How To Convert Your Room Into a Giant Camera Obscura

We heard how dangerous it could get outdoors with all of the traffic-crossings, pollen, UV rays and so on, and so we decided to stay inside and paint our walls with a live stream of the outside world…



For those less familiar with such witchcraft, this phenomenon is known as ‘camera obscura’…

First decoded by none other than legendary Arabic scientist, Alhazen, the surreal projections of light through a pinhole have been observed across a myriad of generations, eras and cultures.

Using no more than materials essentially considered rubbish, is it astounding to realise this simple manipulation of light we currently bask in is what eventually lead to development of the device currently reshaping the landscape of art: The camera.


For the cowardly like-minded, here is how you can experience your perilous surroundings from the darkness of your comfortable room.


You will need:

  • A piece of cardboard… or twenty
  • Some tape
  • A window
  • Scissors


How To

First, lock your doors, kill the lights and block the windows with cardboard as though you are expecting visitors.

Next, using your sharp implements of cutting (I.E. scissors, knife or claws in our case), gouge a hole somewhere in the dead off-center of your cardboard curtain.

And that’s it! The sunlight entering through the aperture in your cardboard will now project an inverted image of the treacherous outdoor realm onto your dark walls, floors and ceiling.



Just as your pupil currently projects an inverted image of your dirty computer screen (or LCD if you happen to be part of the smartphone revolution) onto your retina while you read this questionable tutorial, we roll up the catnip and lazily lounge like domestic felines in the achievement of converting our room into a giant eyeball. If we had 35ft film (rather than 35mm) upon the wall, we would perhaps be inside one of the biggest pinhole cameras ever…

Stitched Panorama

In the 15 – 20 minute it takes for our eyes to adjust to the darkness, they become 1 million times more sensitive and we can observe the progression of outside life with nearly as much clarity as a television. Trees blowing the wind, pedestrians crossing roads, cars navigating traffic lights and clouds drifting quietly by.

And if you’re really ambitious, you can set up a camera and capture a time-lapse of all of these happenings for future reference:

About the author: Destruction of Cats are an unstoppable feline force of photographers, filmmakers, musicians & writers making art in your alleyways. This article was originally published here.

  • Doug

    This would be even better if there was a cheap, easy way to project the image right-side-up.

  • Gentleman Rook

    Love the tutorial, marvelous idea, but: “…the surreal projections…” Really? Surreal? The action of a camera obscura is simple physics, a property of light. Surreal is filling a bathtub with brightly coloured machine parts and lightbulbs, then catching a forty foot tall animatronic giraffe on fire. Instead of leaping for the buzzword how about expanding our enjoyment of a fun _and_ educating article with thoughtful word choices. :)

  • Ashish Gurbani

    beautiful.. thanks for sharing

  • JS Stewart

    Nice article…and your term, “surreal” doesn’t bother me nor does the image being upside down. But then, I’ve spent a lot of time behind a view camera looking at an upside down image which seemed a little “surreal” at times.

  • Jonathan The Rat

    Aye, surreal is in the eye of the beholder

  • mahirh

    trapezoid prism?

  • Grandier

    no, he’s using the appropriate word choice.

    sur·re·al [suh-ree-uhl, -reel] Show IPA
    1. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of surrealism, an artistic and literary style; surrealistic.
    2. having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream; unreal; fantastic: surreal complexities of thebureaucracy.

    it’s disorienting (projected upside down), hallucinatory quality/unreal (visuals of outside INSIDE your room), and fantastic (the idea at least, although it’s quite subjective overall). simple physics it may be, but the end results makes it worth to be called ‘surreal’, just like your idea of surreal which can be passed off as a simple installment.

  • Daniel Eoin Duarte

    Abe Morell… been there, done that

  • ecardenas

    I want to know how to figure out what lens you could use to get a sharper image and these distances. You can only make the hole so small before you’re needing very long exposures and large holes leave the image fuzzy if you don’t use a lens.


    Its amazing.

  • Jonathan The Rat

    Cheap & easy

  • dan110024

    Is that it? I never knew it was so simple!

  • disqus_Y6pMWbiNOA

    Considering this is an article from Destruction of Cats, I’m sure illicit street drugs were probably involved so “surreal” is an apt usage of the word. 10/10 would read again. ;)

  • Smarten_Up

    But–better than “gouging” an aperture, is to cut it carefully, with sharp edges. Start with maybe a one inch diameter, and make up a few cards with smaller, also well-cut apertures, and tape these over the bigger hole as your eyes adapt. Or use for the really sunny days.

    Best if your window faces a scene that gets full-on sunlight, and view at that time of day, but other times (night in the city?) could be cool too. Patience is required anytime, allow eyes to adapt. Shut off any light source in room–cell phones, pilot lights, a glowing heater, etc.

    We did this at my college in an Art History lecture room–for students to understand that a camera is just, and only, that–Italian for “room.” Everything else is an addition–variable f-stops, glass lenses, shutter, light sensitive surface like film or sensor.

    As the judge says to the lawyers when they need to discuss something outside the hearing of the jury–“Counselors, see me In Camera, please…”

  • James

    I wonder what would happen if you put a niffty 50 in the whole?

  • Vin Weathermon

    I am liking the flaming giraffe in a bathtub of neon machine parts. My next project.

  • Peter De Roover

    well… “camera obscura” means : dark room…

  • Fareed Ahmed

    During the summers in a remote town in India in the 1970s (my early teens) had to stay indoors in the afternoon to escape the heat we usually had to shut the windows and darken the room to stay cool, as kids we decided to make a projector albeit it was a slide/negative film projector, we could reflect the sun on to the crack in the window shutter (no tapes available) so filled the unused cracks with waste paper, anyway the light had to be amplified to make the slide project on a wall (no lens in sight) well we had a couple of fused light bulbs, clear of course, we carefully took off the the metal base very delicately used a brick ( yes we did have bricks :-) ) to file off the glass until the inside stem could be pulled off, then it was filled with water, and the light from the crack in the windows was our source and the wall was our screen, we could view a lot of slides (horrible distortion) until someone had to venture outside to reposition the mirror to compensate for the movement of the sun.
    Please do not ask me what the focal length of the light bulb/lens I have no idea we had a lot of fun watching some slides (my dad was a photographer) and learning the various properties of light and movement of solar system.

  • Nick Hall

    The people who actually try this should be hit with a hot shovel.

  • Doug

    Once second later, I’m face down on the floor. Cheap, but not easy ;)

  • Lol

    Suck a dick Nick, nobody likes you and your girlfriend is cheating on you.