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The Drink Can (Beer can) Camera
(Video for opening cans safely here)

You will need:

  • An empty aluminium drink can.

  • A4 black card (Cereal packet thickness).

  • Some black gaffer-carpet-duck tape.

  • A rubber band and a pencil (from hereon called 
    the 'gravitational stabilisation device')

  • A small amount of black electrical tape.

  • A pin.

Beer can camera in pub.jpg


Find an aluminium 440ml drink can. Aluminium is non magnetic (and can be tested on the magnet on the edge of a fridge door) and often have ALU written on them. Do not use steel, which is a nasty hard metal, therefore razor sharp and will result in you suing me! The narrower 'red bull' type cans are tricky to open safely so stick to the wider cans. The shorter 'Coke' cans can be used but you will have to trim down the 5x7 photo paper. (a pain when teaching 20 people!)

Cut the top off with a can opener. Video above. If you don't know which one to use, take a few empty cans to the can opener shop and try them out. This also has the added advantage of not having to buy one! 


Cut an 80mm strip off the short edge of a sheet of A4 black card (80mm x 210mm).Cut notches along the edge then crease them over. Then cut out a circle of card the same diameter as the can (60mm).

Turn the can over (so you work on the 'non wobbly' base) and tape the strip of card tightly around the can.


Crease the notches over horizontally, place the circle of card onto the notches and use at least 3 strips of Gaffer tape to cover over the lid.When you are content that there is so much gaffer tape even Gamma radiation couldn't pass through, take the completed lid off and place it over the open end of the can.

Making the Pinhole

As the paper negative is quite large, the need for the pinholes accuracy is less than the opportunity for ease of construction. (Don't worry about the size!) Find a point half way up on the can, which can be recognised. Push a pin into this point (it will pop in) and then gently remove it.

Don't sand down the rough edge inside the pinhole as this is handy for feeling the position of the pinhole when loading the paper. Fold a small length of insulation tape onto itself to make a light proof shutter and stick this over the hole. Put a rubber band around the can and place a pencil through the rubber band. (The gravitational stabilisation device)

(If you are using large format sheet film rather than photographic paper, make an accurate hole 0.28mm in diameter).

big pinhole.jpg

Loading the camera

Switch off the white light in the darkroom and switch on the red light.
Take the lid off.
Open up the photographic paper, take out a sheet and then reseal the packet.
Curl the paper lengthways into the camera so the emulsion is on the inside of the curl. (The shinier surface is the emulsion). There will be a gap of around 10mm, which is where the pinhole should be.
Make sure the paper isn't covering the hole then replace the cap.
Replace the lid before turning on the white light

Can in red light.jpg

Choosing your Subject.
You need to develop each photograph after each exposure so, initially take photographs close to the darkroom. The best images are graphic objects such as buildings which bring out the effect of the curved film plane enabling you to master the ultra wide image.


Standing the camera up (Vertical) or laying it on its side (Horizontal).
The camera standing up will give a horizontally wide view whereas lying it on its side (using the gravitational stabilisation device) will provide you with a vertically wide view. Either way, ensure the camera can rest throughout the exposure without being held 'steady'. Gravity is (usually) lot more stable than a shaky nervous hand!







Positioning it away from the sun.
If sunny, the pinhole needs to face away or sideways to the sun otherwise sunlight going straight into the pinhole will bounce around off the white photo paper and quickly fog your photograph.

Foreground detail.
Try to get objects really close to the pinhole. The ultra wide angle reduces the expected size in the final image. This angle of view, combined with the unlimited depth of field, means that objects ultra close to the pinhole will be in focus. Initially you could try placing the camera on text or a crossword puzzle or a mirror.

resting can camera.jpg

Removal of the tape - shutter
Peel of the tape completely (I daintily replace the tape with my finger) and let go of the can. Any slight wobble will be only a small percentage of the final exposure time.


Exposure times.
A good estimate for exposure time outside would be for 5 seconds in sunlight, 12 seconds when cloudy. It is best to make a test exposure owing to the variations of the brightness of lighting, reflectance of the subject and variety in counting speed (some people take an eternity to count to 12!)


Photographing indoors.
Because indoor lighting is darker than daylight, indoor exposure times can be quite long. This can be anything from 10 minutes to several hours. It is still well worth trying though as it can be enough time to enjoy a cup of tea or five, whilst marveling at the light-forming properties of a tiny hole. Remember to keep the illumination behind the camera rather than shining it into the pinhole.

Tips when exposing.
Avoid camera shake by relying on gravity rather than trying to hold the can steady.
Don't point the camera towards the sun.
Take care in removing and replacing the shutter, before and after the exposure.
Avoid taking photos during a hurricane.


Replacing the shutter.
Gently replace the shutter ensuring you have covered the hole (there is potential for blind panic at this time so take care!). Deftly place your finger over the hole then, holding the camera towards the ground, carefully replace the shutter. Then it's back to your darkroom.


Roving with the camera.
If roving further afield, to take several exposures you could take a changing bag with you (a light tight bag which can be found cheaply on ebay) or make and pre-load several cameras. The photo paper can stay in the light tight can indefinitely.


If you fill the can with water and hold the can underwater you can take an underwater pinhole photo, (although the light proof cap will get a bit soggy!). Due to the requirement for being close to a darkroom the choice of available subjects may be limited.


Using a biology clamp.
These rather spooky looking devices are very useful for angling the Pin Can camera at any position you choose. Angling the camera down will give an 'n' shaped horizon angling up will give a 'u' shaped horizon.

Foot underwater.jpg
lying student.jpg
can 2 .jpg
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