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Pinhole Photography

Pinhole photograph by Diane Stoppard


Learning Contexts

Visual Arts: Photography; Science; Mathematics


Diane Stoppard


Whangarei Intermediate School

Duration of Project

10 weeks

Students Involved

32 students, year 7

Pinhole photography is a remarkably accessible teaching tool. It hooked students in early and has an aura of magic about it.

The simplicity of making pinhole photographs and creating the camera obscura has taught the students skills in science, maths and art.

(Diane Stoppard, artist)
From left; student's drawing of how light waves travel, Diane Stoppard (artist) and Karen Hinge (teacher) making pinhole cameras, positive and negative pinhole images of a soccer ball in a student's workbook.


A year 7 student proudly standing beside his pinhole photograph at the final exhibition


Whangarei Intermediate students created pinhole photographs with the assistance of an expert practitioner and presented them for exhibition in a public gallery. Using a team-teaching approach, the artist and teacher planned a comprehensive sequence of learning activities pitched towards Level 3 and 4 of the New Zealand Curriculum. NZC could be linked but not important. Both the teacher and the artist were equally responsible for the learning intentions and related activities. Diane worked mostly in the darkroom with students while Karen worked with the students in the classroom. Students had the opportunity to learn about and gain skills in what is an exciting and unique photographic technique at this level. The students involved were able to work through an inquiry model of learning by undertaking their own research into pinhole artists, designing questionnaires for staff and students, holding forum discussions and making decisions on best practice for final exhibition.

They were highly motivated throughout the process, with every student achieving a successful outcome.

They discovered that they had a personal voice and that it had value.

(Diane Stoppard)

The final exhibition was held at Reyburn House, a public gallery in Whangarei, to celebrate the students' achievements and allow them to participate in an authentic "art" experience.


A composite pinhole photograph by the teacher (Karen Hinge)


Working collaboratively the artist and teacher built a temporary darkroom and guided the students through the principles, background and creative practice of pinhole photography. The artist was given a space where the students could observe her working on her own pinhole cameras and photographs.

Twice a week the students had just over an hour to work in the classroom and darkroom on the project. They also worked at home and in the school environs to research historic definitions/expressions of 'Home and Belonging' and learn how to make pinhole images.

Pinhole cameras were designed and built by students to express their thoughts about 'home' in a visual way. Students conducted their own research about technique and artists associated with pinhole photography. This introductory time was also used for practice with cameras and learning darkroom processes to print images.

When students had developed some ideas about the kinds of images they wanted to make the camera and darkroom practices were refined. Positive and negative experiments were conducted so that students could make positive contact prints . To cement their learning students designed questionnaires with the purpose of disseminating knowledge and promoting interest in photographic techniques to other members of the school community.

Final photographs were produced towards the exhibition to which students invited their friends and family.

Student learning

Student pinhole photograph


As a well-established pinhole photographer, Diane was able to motivate the students with her enthusiasm and passion for the process. Students learned about; properties of light, design, visual language and darkroom processes. In doing so they gained a greater understanding of some science and mathematical concepts, as well as a range of practical skills in photography.

It was a great learning experience for students to complete the whole process - from learning about photography and using a simple pinhole camera through to a final exhibition of their prints. The students were delighted and excited to make images out of tin cans.

(Diane Stoppard)

Many of the students were motivated to share new-found knowledge and subsequently involved their families and introduced them to the magic of pinhole photography. Through working on individual projects which needed to be finished in time for the exhibition students managed themselves, participating, contributing and taking responsibility for their learning.

Related learning

Studying photographic materials, techniques and processes involved students in learning about information and ideas associated with other essential learning areas such as:

Science: the Nature of Science; appreciating the development of scientific knowledge about photography. The Physical World; explanations for physical phenomena such as light/light-waves. The Material World; develop an understanding of the chemistry involved in making photographs.

Mathematics: calculating, estimating and measurement.

Curriculum Links

All four strands of the Visual arts curriculum were integrated: Understanding the Arts in Context; Developing Ideas; Developing Practical Knowledge; and Communicating and Interpreting. Students explored the use of new materials and processes and how they could represent ideas visually.

Key competencies were also developed through this engaging project which encouraged learners to be active participants who managed themselves and their own learning.

Impact on school community

Parents were involved in the student learning early in the project as they were included in the picture-making around 'home' themes. The whole school was made aware of Diane's presence in the school and what her role was through regular assembly presentations. Other teachers were invited to become involved in the pinhole process and make pictures.

During the project the whole student body and the teachers were photographed with a pinhole camera. These photos were processed and are now permanently exhibited in the school. The final exhibition held at a 'real' city art gallery was a totally new and very positive experience for the students and whanau.


showed me the simplicity of thought and visual expression. It was a wonderful opportunity to spend intensive time working on my photographic art. With the time and access to the school art resources I extended my pinhole images and created the beginning of a new body of work. I also started working in clay using my photographic image themes.

(Diane Stoppard)

This programme was of enormous benefit for me as an art specialist and also as a classroom teacher. I have learnt valuable photography skills, including the magic of pinhole and darkroom skills. These are skills which I am now continuing to implement with other art classes allowing me to consolidate the skills learnt.

(Karen Hinge, teacher)

Where to next

There is now a simple functioning darkroom at Whangarei Intermediate School that the teachers are continuing to use. One of the best things about this project was seeing the students sharing their new skills with whanau, members of the Whangarei community as well as other teachers and friends at school.

Useful links

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