Beer Can Photography



Introduction: Beer Can Photography

This instructable sets out to see if you can take a photo using a beer can. It came about after watching a you tube clip of a beverage can being used to track the sun's path over a period of 6 months. After further late night internet 'research' I thought I would 'give it a crack' to make a pinhole camera from a beer can, not to track the sun's path but to take photos of things with expectations being set suitably low.

The idea is you make a hole into the side of an aluminum beverage can with a pin, place photographic paper into the can and expose it to light though the pinhole, the paper is then developed and a negative image is created.

There are a number of variables and unknowns, such as how long should the paper be exposed to the light? How to develop the image and how long to develop it for? How can the negative image be converted into a positive one?

Rather than ponder these questions, just 'give it a crack' and find out along the way.


Beer can


Photographic paper (the stuff that reacts to light, not what you use in you inkjet printer)

Stuff to develop the photographic paper

Step 1: Photos Taken With an Empty Beer Can

Here's a gallery of the positive images from photos I have taken with beer can pinhole cameras over the past few months. When taken they are a negative. My 'work-flow' is:
1. Take the photo with the beer can pinhole camera fixed to a tripod (secured using blue masking tape). A light measurer app on my phone assists in guessing exposure times.
2. Develop and fix the image using 'home made' developer of water, washing soda, vitamin C and coffee. I use a new mixture each time I develop a batch of photos. Fix the photo for 36 hour in salt water.
3. Take a photo of this image with my phone. Crop the image and adjust if required. Convert into a positive image using the 'Negative image' app. Mirror image it to covert back to correct orientation. It's surprising how occassionaly a poor negative image can be made viewable with a little editing.
4. Save the positive image. Print out the positive photo at a self-service digital photo printing store.

Step 2: Make a Camera From a Beverage Can

Remove the top of an empty beer can (or other suitable aluminum beverage can) by filing it off. Sand the edge with 180 grade sandpaper.

Step 3: Lid

Make a removeable lid from the bottom of another beer can. Cut it off with a craft knife and trim it using a pair of scissors.

Step 4: Pinhole

Where the pinhole will go make the can's surface thinner by sanding it with no.180 grade sandpaper for about a minute and a half. Make a small hole with a pin, but don't press the pin all the way though, a small hole will make for a sharper image.

Place a piece of black tap over the hole. This will act as the camera's shutter, you remove it to take the photo for a short period of time and then place it back over the hole.

Step 5: Spray It Black

Spray paint the inside of the can and the lid black. This lessen reflected light and will make for a better picture.

Step 6: Load Photographic Paper

Photographic paper can still be purchased from some camera shops or online. Don't use the paper your inkjet printer prints photos on, as photographic paper is special sensitive to light paper.

Load a sheet of photographic paper into the can, with the light sensitive side of the paper opposite to where the pinhole is. Do this in a dark place. I did it in my bathroom as it has no windows and used the red light of a camping head touch to see what I was doing. Red light doesn't seen to effect the paper. The paper curved around the inside of the can. This holds the paper in place and allows a wide angle photo to be taken. Place the lid on and secure with two layers of black tape.

Step 7: Take a Photo

Take a photo by removing the tape covering the pinhole for a short period of time.

On of sunny day in the late afternoon, I removed the tape for 40 seconds, while having the beer can pinhole camera secured to a tripod so it didn't move. You could just place the can on a table or bench to take the photo, it shouldn't be moved while the photo is being taken.

Step 8: Develop the Photographic Paper

Remove the photographic paper and develop it. Here how this can be done with home made developer.How to develop photographic paper with home-made developer

Step 9: Invert the Image

If all has gone well, you will see a negative image of what you photographed. This image can be inverted back into a positive image by placing it on top of a sheet of photographic paper (in the darkroom), placing a sheet of glass on top for a close contact and flashing the light on and off and then developing the resulting positive image.

There are also some apps which can invert the colours of an image and give it a mirror image to correct the orientation.
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