Pinhole CANmeras – Day 1

Last year I had a conversation with Nicole Croy at the NAEA Convention that blew my mind.  For the last few years, she has been recording incredible images with long exposure pinhole cameras that do not require any darkroom chemicals!  I could not wait to try this with my students and even got several teachers at my school to play along.  The project takes a bit of prep, but here is how I do it…

By Wesley – 4th Grade – Filter added with Photoshop

Week #1

4th grade students begin the first 45-minute class by watching two videos.  The first TedEd video gives them a brief introduction to the history of photography. The second (made by me) gives step by step instructions on how to build a camera, as well as a sneak peek at the results. Students are given time to build their cameras before returning to the rug for a discussion about installation.  The last few minutes are spent looking at  Nicole Croy’s images.

TedEd Intro to Photo:

How to make a CANmera:

The first time I tried to have students complete steps 1-11 below.  It was a disaster!!!  We used dollar store can openers that left sharp edges, and it took them FOREVER to trace and cut the circles.  Everyone went home with a camera, but I had to load the paper for a number of students after class.  With a little extra prep, the next class ran much more smoothly. Now I cut the circles and open the cans in advance. That leaves enough time to load the cameras, and have a discussion about installing them at the end of class.

Preparing for week #1

Before students enter the room, I run around and place strips of gaffers tape on the end of each table.  Gaffers tape is a bit pricey, and this is the only way I can share a single roll with a class of 20 students.  While they are watching the videos, I set up each table with scissors, sharpies, sandpaper, black cardstock circles (2.5 in.) and rectangles (2.5 x 8.5 in.), small lunch bags, and installation instructions.

It is not required, but I also spray the inside of the cans with a matt black spray paint to help reduce the effects of light bouncing off the bottom of the can.

For our “darkroom station,” I set three stools on top of one table.  The stools are covered with black contractor bags.  Inside the bags, I place a box filled with 3.5 x 5 photo paper and a red LED light strip.  I mark a small x on the back of each paper to help students insert the paper correctly.  When students are ready to load their camera, they put their heads inside the stool and try not to let light in. 


After the cameras are loaded, I ask them to cover the lens, tape the lid shut, write their name on their cameras and bags, and take them home with the installation log. I also send an e-mail to parents so they know what to expect.

Pinhole Shopping List (approx. $0.70 per student)

$7.98        Cardstock  (enough for 150 students)

$23.99     2” Gaffers tape  (55 yds = 100 students)

$36.79    5 x 7 Semi-Matte Photo Paper (2-3.5 x 5 sheets per 100 students)


Other items you will need:

ScissorsSharpiesSewing pins(the size of the hole matters! Safety pins and tacks are too wide) black contractor bags, sandpaper (150 grit-ish), a decent quality can opener

Red LED “safelights” the ones I have are no longer available: These LEDs are similar:

And of course, a scanner.   At home, I use an Epson photo scanner.  A high-quality scanner will make a huge difference.  In my classroom, I have an Epson Ecotank All-in-One.  The image quality of most “all-in-one” printers will be lower. However, it is important to me that students learn to scan their own images.  With the Ecotank, students are able to scan directly to iPads.  You have to use whatever works for you.


Matt spray paint (for the inside of cans), lunch bags, popsicle sticks (for sanding sticks)






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