The Camera Obscura

The Greek philosopher Aristotle noticed the principle of the camera obscura in about 330 BCE, when he observed the image of the eclipsed sun projected on the ground among apertures in tree branches; he also noted that the smaller the aperture, the sharper the image of the sun. The earliest version of the camera obscura consisted of a small room that admitted light only through a tiny hole, as in the top-left drawing, which was made by Athanasius Kircher in 1646. Later models were portable, like the tent version (top right) designed by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler in 1620. More elaborate models, like the one on the bottom left, were popular among scientists and artists in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the apparatus was also a feature of traveling magic shows. The rendering on the bottom right was often reprinted in the mid-19th century. Typically, the subject posed between the light source and the lens, which is labeled B in the bottom-right drawing, and an angled mirror (M) righted images that entered the chamber upside down. The artist then traced the reflected image on a piece of paper attached to a flat surface.

Back to CHAPTER 1/Part 1