Using Electronic Flash
(For 110, 35mm and 120 film cameras)

An electronic flash gives an intense and very short burst of light of around 1/5000th of a second. They are incorporated on most compact cameras but are also available as separate units which are usually more powerful. There are also many inexpensive ones available in the second hand market.
Most 35mm, 110 and 120 pinhole cameras can be used with electronic flash due to the relatively short pinhole to film distance that these designs have.

In normal lens based photography we can use a flash to illuminate subjects up to a distance of 4 meters away. With these cameras the small aperture of a pinhole will only allow the flash to be used up to a distance of 25cm. While this may seem inhibitive, when combined with the close focussing of a pinhole, a new vision awaits. The very short duration of a flash also enables the camera to be hand held without the risk of camera shake.

Types of flash

Ideally get a hand held flash unit. If you have a small compact camera, tape over the flash sensor on the front of the camera and use the flash by pressing the shutter. Flashguns change their duration (From 1/5000th to 1/50,000th) depending upon how far the subject is. We need to ensure the flash is on its longest duration (1/5000th) by switching it to its 'manual' setting.
If there is no setting, use a small piece of black insulation tape to cover over the sensor on the front of the flashgun/camera. If buying a hand held flash unit (for us photo geeks) a guide number of 24 or 32 is a good strength.

Advantages of using flash

1 Indoor pinhole photography. Although your camera is great for long exposures, using flash is a great way of opening up indoor photography, Objects around the house, or contrived scenarios can easily be photographed this way, making full use of the 'bugs eye view' close up image.

2 Aiming the camera without camera shake. The short flash allows you to hold and aim at a particular angle, so removing the need to rest the camera down on a surface.

3 Increased contrast The light given out by a flash increases the contrast, resulting in an apparent increase of sharpness to the final image.

4 Black background As the flashlight loses its strength (at a distance of 25 cm+) the background becomes black, so isolating and enhancing the subject matter.

5 Capturing movement As well as removing camera shake, other fast movement can be frozen such as water splashes, humming bird's wings, my wallet being closed etc.

6 Frozen action with movement. If the camera is held for a period of time after the flash exposure, the (blurred) background will begin to appear on the image (Similar to using a flash with a long exposure with normal lens based cameras) which can look fairly cool!

How to Use the Camera with a flashgun.

Using a flash with a pinhole camera involves photographing objects close up to the camera rather than the usual far away 'landscape' convention.
The subject should be indoors and less than 25cm from the pinhole. (Inverse square law means that twice the distance of the flash to subject results in the brightness)

Positioning the Flash

Final image


Luckily colour film has huge exposure latitude so even grossly over exposed images should work. Under exposed images often appear to have no solid black background. Try to begin with the distances suggested above.

Angling the flash

This is critical, as you need to illuminate the subject without pointing the flash into the pinhole. Hold the flashgun just above your Camera, making sure the flash is pointing towards the subject. It is essential that both the flashgun to subject distance and the Camera to subject distance is within 25cm.

Removing the Shutter and exposing

Remove the tape shutter, holding the camera by using your finger-thumb to cover the pinhole. Remove your finger from the hole. Indoors you will have several seconds to position subject, camera and flash, (although it may initially be a bit of a juggling act).

Set the flash off (or take a picture with a compact camera).

Replace the insulation tape and wind on the film.

Using two flashguns

To increase the illumination another hand held flash with a slave unit (a gizmo that fires off a flash when it sees another flash go off) can be used. This doubles the illumination, allowing subjects further from the pinhole to be lit.

Studio Flash. These give even more power and can be adjusted to give good controlled illumination. Ring flash would give ideal illumination but they are unfortunately relatively weak, being designed for macro work with normal lenses.

Mending flashguns

If your flashgun goes wrong, give it to a 'friend' to take apart. Then take over dismantling after the charged in the capacitor has been released!

Many pinhole images taken with a flashgun can be found on my gallery page here:

Justin Quinnell 2014