The Portable Camera Obscura

In the Reframing Photography book, the camera as viewer describes how camera viewfinders, viewing systems and lenses enable us to see. Instructions teach how to make a camera obscura, a darkened room that allows you to visualize the exterior world. You can also learn how to make portable camera obscuras (see some examples below). Next, our focus is on handheld cameras and how to use the viewfinder to orient the visual world vertically or horizontally; how a lens affects how much we can see, how much is in focus, and the scale or proximity of objects in relation to one another.


Portable Cameras Obscura

A camera obscura is a light-tight chamber with a small pinhole in the middle of one wall. Light enters through this hole, projecting a moving image of events occurring directly outside the room. You can make a camera obscura by modifying any enclosed space, or by building a new room in any location. You can make small or portable cameras obscuras out of any light-tight container: cardboard or wooden boxes, books, tents, etc.. Directions in the book explain how to turn a cardboard box into a portable camera obscura.

photo: R. Modrak. Group viewing with portable camera obscuras.



camera head

Andy Mattern and the Camera Head team (Joe Kaercher, Mark Kritz, and Brady McClaran) created the Camera Head Shanty at Art Shanty Projects on Medicine Lake, Minnesota. Their mobile laboratory gave participants the opportunity to view the lake and fishing houses behind them via a camera obscura worn over their heads. Their tricked out version of the Reframing Photo portable camera obscura design (pages 52 - 53 in the book) includes a headstrap and pinstriping.

All Camera Head photos courtesy of Andy Mattern.












pinhole pedallers

Sam White built a large camera obscura and packed it onto bicycle trailers, then took it to the road with his team to share the magic of photographic projection with the UK. Via their educational resources, locals on their tour get the opportunity to look at the projections, have their portrait taken, and participate in related imagery-making. 

All Pinhole Pedaller photos courtesy of Sam White.









bigger than a bread box

Led by instructor Samantha Johnston, students at Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado spend a day outside viewing the world from inside their handmade box camera obscuras. Check out the box so big, it's supported by two people.

 Photos courtesy of Samantha Johnston.