How to Make a Camera Obscura

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How to Make a Camera Obscura
A camera obscura can be as large as a room, or it may be small. (old camera 2 image by James Lemmon from

Camera obscura, which means “dark chamber,” is a more complete name for a camera--a device that allows light reflected off an object to pass through a small hole in the thin wall of an enclosed chamber. The small hole focuses the light that passes into the chamber onto the back wall of the chamber so an image of the object can be seen on that surface. A camera obscura can be as large as a room, or it may be small. The human eye is an excellent example of a camera obscura. The image may be recorded on film or digitally, or it may simply be viewed and not recorded at all.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Empty 794gr. tin can
  • Nail
  • Hammer
  • Scissors
  • Large shoebox
  • White tissue paper
  • Duct tape
  • Thick rubber band that will stretch around the circumference of the tin can
  • Large dark towel or piece of heavy fabric

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  1. 1

    Use the nail and hammer to punch a hole in the centre of the closed end of your empty tin can. Remove the nail from the can after punching the hole.

  2. 2

    Place one layer of white tissue paper over the open end of the tin can. Stretch the rubber band around the can and tissue paper to secure the tissue paper so it is taut over the end of the can.

  3. 3

    Cut a round opening, about an inch smaller than the diameter of your tin can, in one end of the shoebox.

  4. 4

    Cut a small viewing hole--about ¾ inch in diameter--in the opposite end of the shoebox.

  5. 5

    Use duct tape to secure the tin can against the large circular hole in the shoebox. The nail hole end should face out of the shoebox through the hole you cut. Use duct tape to seal around the edges of the can so no light can get into the box, but leave the nail hole uncovered.

  6. 6

    Close the shoebox and use duct tape to cover any other holes or seams that might allow light into the shoebox viewing chamber.

  7. 7

    Take your camera obscura into a brightly lit area and find a subject to view.

  8. 8

    Hold the viewing hole of your camera obscura up to your eye; you'll see your subject on the tissue paper surface. If you have trouble seeing the image in your camera obscura, cover your head and the viewing hole of your camera obscura with a towel or piece of heavy fabric to block out light.

Tips and warnings

  • When viewing your subject through your camera obscura, you'll notice that it is upside down and reversed left to right. This is because light rays reflect off an object at an angle, so they pass through the aperture of the camera obscura and are projected on the tissue paper in transverse position.
  • You'll also notice that the image you see through your camera obscura is not crisp like a photograph. In film or digital cameras, a lens is used to focus the image more precisely, and mirrors are used to flip and reverse the image so that it is the same as you see with your eye.
  • If you make the nail hole in your camera obscura larger, more light will enter the camera obscura; however, the image will be less focused. With a smaller nail hole, the image will be darker and more focused.
  • Never use your camera obscura to look directly at the sun. Even though the nail hole in your camera obscura is small, looking directly at the sun can cause permanent damage to your eyes.

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