Camera Obscura- Big Time!

Isn’t it interesting when something you haven’t considered is brought to your attention… and then… it keeps on popping up?!

That’s exactly the case for me and Camera Obscura. This post records what happened when one thing led to another…

By James Ayscough – old book, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90589188

It all started with a habit a friend of mine has of asking a photography “food for thought” question at the close of emails. A couple of months ago, the question was:

  • What 17th century Dutch master is believed to have used a camera obscura in creating some of his masterpieces?

Of course that led to Vermeer… and, notably, into the fascinating origin and use of Camera Obscura.

  • The groundwork was set- “camera obscura” came up repeatedly-
    • – in answers to a couple questions on Jeopardy,
    • – in a Photojournalism course I am taking,
    • – in coursework weblinks.
  • These are my notes for the lesson:
  • To trace the history of photojournalism, you need to trace the history of the camera itself. Though the invention of the camera obscura, whose literal translation means dark room, has been attributed to Leonardo DaVinci, it was 9th century Persian scholar Ibn al-Haytham (known as Alhazen) whose advanced understanding of optics enabled him to explain its workings quite clearly.
  • A camera obscura is a box or room with a single hole on one side. The image outside the box is reflected on the opposite wall. Painters, like daVinci and Johanes Vermeer, used the camera obscura as an early slide projector, and sometimes traced over the image.
  • I enjoy hands-on, discovery based learning.
  • This link in coursework provided inspiration for learning how to-
  • This PDF, from the George Eastman Museum, provided supplemental information-

Turning a Room Into a Camera Obscura

Our grand-daughter’s guest room… This is how I transformed it into a room-sized camera. The light from the window was blocked with a large sheet of cardboard attached to the frame with painter’s tape. The white frame contains the primary aperture hole.
Various aperture sizes are made with black cardstock. (Update- I taped washers with varied size holes over the paper punch holes. The clean edges of the washer produce a much crisper projected image. )The cardstock aperture cards slide in and out of a frame I made by cutting a square from the middle of a library card pocket.
This demonstrates how a small hole created an aperture that reduced the light flow into the room. When the outside had bright, direct light, the image projected into the room was reasonably sharp.
I took this “cropped” photo from the room-sized projection with my DSLR to capture the scene as projected by the camera obscura- upside down and reversed. This image shows a little section of our backyard raised garden boxes, yard cart, and raspberry vines.

CameraNikon NIKON D850
LensTamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 (A025)
Focal Length70.0 mm (70.0 mm in 35mm)
Aperturef/8
Exposure Time0.25s (1/4)
ISO102400
Corrected orientation… this is how raised garden boxes and a yard cart appear when looking down into the yard. Grass to left, garden box in middle, cart to the right. Raspberry plants to top and far right. This photo of the projection on the ceiling of the room was also captured with my Nikon D850. Same settings as noted above- manually set. I placed the camera looking up from the floor, with distance set at 10 feet.
Camera Obscura- inside looking outI put the lens on my iPhone up to the hole to peek outside.
Another view through the camera obscura aperture looking out. My iPhone lens was aimed to look out at part of what was projected into room. There are the raspberries, raised garden box, and yard cart.
  • I spent a couple of days playing around with the science of light using my “biggest camera!” It’s actually meditative to sit in a dark room to view the scene upside-down and reversed.
  • I think the camera obscura will remain for a while longer.

More Experimenting!

I decided to go with a wider angle lens, a tripod, and timed shutter release on my trusty old Nikon D7100. This set up captured a lot of the backyard as it spilled into the room. These are my “magical photography” images. At least that’s how I felt when modern DSLR technology captured the much darker Camera Obscura images and the color came alive in Lightroom post-processing!

My granddaughter will be quite amazed to see this photo of her bedroom draped in trees- I anticipate there will be some great questions that reflect her curious nature.
Notice the way the homes, trees, and fences behind our house make better sense when the photo is no longer upside-down. I’m confused why this wasn’t backwards as well. Could that step have occurred either in the way I took the photo of the projected image… or during post-processing?

CameraNikon NIKON D7100
LensAF-S DX Nikkor 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED VR
Focal Length16.0 mm (24.0 mm in 35mm)
Aperturef/3.5
Exposure Time10s (10)
ISO1000
Copyright2021_Jane_Wilson
Date Taken2021-05-29 18:14:45