CS 194-26: Image Manipulation and Computational Photography

Constructing a Camera Obscura

Clarence Lam and Florin Langer, Fall 2018


A pinhole camera is a light-proof box with a pinhole on one side and a screen on the opposite side. In this project, we constructed one and experimented with different aperture sizes.


In order to construct the camera, we first light-proofed a box. This would be simple if the box were to have no openings, but we needed to make holes for the camera lens and pinhole insert, which we addressed later. We used a single sheet of black construction paper to maximize light-proofing and made cuts along the box edges and pushed it into place. We then cut a hole nearly the size of the lens in the side of the box and stuck the lens in. The lens was about 9 inches from the screen. We then layered a few sheets of white paper for the opposite side to be the screen. We then manually focused the camera since the autofocus sensor would not work due to being outside the box. We believe the focus may have been moved as we moved the box, but there was no practical way to fix it once we sealed the box and the quality was still fine. We then sealed the remaining space around the lens with paper towel. We then cut another hole near the lens for the pinhole insert. We sealed the box and made our sub-millimeter, 3-millimeter, and 5-millimeter pinhole inserts and got our shots.

Camera Construction
Single Piece of Black Construction Paper Cut
Construction Paper Being Inserted
Camera Being Focused at Appropriate Distance
Camera Lens Inserted with Paper Towel Light Insulation
Pinhole Insert Attached
Sub-Millimeter Pinhole
3-Millimeter Pinhole
5-Millimeter Pinhole
We made the first pinhole with a tack and the second and third with varying depths of a pen tip.

Captured Images with [Aperture Size], [Exposure Time], [ISO]

Note that the camera was positioned upside down so the images are rightside up, but they are still flipped horizontally.
Etcheverry Hallsmall, 30", 800
Etcheverry Hallmedium, 15", 800
Etcheverry Halllarge, 8", 800
Bancroft Library small, 30", 800
Bancroft Library medium, 15", 800
Bancroft Library large, 8", 800

The smaller the pinhole, the longer the exposure time needed to be to get sufficient light. We thought our medium aperture to be best considering lighting conditions and exposure time, so we shot the rest of the photos with it. An effect can be seen in many of the following photos (e.g., Evans Hall) in which the faces other than screen reflected some light and form more of the image. We like this effect and think it adds dimensionality—thus it is our additional bell and whistle.

Sutardja Dai Hallmedium, 30", 800
Evans Hallmedium, 30", 800
Campanilemedium, 20", 800
South Hall medium, 20", 800
Florin medium, 25", 800
Tree medium, 30", 1600
Tree and Shoe medium, 30", 1600
Campanile medium, 30", 1600
Sunset medium, 25", 800
Meditation medium, 30", 1600
Campanile medium, 30", 1600
Sunset medium, 30", 1600
Horror Movie medium, 30", 1600
Sutardja Dai Hall medium, 30", 1600
Sutardja Dai Hall medium, 30", 1600