Photography

The optical principle of the camera obscura, or 'dark chamber', dates back to Aristotle but the earliest record of its use is found in the manuscripts of Leonardo da Vinci (1442-1519). It can be as simple as a box or room with a small hole in one wall. Light entering the box is reflected from a mirror on the opposite wall and the image is seen on a piece of ground glass set into the top of the box. The camera projects visual images in a two-dimensional form. In the 17th century, the camera obscura was used by both scientists and artists.

Johannes Kepler made his solar observations in the early 1600s using one of these instruments and it is said that he was the first to give the instrument its name. The design of his portable camera obscura was very ingenious. The structure was tent-like, serving both as the dark chamber and as a 'laboratory'.

Camera obscura.

The camera obscura was used for making drawings. The image was projected onto a piece of paper and the details were traced by the artist, usually as the basis for a painting. (It is much easier to draw from a two-dimensional image than from the real three-dimensional subject.) Johannes Vermeer, the famous Dutch 17th century artist, may have used a camera obscura. (There is no real documentary evidence of this, but studies of his style have led to the belief that he did.)

The camera obscura came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some of them could accommodate more than ten people. By the 16th century, the design had been modified by putting a lens at the entrance to the aperture, improving the quality of the image.

In 1685, Johann Zahn (1631-1707), a German monk, further refined the design by using a system of lenses. His camera was the prototype for the modern camera, with a design similar to today's single lens reflex camera. All it lacked was a mechanical shutter and a way to record a permanent image of the object.

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