Photographer Turns a Paris Apartment into a Giant Camera

French photographer Mathieu Stern is no stranger to taking photos with unusual cameras. However, his latest camera is perhaps his oddest as he turned Paris apartment into a giant camera obscura and captured a beautiful photo of one of the world’s most famous sights, the Eiffel Tower.

Stern has lived in Paris his entire life but recently realized that he has never photographed the Eiffel Tower in an original way, which is surprising given that he frequently takes photos using unusual methods and gear.

“That’s when a weird idea occurred to me. Could I turn a Parisian apartment into a giant camera?” Stern asked himself. “My plan was to create a reverse camera obscura inside a Parisian apartment and record the results with my digital camera to make a timelapse video.”

Mathieu Stern Camera Obscura
The camera obscura is a very simple type of “camera” that projects an upside-down image onto the back wall of a box or room through a small pinhole or lens.

As PetaPixel explained in an article outlining how to make a digital camera obscura, “Camera obscura is the oldest type of camera in existence and the basics of it in practice date back as far as paleolithic cave paintings. That said, the earliest written observations of it date back to around 470 BCE in Chinese text called Mozi.”

The camera obscura is very easy to scale due to its simple design. A person only needs a “box” with a pinhole or lens that can project light onto the opposite side of the box.

Mathieu Stern Camera Obscura

While someone can make a camera obscura out of a small shipping box, the mechanics of the camera obscura can be applied to an entire room, as Stern did, and Brendan Barry did last year using a multi-lens camera obscura. Barry also transformed a barge into a giant floating camera obscura.

Stern had built a camera obscura before but was frustrated with the resulting upside-down image. For his new project, Stern wanted to find a way to make the image right-side up, and he needed to locate an apartment he could use that offered the perfect view of the Eiffel Tower.

“This is going to be a nightmare,” Stern says.

Mathieu Stern Camera Obscura

After doing some research, Stern found the BonfotonUP, an optomechanical device that creates a room-sized, right-side up camera obscura.

With the lens sorted, it was time to deal with the apartment hunt. After asking and searching for a while, Stern found the perfect apartment on Airbnb.

Mathieu Stern Camera Obscura

“I had a few hours to make the camera obscura,” Stern explains. “To make a camera obscura, you will need a knife, a wide-angle lens, tinfoil, a 50mm lens, gaffer tape, spring water, scissors, and of course, a Bonfoton lens.”

The water is a safe adhesive that can keep the tinfoil on the window. It is essential to block out all light except the light that travels through the lens. Stern created the perfect-sized hole for the BonfotonUP with an included cutting shape and sealed any light leaks using gaffer tape.

Mathieu Stern Camera Obscura

People interested in trying the BonfotonUP to create their own room-sized camera obscura can purchase one with a 15% discount using the discount code “MATHIEU15.”

Mathieu Stern Camera Obscura

More of Mathieu Stern’s work is available on YouTube, his website, and Instagram.

Image credits: All images © Mathieu Stern