Camera Obscura: Adventures Inside a Giant Camera

For all of those parents out there looking to do something with their kids (or anyone looking to kill some time with some creativity), here’s an idea that will keep them occupied and teach them a little bit about photography…..turn one of your rooms into a Camera! (A camera obscura to be correct). I did it yesterday and it was pretty cool.

Essentially, you are making your living room, bathroom, or, in my case, bedroom into a giant camera. This is nothing new. This technique has been used for centuries. In fact, it’s believed that the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer  used a camera obscura to help make his masterpieces.

So what in the world is a camera obscura?  It’s a darkened box with a convex lens or aperture for projecting the image of an external object onto a screen inside. So what does that mean and how the heck do you do this?

I started out by covering all of the windows in my bedroom to block out all of the light from outside. I used tinfoil and electrical tape, but any material like black poster board, will work as long as you can block out ALL of the light.  Then, make an aperture. Wait, what the heck is an “aperture”?  The aperture  is basically a hole that you cut out of the black out material that will let in a small amount of light.

Mine was about an 1.5” in diameter but you can make it smaller.  Once you have all your windows and doors blocked out, turn off the lights in the room.   Look at the side of the room opposite your aperture.  It will be pitch black, but give your eyes a chance to adjust. Soon, you will start to see an image of the outside world appear on your wall.  It will be upside down and backwards.  

Beams of light from outside is filtering into the room from that hole you made and reflecting everything going on.  You are now sitting inside a giant camera.  How cool is that?  

I had my digital camera set up on a tripod, set it on a very long exposure, about 20-30 seconds (depending on how bright it was outside), and was able to take photos of the room and with the image of the building next door projected onto the far wall and closet doors.  A smaller hole or a convex piece of glass (aka a lens) would have sharpened the image, focusing the light.  Unfortunately, we don’t have a great view from our New York apartment, but you get the idea.  

Here is the final image that I made.  (It also helped to have a cat who is content to sit still.)

For more inspiration, check out one of my favorite photographers of all time,  Abelardo Morell.  He does a lot with camera obscura and his work is pretty amazing.  

Hope you enjoyed this post.  Would love to know if you tried it and if it has inspired any future photographers.

Have fun!