Historical articles on pinhole photography
These files are in Adobe Acrobat format. I’m pretty sure all these works should be in the public domain, so I don’t think I’m infringing on anyone’s copyright.
Natural Magic by Giovanni Battista della Porta (1558)
In Chapter VI of Book 17, which covers a variety of optical topics, he was the first to describe the use of a small aperture to view an image in a camera obscura, and then goes on about how it works better with a lens. 1 page 6.5 x 10 iinches (PDF – 116K)
The Stereoscope by Sir David Brewster (1856)
Although the basic principles of images formed by small apertures were known in antiquity, the first mention of anyone taking a photograph this way, and the first use of the term pinhole to describe it are in this 1856 book by the Scottish scientist, Sir David Brewster. (Update: Scottish teenager Sam Morton discovered an earlier reference to the term pin-hole for a small aperture used for optical purposes using Google Books.)
The passage referring to pinhole photography which is reproduced here occurs on page 136 and 137 in Chapter VIII. (2 pages 7 x 9 iinches (PDF – 116K)
Upon Some Improvements Proposed by Sir David Brewster in the Photographic Camera by Edwin Emerson (1861)
From the British Journal of Photography. In response to Brewster’s description of the pinhole camera and the benefits of small apertures with lenses in The Stereoscope, Emerson compares several lenses with various small apertures and a pinhole. I almost didn’t include it here until I got to his conclusion that a pinhole camera is an “optical as well as photographic absurdity.” 8 pages 7 x 10 inches (PDF – 1.3MB)
Pinhole Photography by William Forgan (1887)
The text of a presentation to a meeting of the Edinburgh Photographic Society published in the British Journal of Photography. He describes his experiences making and using a pinhole camera. This article was kindly provided to me by Peter Stubbs, who maintains a web site on the history of the Edinburgh Photographic Society 2 pages (PDF – 256K)
Photographie sans objectif. (1889)
This file was sent to me by Jean-Louis Thiry of Montauban, France. It is a column from an 1889 French magazine called La Nature which dealt with any kind of scientific matters. My French is “tres mal” almost to the point of non-existence, but I can recognize that they’re talking about some familiar issues. I think it reviews the work of Captain R.Colson who is refered to by several of the other authors. The example photograph is a stereo pair. 4 pages (PDF – 890K)
Artistic Focus and the Suppression of the Lens by Alfred Maskell (1890)
This article is from the Photographic Quarterly,Vol. II, No. 5. from October 1890. Alfred Maskell was instrumental in the founding of the Linked Ring Brotherhood in 1892, a group dedicated to the promotion of photography as fine art and often associated with the Pictorialist movement. Very little technical detail here, the emphasis is on the artistic potential of pinhole photography (and photography in general). 16 pages, 5 x 7.5 in. (PDF – 584K)
On Pin-hole Photography by Lord Rayleigh (Willam Strutt)
This article was originally published in The London, Edinburg and Dublin philosophical magazine and journal of science in February 1891 (Ser. 5, Vol. 31). If you want to know how sharp a pinhole camera can get, this is the original research by one of the giants of Victorian physics. Warning: Heavy Math. 15 pages, 5 x 8.5 in. (PDF -1.3 MB)
Three short articles from Scientific American.
This file contains three very short articles from Scientific American with illustrations.
A one dollar photographic outfit, July 4, 1891. Report on a complete kit including a pinhole camera, plates. paper, trays and chemistry.
Lensless photography, by N.R. Briggs, July 16, 1904. Basic description of pinhole photography.
The Slit Camera, February 15, 1916. Report on the slit camera and how images are changed by using a slit instead of a pinhole.
4 pages, (PDF – 1.2MB)
Stenopaic or Pin-hole Photography by Frederick Wm.Mills and Archibald C. Ponton (1895)
In addition to the advancement of the Greek term stenope for pin-hole, according to H.D’Arcy Power it is “chiefly notable for its profusion of algebraic calculations.” Reviews lots of other work on optimum pinhole size, angle of view and exposure. 28 pages, 5.5. x 8 inches (PDF – 1MB)
Rank Heresy–A Few Lines on Pinhole Work by F.A. Wright (1897)
Short article from the April 2, 1897 issue of The Amateur Photographer. Delightfully lighthearted non-technical description of how to do pinhole. My favorite quote: ” It doesn’t require much skill to make a passable negative, but a man has to be more than a photographer to produce a work of art from it.” (his italics) 1 page 8.5 x 11 inches (PDF- 168K)
Pinhole (Lensless) Photography by Reverend J.B.Thomson (1901).
An issue of the The Photo-Miniature, a general photography magazine published from 1899 to 1936. “Straightforward and plainly told” explanation of pinhole photography, including how-to instructions and even a section on stereo photography. 50 pages, 5.5. x 8.5 inches (PDF – 2.6MB)
Photography: the Watkins manual of exposure and development by Alfred Watkins (1902)
Alfred Watkins was a pioneer in exposure determination and developed one of the first light meters. He is notable in that his interest in photography began using a pinhole camera. He came to my attention because the Oxford English Dictionary uses a quote from this book as one of the examples of the use of the word pinhole as it relates to photography
Pages 55 through 57 are reproduced here, which contain the reference cited in the OED, give a very brief introduction to pinhole photography and explain how to use his system of exposure determination for pinhole photography.5 pages, 5.5. x 8 inches (PDF – 670K )
Photography: its principles and applications by Alfred Watkins (1911)
This work, as the name implies is a comprehensive guide to photography as it existed in 1911. Three parts are reproduced here. At the end of the preface, he apologizes for omitting pinhole photography and refers to an addendum. In Chapter 1 on First Principles, he describes the formation of an image by a pinhole aperture, and at the end of the book is the promised addendum. 11 pages, 5. x 8 inches (PDF – 1MB)
Pinhole Photography by A.H.Baird.(1904)
From an early photographic journal, Photographic Chat, published by the Edinburgh photographic dealer, A H Baird. The article comes from the January 1904 edition. Includes a short attempt at “Why Pinhole?,” an unusual method for making a pinhole (I love the recommendation to blacken the pinhole with liver of sulphur) and how to determine exposure. This article was kindly provided to me by Peter Stubbs, who maintains a web site on the history of the Edinburgh Photographic Society 4 pages (PDF – 260K)
Advanced Pinhole Photography by H. D’Arcy Power (1905)
Another issue of The Photo-Miniature. He approaches pinhole photography not as “an optical problem or scientific hobby”, but from a “practical standpoint” to “produce pictures with a serious purpose”. 45 pages, 5.5. x 8 inches (PDF – 3.3MB)
Pinhole Photography by H. D’Arcy Power (1925)
An article from the British Journal of Photography. D’Arcy Power updates his 1905 work with comments on better materials and methods for making pinholes. This article was kindly provided to me by Peter Stubbs, who maintains a web site on the history of the Edinburgh Photographic Society 2 pages (PDF – 292K)