. Contact printing is next on the cards…

Thanks for reading,

~ Toby

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About the author

Avatar - Toby Van de Velde

After 13 years as a local news staff photographer, with a healthy little freelance business on the side, I have now launched into the world of the full-time freelancer. This blog will document the highs and lows of my photographic way of life as I talk about...

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  1. Thank you Monika, I have very much enjoyed the build, the usage, and also the interaction with interested photographers. That has been very satisfying…..

    Mark 2 is in my mind…..