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Making A Camera Obscura

Today we’re going to take a look at one of the forerunners of the modern camera, the Camera Obscura. Camera Obscura roughly translates to “Dark room” or “Dark Chamber”. A camera obscura is a simple box structure with an aperture (hole) that allows light to enter, projecting an upside down image onto the back wall or screen of the box.

By the 16th century artists were using the camera obscura to help them draw accurately from life. In 1816, frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce replaced the screen with a light-sensitive plate, recording the projected image and creating the first photograph! The lore says Niépce created photography because he was a poor draftsman and couldn’t participate in lithography, the fashionable printing technique of the time.

You can easily make your own camera obscura at home to study light, photography and make drawings from life.

Materials: • A box • A magnifying glass - a kid’s toy works fine! • ruler or measuring tape • scissors

• box cutter or exact knife

• pencil

• tape (I used duct tape and painters tape)

• A file folder or other thin cardboard such as a cereal box

• White paper

• Cutting mat (optional)

Step 1: Using your box cutter or exact blade, cut out 5 rectangles from your box.

(2) 8”x 6” rectangles for the top and bottom

(2) 8”x 4” rectangles for the sides

(1) 6” x 4” rectangle for the front

Step 2: Cut a 1 1/2” diameter circle from the middle of the 6” x 4” rectangle - this is your


Step 3: Tape the rectangles together as shown in the picture. Black duct tape works well to block out light, but a sturdy masking tape or whatever you have on hand can be used.

Step 4: Tape the magnifying glass over top of your aperture. (This is a well loved plastic magnifying glass donated by a 5 year old from her bug collecting kit).

Ta-da! You should now have a box similar to this one. Next you will make the inner box and focusing screen.

Step 5: Using your box cutter or exact blade, cut out 4 more rectangles from your cardboard box. These will rectangles should be just slightly smaller than the ones used in constructing your camera. This box will fit inside the first box you constructed.

(1) 7 3/4” x 3 3/4” rectangles for the sides

(2) 7 3/4” x 5 3/4” rectangles for the top and bottom

Step 6: Tape the rectangles together to form a second camera box.

Step 7: Place your new, smaller camera box inside the first camera box. They should fit snugly together while allowing for the inner box to slide back and forth.

Next you will build your view screen!

Step 8: Taking your file folder or other lightweight cardboard cut out a rectangle just the size of the opening of the inner box. Leave the bottom of the folder intact - your rectangle should open and close. Measure 3/4 inch from each edge of the rectangle and create a window in the center.

Step 9: Tape the view screen frame onto the back of your camera obscure using painters tape or masking tape. Cut a piece of vellum or white paper and to the size of your frame, tape it into the view screen and tape the frame shut.

Step 10: Point your camera obscura towards a bright window, move the inner box in and out to focus the image. Enjoy

Tips: Placing a cloth over your head and the view screen can improve viewing! You can use the camera obscura as a drawing tool by tracing what you see on the screen and color or paint your image afterward! Yes, it is supposed to be upside-down!

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