How to Make a Camera Obscura out of a Pringles Box

Written by larry parr
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There is evidence that camera obscuras have been around for hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years. Basically a camera obscura is a device that allows a daylight scene to be projected onto a dark surface without the use of lenses or any type of film. In ancient times, a camera obscura was often the size of an entire room, and even today room-sized camera obscuras are still scattered around the world. Create a small camera obscura of your own from a simple Pringles can.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Pringles can
  • 16-inch 2 x 2
  • Tiny nail
  • Hammer
  • Tracing paper
  • Scissors
  • Rubber band
  • Vegetable oil
  • Cotton ball

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  1. 1

    Empty the Pringles box and discard the plastic lid.

  2. 2

    Set the 2 x 2 on a flat surface vertically, with one end of the board on the flat surface and the other end standing up. Now place the Pringles can over the 2 x 2 so that the centre of the bottom of the Pringle's can is directly over the centre of the end of the 2 x 2.

  3. 3

    Punch a tiny hole in the bottom of the Pringles can with the small nail and hammer. Punch the hole near the centre of the round end of the can.

  4. 4

    Cut a circle out of the piece of tracing paper. The circle should be approximately 2 inches larger than the circular end of the Pringles can. Put this circle over the open end of the Pringles box and smooth down the edges of the paper tightly around the Pringles can. Hold the paper in place with the rubber band. The paper should be tight across the open end of the Pringles box and as flat and smooth as possible.

  5. 5

    Dip your cotton ball in a little vegetable oil and very lightly wipe the vegetable oil on the tracing paper, which is stretched over the open end of the Pringles can. The vegetable oil should make the paper slightly easier to see through. Keep the paper tight and flat across the open end of the Pringles box.

  6. 6

    Stand in a darkened room and point the end of the Pringles can with the hole in it toward a bright window. Hold the can in front of you so that you are looking at the end with the oiled tracing paper. An image of the window should appear on the tracing paper--although the image will be up side down. Projecting an image from outside a darkened room into the room is the entire basis of a camera obscura. By draping a cloth or a jacket over your head and shielding all light from the oiled tracing paper you should get a brighter and clearer image.

Tips and warnings

  • The smaller the hole in the bottom of your Pringles can the sharper but less bright the image will be. As you enlarge the hole the image will get brighter but less detailed. Experiment until you have the best compromise between brightness and clarity.

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