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How to Make a Camera Obscura

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Making a Camera Obscura is one of the homework choices for lesson 1 of the Photography 101 course on the Digital Photography School Blog.

What is a Camera Obscura?

Camera Obscura or ‘dark chamber’ is one of the earliest ways of producing an image, the idea is very old and was first documented 1,000 years ago.

Basically it is a lightproof box or room with a small hole in one end, light travels through the hole and forms an image on the opposite side or wall to the hole. Because of the way that light travels and behaves the image that is produced is up side down (do you remember those Physics lessons in school?).

Due to the small hole only letting a bit of light through the image is faint but has very good perspective and detail. If you made a larger hole the image would be stronger, but the more rays of light that pass through the hole the more they overlap, and consequently the image is not as sharp. The small hole directs the light better.

This gives us a basic understanding of how the aperture works on a camera, and how the size of the aperture and the amount of light that passes through it affects the image that is created.

So how did I make my camera obscura?

my camera obscura set up

I decided to use my spare room to make my camera obscura, it only has one window and is very handily box shaped. I completely covered the window in a combination of foil and masking tape, making sure there was no light getting through, or as much as I could anyway. Then I made a small hole in the middle of the foil. I also made a screen for the image and propped it up in front of the window. My wallpaper is textured and I didn’t want to be too optimistic about how well the image would make it to the wall!

camera obscura screenIt didn’t work the first time…

These things never do. It worked in the fact that there was an image on the screen, but it was a reflection of the foil on my window. It was a very sunny day so the foil image was quite strong, because the foil was doing what it does best and reflecting that well (and getting quite hot) I think it was starting to cook the window.

So I had to redesign slightly and cover the back of the foil with paper to stop it reflecting. That did the trick though, and sure enough an image of the houses across the road appeared on the screen, but up side down. And not as strong as the foil image, but I could see the detail of the clouds and the chimneys of the houses.

Was it worth it?

Oh yes, it was absolutely great when the image appeared on the screen. I really felt like I had achieved something, and I could say I had 100% created that image from basically foil, paper and masking tape. I was made up with it, and it was a lot of fun.

Unfortunately as much as I tried to take a photo of what I had done, my camera (a point and shoot) was not up to the job of shooting in such low light. So I haven’t got any photos of it, but I have shared some pictures of what the Camera Obscura looked like so you can get a feel for how it worked.

Are you going to make a Camera Obscura?

I really hope I’ve inspired you to have a go and make your very own camera obscura, it was brilliant fun to do!

Or if you’re looking for something that’s more of a kit, then use my affiliate link to take a look at these pinhole camera kits and get your hands dirty with some true DIY photography!

And let us know in the comments how it went…

Mandy

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