Happy World Pinhole Photography Week!

What do Leonardo Da Vinci, Roger Bacon, and Matthew Broderick all have in common?  They all used the Camera Obscura to help them in their careers, that’s what. In 13th-century England,  Roger Bacon  described the use of a camera obscura for the safe observation of solar eclipses.  Leonardo Da Vinci (1452–1519 AD) described camera obscura in Codex Atlanticus as an aid for artistic drawing. And Matthew Broderick put one to even more dramatic use – he used a room-sized one to spy on his girlfriend across the street in the movie Addicted To Love (1997). How cool is that, minions of camera geekiness?

Matthew Broderick and Meg Ryan spying on Matthew's girlfriend

Of course, they took some liberties in the film – the image displayed on the wall of Broderick’s apartment was not upside down, as it would have been in real life.

What does this have to do with World Pinhole Photography Week?  Well, a Camera Obscura is really just a pinhole camera, where a small pinhole acts as the aperture in a lens, defracting the incoming light into the room just like the aperture in any lens.

Manhattan scene projected into room by camera obscura

Depending on how far away is the surface that these light rays display upon, the Camera Obscura image can be small or large – as large as the room in which they display, or, in the case of a pinhole camera, about as large as the piece of film or the digital sensor in the camera.

People have been making pinhole cameras out of household objects like oatmeal boxes or cookie tins for years. And you can make one out of an old lens cap for next to nothing as well, and use it on your digital camera today.  Depending on the relative size and roundness of your pinhole, you can get results which approximate your usual lenses, or you can get some very cool dreamy effects.

By the way, the effective aperture setting of your pinhole lens is determined by the radius of the pinhole itself (very small) and the distance to the sensor (about two inches).  Expect a working aperture setting of about f/100 to f/200, so you will probably want to use a tripod to take your photographs, as the shutter time will likely be in seconds.


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