San Diego Loma Portal Elementary School Pinhole Photography Project

March 9, 2017ck@chriskeeney.comPinholeNo Comments

On occasion I’m asked by teachers from schools around San Diego county to come and present to their class about pinhole photography. Sometimes the classes have their own projects where they create their own cameras and then use those cameras to take photos with. For the past few years I have been volunteering my time to speak to Kelly Magaudda’s 3/4 grade seminar class students at Loma Portal Elementary about pinhole photography. After a short introduction on lensless photography the class is broken up into teams who then take turn loading their pinhole cameras with paper negatives in a makeshift darkroom. Parent volunteers help the students setting up their shots and assist with exposure times. The students then returned to the darkroom where I would remove the negatives from the camera and process them in the developer. The students are always excited to see their photos develop in the darkroom chemicals right before their eyes. An experience I’m sure they’ll never forget.

I also suggested that sometimes self portraits can be interesting. In order to be sure they’re not a blurry mess, I told them they would have to hold still throughout the duration of the exposure. And since most of the exposures were about 20-30 seconds, that’s not easy for a 4 grader.

You can see here where this team has chosen to sit on a bench during one of their exposures. To save time in the darkroom I ended up tearing the paper negatives before putting them into the cameras.

I love the “dreamy” quality that pinhole paper negatives give. Most pinhole cameras have a wide angle view, so I kept telling the students to get closer to the camera during their exposures.

This is a fun exposure of these two boys. I like how they’re kinda blurry but the classrooms in the background are sharp.

Pinhole photo or not, stairs always make for some interesting photographs. Plus it’s always nice to see people in pictures.

This is one of my favorites. I like the fact that you can see this girl’s smile. And since the camera is cylindrical the negative sits on a curved surface, which in turn distorts the image. Note how the stairs are curved and not straight.

After this boy took this image and we were processing it in the darkroom, he went on to tell me how he was imaging himself as a miner digging in the dirt. I really enjoyed how each student was truly excited about the whole process from loading the cameras, the picture taking and then watching the image develop in the darkroom.

This team really got creative during their exposure. Smart of the boy in the foreground to brace his head for the exposure (making him the sharpest) but he’s nicely contrasted by the blur of his teammates behind him.

I don’t know what it is, but I think this image wouldn’t have been as interesting if this girl hadn’t been posed on the play structure. Also some really interesting shadows from the chainlink fence which must have been behind the camera.

I like how this boy ventured off to photograph an entirely different area of the school. Unfortunately the guy (that’s me) developing the negatives in the darkroom put his nasty developer laden fingers all over the negative putting fingerprints on this students head.

This is another one of my favorite photos from that day. I’m not sure what’s going on here but I like all the leading lines that direct your eye into what these two boys are doing. I looks like the boy in the front is holding his left arm out which ends up framing the boy behind him. Nice work you two!

Well this is a fun photo of this team. I like how you can see how they’re holding a couple of the paint can cameras in front of them. It’s also interesting that you can see someone standing at the bottom of the stairs on the right hand side of the photo.

I’m a sucker for people that smile, so I’m giving these two girls a big thumbs up for this photo. I also like how the river rock wall and plants add texture to the image.

Not the sharpest of photos but I still can see that this girl is giving the camera a smile. 🙂 I tell the students to make sure their camera is secure before making the exposure. Sometimes wind or an uneven surface will make the camera move when the shutter is open.I can see that this play structure got a lot of use during this project.

It’s tough holding completely still during a 20-30 second exposure… thus the reason why these two are so blurry. I do like how the girl in the front is anchored in the center of the image though.

This is a fun photo. I’m giving this student props for holding onto the monkey bars for 30 seconds! And take a look at that smile… looks like he’s having way too much fun.

This pinhole camera team really worked together to create a great group photo. Props to you all for the team effort.

This is quite the dynamic photo. This young man is hanging onto the monkey bars with both his hands and feet. I’m just not sure it’s possible to remain completely still for 30 seconds while hanging onto something though. Regardless nice work!

I like how the shade of this student’s ball cap makes this boy look a bit “shady”. He must of stood really still because I can read “Let’s Go” on his t-shirt! Cool photo!

This team did an nice job standing over an interesting part of the blacktop. The grayscale of the graphic made for some nice tonality in the photo.

OK, I’ve said it before… I love pictures of people and I like stairs. And these students were even smart enough to include a couple pinhole cameras as props in their photo. Thumbs up to this team!

When I first processed this image I didn’t see the little girl hiding on the play structure on the right hand side of the image… too funny. I wonder if the student on the left knew if that girl was hiding out in this exposure?

Some interesting lines and curves in this photo. The black vignette on the left hand side of the photo is created by the negative now being fully flush to the back of the camera. Regardless, I think it makes for some interesting contrast to the image.

I think this student may have moved a bit too much during the exposure. They’ve been completely ghosted out :-O

OK, this is a really fun image. I like how the boy on the right seems to be looking at the boy on the left with this look on his face like “what the heck are you doing?”

This could be one of the best images created that day. It’s rich with contrast, it’s sharp, has some interesting textures, type and of course my favorite… it has a person in it. A+ to this team/student for this image.

This image needs some explanation… I think the white line on the left of the image is caused by someone pointing the camera at the sun before positioning the camera for this exposure. The gray streak on the bottom is a fixer or developer stain. Regardless of all this… the student is still smiling 🙂

The smiling girls are back and this time they included a boy to even things out. Kudos to all of you for working together to make this awesome team portrait.

Last but not least, the pinhole photographer volunteer, Chris Keeney jumped into a shot with one of the students before cleaning up and leaving for the day. Many thanks to Kelly Magaudda, the parent volunteers and to all the students for making this day so fun and successful.


For further reading, here’s an article that did on our first pinhole project back in March 2008

I got a really nice package in the mail the other day. Inside was a stack of thank you notes from the entire class. Each card was uniquely different, with beautiful handwriting mixed with magical drawings adorned pinhole photographs. Thanks to all of you for writing these. It was interesting to hear that so many of you liked the darkroom developing process. I enjoyed the cards so much, I thought it would be fun to share a few in this blog post. Keep in mind, I couldn’t post them all, so if you don’t see your card here it doesn’t mean I didn’t love it. Thanks again and please be nice to your teacher 🙂

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