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What is the Camera Obscura and Can it Be Used Today?

Posted by Jacob Hawthorne on

If you begin studying the origins of photography, you are sure to hear the term camera obscura being used.

The camera obscura dates back to the 4th century BCE, and it is the earliest known projection technology. Also called dark chamber, or pinhole photography, it involves just a pin of light to produce an image. Read on to find out more about the technique and how it can be used today.

What is Camera Obscura?

A camera obscura is a box-shaped object that lets light in through a small opening to project an image of the outside world onto the opposite wall of the box. The original devices would project the image upside down, but more complex cameras use mirrors to project them right side up. It became popularly used around the 15th century and mimicked how the human eye worked.

It also served as a base model for the modern camera. Today, the lens has replaced the pinhole and other technologies have been added resulting in the technology we know and love.

Are Camera Obscuras Used Today?

While camera obscuras have since been replaced with more advanced technology, they are still used today. There are companies that make modern versions that photographers use to produce certain effects. They are best for capturing dark and moody landscapes and result in images that have a vintage and dreamlike quality.

Working with a camera obscura comes with its share of challenges. For example, they have no focal lengths. Rather, they offer an infinite depth of field.

While this can take some getting used to, some photographers find it liberating.

Also, because the camera has a small light source, you will need to use it in bright daylight. This means you may want to forget about the golden hour and shoot closer to noon.

Long exposure times are required to compensate for the small aperture. You may also want to boost your ISO to levels you normally wouldn’t associate with daytime photography to make the camera more sensitive to light.

You won’t need to add a lens if you are working at the smallest aperture of f/161. You can also integrate it with ICM (Intentional Camera Movement) which produces a streaking result.

Camera obscura gave rise to photography as we know it. While its technique is integrated into modern cameras, it can also be used in its primary form to provide a unique, dreamy look to photos. How will you be using it to inspire your modern shoots?

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