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Studies in Camera Obscura

By May 10, 2011April 3rd, 2018Travel Journal

It’s possible that, as I enter my mid-thirties, I’m making up for the many school projects I slept through and simply copied scientific results from my neighbor. And I might just be discovering my inner geek judging by how giddy I became when I downloaded these photos from my camera last night. Ever since I watched a documentary a few years ago on the Shroud of Turin and how a Renaissance prankster, such as Leonardo da Vinci, may have forged the image by using a camera obscura, I’ve been dying to give my own a whirl.

The science, while not the simplest to accept on the surface, is quite simple and is likely commonly taught in high school science classes (a day I certainly missed) all over the world. Because I set up my experiment using only the basic household items I could dig out of my drawers of miscellaneous junk, I relied on my camera to help me produce the results. The idea is simple.

  1. Light proof a room. Make it as dark as absolutely possible. I chose an upstairs bedroom for its smallish windows. Maybe not the greatest solution (but a resourceful one if I do say so) was to use aluminum foil to cover the windows. It’s a pretty fragile material and required a double-ply for strength. Also it’s highly reflective and actually made the room brighter than it should have been.
  2. Cut a small round hole in said light proofing. This hole will be the aperture to let the only light into the room. My aperture was about the diameter of a pencil. You can peak through the hole to check out the view. What you see out the hole is what will be inverted and projected by the camera obscura.
  3. Sit back and enjoy the view. Actually, this part I wasn’t able to appreciate until I viewed the camera shots. Because I had unnecessary light leaking in and reflection from the foil and I obviously did not seal the door, the image that was actually being projected wasn’t clear to the naked eye. It simply looked like a shapes of shadows. I had a bright sunny sky and I opened the camera to f4.0 and had an exposure time of about 25 minuets.

I was actually pretty pleased with the results considering it wasn’t the most well-executed experiment and maybe the most surprising element to me still is just how clean and vivid the details and the colors. Aside from being very interesting and educational it’s apparent to me that with some refining and perfecting of the settings and aperture size, a great view out the window and an interesting wall and room to project the image upon, some very provocative results are certainly possible.

In the image below I flipped the shot vertical to more clearly show the window view. You can see my neighbor’s red brick home on the right, his garden to the left and the bright blue sky. Below you can clearly see the sidewalk, curb and street with the yellow cable which supports the street lights. In the foreground you can also see the lovely mess of German Village power lines which criss-cross the bedroom view just a foot away from the window.


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