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About this Camera Obscura
Les Cookson has been building camera obscuras for nearly a decade (learn more about Les HERE). His Classic Sliding Camera Obscura was one of his best selling models, but it has been out of production for years. These beautiful camera obscuras are back by popular demand but only for a limited time. Building has already started and we only have a few more available for sale–so hurry if you want to get one of them.
Each camera obscura includes:
►The fully functional camera obscura pictured on this page
►Built with your choice of quality 1/2 inch thick walnut or mahogany with a beautiful finish, and solid ‘antique brass’ hinges
►Slides in and out to focus on objects a few feet away to far into the distance.
►Shade/ screen cover slides up and down to shade screen when in use and protect screen when not in uses.
►Camera Mount to help take pictures and video of camera obscura’s image
►Comes with two removable and interchangeable 5×7 in screens: one REAL ground glass and one clear acrylic glass to use with tracing paper.
►Has a standard (1/4-20) tripod mount, so you can set it on a table or attach it to your tripod.
►Clear uncoated 50mm lens
►First-surface mirror to project right-side-up image
►Comes with helpful instructions. No assembly required
►Money Back Guarantee!
The Classic Sliding Camera Obscura is larger than the 6.5 inch cube Box Camera Obscuras that I’ve put on Kickstarter. It is also more intricate with an inter box that slides apart and together to focus the image, and a shade/cover attached with brass hinges. The Classic Sliding Camera Obscura has an internal first-surface mirror that reflects the image to the top of the obscura and flips the image right-side-up. Its larger size and its lens’ longer focal length create a smaller depth-of-field, which gives the image a richer depth.
What is a Camera Obscura?
Go into a dark room on a sunny day and poke a small hole in the wall, and you will see a hazy up-side-down image of the outside world projected on the opposite wall. This basic principle has been recorded as far back as 500 BC by great thinkers from Aristotle to Leonardo Da Vinci, and some even suggest that this was the means by which some of the ancient cave drawings were made.
Take that same dark room and make the hole bigger and add a lens with the right diameter and focal length. Now you will get a larger bright clear image of the outside world. This lens innovation was made in the 1500’s and by the 1600’s the “room” was shrunk down to the size of a portable box, like the Classic Sliding Camera Obscura sold here, which works the same way; only it projects the right-side-up image onto a piece of ground glass on the outside of the camera obscura.
In the 17th, 18th and 19th century many artists were aided by the use of the camera obscura: Jan Vermeer, Canaletto, Guardi and Paul Sandby are just a few who used the Camera Obscura to make their beautiful masterpieces (Find out More about Vermeer and the Camera Obscura). The Camera Obscura was the beginning for modern cameras and today they are a hard to find collectible; as well as, a fun and practical drawing tool. The great thing about our camera obscuras is that they are not only beautiful replicas, but it is fully functional and can be used for hands-on demonstrations that recreate the magic of the past. Perfect for any classroom that is teaching the history of cameras or art-from kindergartners to grad students they’ll all be captivated and edified.
Here is an article about David Hockey’s research on how the Old Masters used Camera Lucidas and Camera Obscuras to create their masterpieces.
Photograph and Cinematography
The camera obscura’s image can be captured by still or motion cameras and will add a rich vibrant depth to your photograph or cinematography.
See the cellist Tina Guo’s arrangement of Après Un Reve in the music video below. The cello scenes were shot thru one of my camera obscuras and then combined with intimate footage of Eli Presser’s amazing puppet work
This really captures the unique look and depth of a camera obscura’s image. Every scene with the woman and the cello is actual footage from the camera obscura’s screen. A video camera was mounted to the camera obscura to film the screen.
The video below does an excellent job of capturing the obscura’s image the way it looks in real life and dramatically demonstrates the obscura’s ability to focus on one object at a time and jump from far to near with a simple slide of the lens.
Here is a slideshow of Photography shot through our camera obscuras from artists like: Robert Hirsch, Paul Cotter, Martin Jørgensen, LIZ CELOTTO and Les Cookson.
Artistic Uses for this Camera Obscura
There are two main ways to create art with this camera obscura. One is to observe the image and paint on a separate canvas. The other is to draw directly on the image.
Observing the Image and Paint on a Separate Surface
The image projected by a camera obscura is like no other image you will ever see. It has a beautiful and profound effect on a subject. It simplifies while adding depth and enriching color. It looks more vivid than life, like you can reach out and grab it.
Here is a LINK to a great article explaining why and how Vermeer used a camera obscura. The information is divided into five areas: perspective, tonal rendering, composition, handling of light, and peculiar effects produced uniquely by the camera obscura.
The camera obscura sees the same way we see with our eyes. When you look at an object it is sharp in focus and everything else softens into the background, but as soon as you look to see the soft background it become the sharp foreground. But with this camera obscura you can observe a scene the way your eye sees it without your eye’s constant refocusing. Observing the camera obscura’s image will teach you how to paint the way you see, which will add untold depth to your work.
Besides the beautiful effect, drawing from a camera obscura’s two-dimensional image is easier than drawing from a live three-dimensional field: in the same way that it is easier to copy a picture than paint from life. The camera obscura translates the 3D into the 2D—-helping you better capture depth in your painting.
You can also draw a grid on the screen, so you can use the grid method to draw from life with your camera obscura! Just draw a grid of equal ratio on your work surface (paper, canvas, wood panel, etc). Then you draw the image on your canvas, focusing on one square at a time, until the entire image has been transferred.
Drawing Directly on the Image
You can also draw directly on the image: either by placing a piece of clear plastic over the ground glass and drawing on that, or by using the clear acrylic glass screen with a piece of tracing paper over it. The image will project right onto your paper and look like a TV screen that you can draw on.
Here is a review from a Junior High photography teacher who used one of my camera obscuras in her classrooms:
“I was able to bring a bit of magic into my classroom with the use of this wonderful camera obscura. The students watched in wonder as moving image was replicated on the ground glass. They just simply could not believe how such a simple contraption could capture a moving picture. With the basic understanding of how a camera obscura works, my students were able to create their own pinhole cameras. Their amazement was contagious as they developed their first images. My students can now explain with the utmost authority, how a camera obscura is the basis of photography, and how the modern camera, with all its bells and whistles, is really not that different from this wondrous little invention that captures light, movement, and magic. Thanks for keeping the art of wonder alive!
Powell Jr. High Art Department Head
Demonstration of the Classic Sliding Camera Obscura:
Demonstration and explanation of camera obscuras in general:
Watch an interview with David Hockney, where he explains and demonstrates the use of camera obscuras and camera lucidas in the artwork of the Old Masters CLICK HERE.