How To Make A Camera Obscura | Learn The Science Behind It

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Camera Obscura is an optical device that was developed between 1012 and 1021 by Ibn al-Haytham. The concept of the camera obscura was written by him in his Book of Optics.

The name has been derived from Latin, where Camera meaning “Room” and Obscura meaning “Dark”. And if you’ve always been curious about how a camera obscura works, this article shall answer it all!

Camera Obscura is also known as a Pinhole Camera. In the simplest form, it is a dark room with a small hole in one of the walls. The light ray entering through that hole creates an inverted and laterally transposed (back to the front) image of the object.

For a long period, this technology was used for painting and experiencing astronomical events. There were numerous experiments performed by various physicists and philosophers across the globe.

Camera Obscura was developed in two directions. One of them was the Obscura in a room built for educational and entertainment purposes.

Another development was the box version of Obscura, which was invented in 1685.

Thanks to this development, it made the pinhole camera a portable device. Furthermore, it assisted various artists in drawing (by tracing the reflection) and other art forms. In this article, we will learn how to make a Camera Obscura and how does a camera obscura works.

How To Make A Camera Obscura?

There are two kinds of camera obscura, the pinhole camera and the Obscura in a room. Since the camera Obscura does not record images, it is easy to build at the comfort of your home.

To Craft A Pinhole Camera In A Box

1. The Camera Body

Take a piece of cardboard and attach walls to make a rectangular chamber, using masking tape. You can also work with a shoe-box or any other box which is stiff enough. Paint the inner walls black. The darkness of the inner chamber impacts the strength of the projection.

2. Create A Hole (Or Aperture Of The Camera)

Cut a square piece of cardboard to fit on one of the walls. Poke a hole (pin size) into the piece of the square and the front wall of the box. 

However, the size of the hole depends on how fast or slow you want your aperture to be. This is because the hole concentrates the incoming light into a fine beam. The smaller the beam, the slower the aperture is.

Cut a hole on another wall, wide enough for you to see inside the box. It’s better if you make it on the top if you are using a mirror or black painted surface for reflection. Make sure to carve the viewfinder in the opposite direction to the pinhole if tracing paper is attached.

3. Fix A Lens (Optional)

This step of a camera obscura is not entirely necessary to add. A lens attachment helps you add a better feel to your device. You can employ the ordinary magnifying glass as your lens.

Position the glass over the aperture with a tape. After the lens is attached, mount the squared cardboard piece in front of the box(on the wall with a hole)

4. Attach The Reflecting Surface (Optional)

You can either attach a mirror in an angled position or fix a white sheet in between the pinhole and the viewfinder. Observe the reflection on the sheet or the mirror to adjust the position accordingly. For example, the sheet will give you an inverted image, whereas the mirror will help you project the right side up.

You can also use the black painted surface as your screen to cast a reflection of the subject. A few pin-hole cameras have a wax sheet attached to the other side of the hole. Instead of sculpting a viewfinder, the wax sheet works as the projection for the device.

To Convert A Room Into Camera Obscura

  • Block all the light sources into the room like the windows, door hinges, etc using cardboard or tape.
  • Gauge a hole at one place of the cardboard for light to enter the room.
  • The light ray will cast an upside-down reflection on the wall opposite the hole.

How Does A Camera Obscura Work?

The portable versions of camera obscura have black interiors and a mirror placed at an angle. The mirror is placed so as to view the subject upright. The width of the hole greatly influences the image reproduced. A smaller hole gives a dim yet sharp output whereas a large hole produces a slightly unclear but bright image.

The law behind Camera Obscura is that the light travels in a straight line.

Since the light rays are reflected from the object it hits, these rays when passed through a small hole, cross each other and form an upside-down cast of the particular object. This property of light is known as the rectilinear propagation of light.

Camera Obscura does not record the images. However, it was put to various uses over centuries. People have always been curious about how does a camera obscura works and how to make one. The discovery of an Obscura and its principle gave rise to the art and science of photography.

Final Thoughts

Over the years, the pinhole camera is now developed into full-fledged film cameras, DSLR, and Mirrorless cameras. The principle behind a camera is derived from the rectilinear propagation of light (as in the Obscura).

Since the first image recorded by Joseph Niepce on a photosensitive material, the demand for photography has sky-rocketed. Photography started as a medium for documentation. In present times, it is a daily requisite for advertising, marketing, earning value, art, expression, insight, and more.

If you are a budding photographer or a hobbyist you must learn the basics of photography and its importance. At the same time, before you get started, make sure to learn the mechanism behind cameras. Breaking down complex technology into a simpler principle can help you better your creativity.

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