A picture-perfect way to end the year

Physics students build cameras

Valerie Pioppi, Staff Reporter

As the school year comes to a close, Physics students demonstrate their understanding of light and engineering through one of their final assignments: build a functioning camera and develop the photos they take.

Their task is to construct a pinhole camera for the purpose of taking and developing photos on light-sensitive paper. After the construction of a very small pinhole, they measure their pinhole using a light projector and focusing lenses. Once they know the diameter of the hole, they calculate what exposure time is needed for the photo paper, and after that, the photos are developed in a special darkroom. 

One of the hardest parts of the assignment is the trial and error involved in the process. The pinhole must be incredibly small, so oftentimes that step is repeated until the ideal size is achieved. Understanding the exposure time needed for the film is also an important element of trial and error used in the project.

“For me, the biggest challenge was calculating my exposure time.” Junior, Sarah Cotrell said. “It felt like I was never going to get it, but when I finally did, my photos came out better than I could’ve imagined.”

The project does not serve as a final exam, but as a way to put the ideas and concepts learned in class to use in a hands-on way. It’s meant to expand on light properties, like reflection and refraction, and engineering principles, like design, procedure and modification. Of course, the students also learn about the process of developing photos.

The assignment is done twice a year, at the end of the second semester. 

“We’ve been doing this project for about five years now,” Physics teacher Jeff Gehrke said. “Each year the results get better and better.” 

The project is completely unique, and no other lab like this is done in any other science class. After the project is over, students get to keep both their cameras and the photos they took and developed. 

“I would definitely do it again,” junior Manuella Komla-Embri said. “It was a really fun learning experience and I’m glad I got the chance to do it.”

Physics is a notoriously challenging class, so ending the class with such a rewarding experience gives students both a feeling of accomplishment and a good memory to look back on.