Total solar eclipse 2015: How to watch in London with a DIY pinhole camera

Catherine Neilan
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Pinhole cameras let you see the total solar eclipse without harming your eyes (Source: Getty)

Allowing for toxic smog or the vagaries of London weather, tomorrow we will see the first total solar eclipse in 16 years.

But, as we were all taught in school, you should never look directly at the Sun, and experts are warning that doing so could cause a “solar burn” on your retina. In other words, it could seriously damage your eyesight, potentially causing blindness.
That's true whether you're wearing sunglasses or not.
You can buy special solar eclipse glasses – though most of the stockists seem to be etailers like Amazon and eBay, who are unlikely to deliver in time for tomorrow's event - so the best option open to you now is to make your own pinhole camera.

(Source: Wikimedia)

If you have photo paper

  1. Firstly, you need a box. A shoe box is best but it doesn't really matter as long as it doesn't let light in. The light comes in from the pinhole.
  2. Paint it black inside and seal it with heavy duty tape like duct tape – perhaps left over from your foray into Fifty Shades of Grey-inspired experimentation.
  3. You'll need a thin piece of metal – thin enough that you can push a needle through. You will also need to sand it down a bit to make the surface smooth.
  4. Once that's done, cut a very small square opening in the box for the metal square. Then you can tape the pinhole behind the square.
  5. On the outside of the box, make a flap that covers the pinhole – this can be made using more tape.
  6. Find somewhere completely dark for the next stage - a room or large cupboard without any windows. Tape a piece of photo paper to the inside of the box across from the hole. Once you have put the lid on and put the shutter over the pinhole, you can go back into the light.
  7. Now you have a pinhole camera. You can point it at what you want to take pictures of by opening the shutter for between 30 seconds and four minutes. You must stand perfectly still though – and remember, no peeking at the sun.
  8. To develop the picture, you'll need to return to the darkroom to take the paper out of the box.

What else?

If you don't have photo paper, you can use normal white paper to try a different method to see it as a projection, by cutting a hole out of the shoe box for your head to enter.

  1. Make the box and pinhole as described above and just tape the paper into the side of the box – there is no need to find a dark room.
  2. With your back to the Sun, put your head into the box. You should see the image of the Sun projected on the paper inside the box.

An even easier method

There is an even easier method if you don't have a box, although the results are not as good.
  1. For this you will need two pieces of stiff white cardboard or two pieces of plain white paper and a thumbtack or sharp pin.
  2. Using the pin, make a small hole in the middle of the paper or card and with your back to the Sun, hold the paper above your shoulder, allowing the Sun to shine on it.
  3. The second piece of paper acts as a projector screen. This needs to be held at a distance, and an inverted image of the Sun will appear.
Happy eclipsing...

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