What is a camera obscura and how does it work

John Paul Getty Education

Camera Obscura

(accessed January 28, 2019)

Camera Obscura as recommended by OCA (accessed January 29, 2019)

Jolly Rogers Studios


The Pencil of Nature – William Talbot (accessed January 29, 2019)

Having read the introductions to The Pencil of Nature I felt that Photography was both Mechanical and creative.  Talbot had tried using a camera obscura to reflect a picture on to some paper (mechanical) and then tried to draw the reflection of the picture that came through the hole but realised he wasn’t a drawer and therefore tried to trace the picture (creative) but was frustrated by the outcome.  He proceeded to experiment with different techniques with the usage of salt and chloride of silver to promote the action of light on paper (Creative).  Various results occurred depending on the amount of light that was used.  Further discovery was to fix the process in a dark room using iodine in a deep water bath (mechanical).  In order to create any kind of fixed image the use of a camera obscura was essential ie to reflect an object such as a building.  There seemed to be lots of processes which appear to be mechanical in order for the images to appear on the treated paper, however it took a creative outlook and viewpoint in order for this to happen.

My view hasn’t changed I do feel you need a decent camera to take good photographs, however you also need to be creative, someone who has an expensive SLR camera may still take rubbish photos because they are not being creative, likewise someone with a phone or basic camera can take amazing photos because they use creativity.


What in your view, makes photographs unique as an art form?

For me to make photographs unique as an art form means they have to be viewed differently to any other form of photograph that has been taken before, for instance we all know what the Eiffel tower looks like, but if its taken at a different angle, or just a small piece of the tower, or even with a dog, car or person that shadows it, would make it unique and because creativity is being used I would say this would not be just a normal picture it would be unique.  I try to do this with my own photography thinking of different things to photo when I’m in a new city or country – not typical tourist spots, but off the beaten track, or if it is a famous landmark I try to be creative by using different angles of the camera, or shooting from the ground sometimes making it black and white, even taking the photo through an object like a hole in the wall or a fence, just something to make it quirky or unique.

Photographs can also be used themselves to make art forms such as collages, they can be framed in an artful way and can have things added to them like stickers, shapes and lighting effects.  Photographs can be converted onto a canvas, wall, cups and books making them more than just a photo but more as an art piece something that is unique.

A ‘photographic image’ is a picture that has been taken by a camera, this can be an old pin hole camera, a small compact camera, a camera still using a roll of film, a phone camera or an advanced digital SLR, they all produce ‘photographic images’.  In my view this also means they don’t necessarily have to be a hard copy, digital copies are still photographic images it just means it is less complicated to get the finished result, a more immediate response is delivered when using a digital camera.  I recall the days proudly putting in my 24 camera roll and sometimes getting 20 of the photos back showing a complete black photograph with only 4 turning out as I recall taking the photo, it was heartbreaking sometimes.  With digital you can see immediately how your photo has turned out, even being able to change its appearance with immediate effect but taking out the ‘red eye’ or changing the colour to black and white.  The downside is loosing albums of photos to accidentally deleting a whole album of photos from your camera or your laptop where they are stored crashes and you have no record.  I still like to keep hard copies, by choosing the top ten best photos from a holiday, or I print off favorites and display them, there are more benefits now to digital photography however, I can still see the attraction to creating the simple photographic image pre digital cameras and phones.  The photos seemed more precious, now you can take 100 photos and not have to think how much that will cost to have developed, you can just print the best one out of that 100.

I am always on the look out for unusual shots and always regret not having my camera on me when I see an image and think that would make a great photo, I suppose it is a personal choice as to what does make a great photo and whether you believe it is art because it is a unique shot.   I feel the question ‘What is Art’ being quite relevant again in the start of this section of the course.  Is Photography Art? I believe it is.


(Context: The circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood.


John Paul Getty Education

Camera Obscura – Details on how to make a Camera Obscura

(accessed January 28, 2019)

Camera Obscura as recommended by OCA (accessed January 29, 2019)

Jolly Rogers Studios


The Pencil of Nature – William Talbot (accessed January 29, 2019)

Jonathan Jones (2013) ‘Photography is the Art of our Time’ (accessed February 3, 2019)

Robert Clark  (National Geographic) ‘Digital Photography Tips’ (accessed February 3, 2019)


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