How to Make a Camera Obscura

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Camera Obscura
Total Time 1 to 2 hours Ages school-age

The camera obscura (Latin for "dark chamber") demonstrates an odd optic phenomenon. When light from a bright scene enters a darkened space through a tiny hole, the resulting image appears upside down. See for yourself with this homemade viewer that turns everything you look at topsy-turvy.

This project was adapted from the Pringles pinhole camera on exploratorium.edu. To learn more about how the camera works, visit the website and search for "Pringles pinhole."

What you'll need

  • Ruler
  • Marker
  • Snack can with transparent lid (we used a Pringles can)
  • Craft knife
  • Vellum
  • Duct tape
  • Pushpin
  • Decorative paper
  • Double-sided tape

How to make it

  1. How to Make a Camera Obscura - Step 1

    Measure and draw a line around the can 2 inches from the bottom. Cut through the line with the craft knife (a parent's job) to create two can sections. Trace the bottom of the can onto a sheet of vellum, then cut the circle out.

  2. How to Make a Camera Obscura - Step 2

    Stack the pieces in this order: the bottom of the can (open end up), the lid, the vellum circle, and the top of the can.

  3. How to Make a Camera Obscura - Step 3

    Thoroughly wrap the seam with duct tape so that no light can come in.

  4. How to Make a Camera Obscura - Step 4

    Flip the viewer over and use the pushpin to make a small hole in the center of the can's bottom.

  5. How to Make a Camera Obscura - Step 5

    For a more finished look, cover the viewer with paper secured with double-sided tape. To use your viewer, hold it up to one eye and gaze at a bright scene (something lit by sunlight works best). To block out light, use one hand to cup the viewer to your eye.


    Adapted with permission, © Exploratorium, www.exploratorium.edu

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