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Camera Obscura

The Concept of Camera Obscura

As modern as our favourite HD cameras may seem, the reality is that photography actually dates all the way back to 1826. Back then, the concept of memory cards and storage devices was something unimaginable and so it fell down to traditional methods of image capture in order to take photographs. In those days, photographs would need complete darkness to be captured – and this is what led to the discovery of the camera obscura technology.

This technology was originally discovered by some of the most renowned philosophers on the planet – Leonardo Da Vinci being one of them. The theory dictated that by poking a tiny hole into the side of a completely sealed box, the ability to peer into (and later out of) the box would make viewing a scene in a different perspective a possibility.

As an artist, being able to frame a scene made Leonardo Da Vinci’s job a whole lot easier and many of his most famous scenic paintings can actually be traced back to the use of an obscura (in Latin –dark or darkness) device. So, what happened since then and how did this technology make photography a possibility? Well, although the device was in use way back in 1490, it was only in the late 1700s that the devices began to circulate.

What did this technology do for photographers?

After a renowned experimentalist by the name of Schulze discovered that certain substances reacted with the UV rays from the sun, he realised that some of these chemicals would continue to reflect the scene that they were exposed to for several minutes after. That led to the next issue – the potential possibility for these time frames to be expanded upon.

Decades later, in 1826, a man called Joseph Nicephore Niepce took the first ever photograph using a technique known as heliography – stemming from helio, the Greek word for sun. It took days to come to any form of fruition, but needless to say that Joseph managed to capture the very first image.

How did this technology lead to our modern day cameras, exactly?

Thanks to the technique, which was further explored after Joseph’s death by his closest associate, it started to become obvious that the sun’s rays could both speed up the development of an image, or destroy it entirely. After careful evaluation, Joseph’s associate developed and manufactured a variety of components that would first view a scene, secondly reflect it, and finally project it onto a chemical substance.

By 1933, the very first portable camera had been developed. It was considered a state of the art device that relied on the pin-hole processes afforded by the obscura technique, albeit with a neatly situated compartment that allowed for a scene to be captured via a flash, imprinted onto a material and then developed – where it could be viewed in full for all to see.

Without the discovery of this technology modern day cameras and accessories wouldn’t exist. Although digital equivalents rely on storage cards, there are still thousands of 28mm equivalents that not only rely on darkness for development – they actually still implement the same reflective techniques that the device originally offered early photographers.