The History of the Camera Obscura
Mo-Ti, a Chinese philosopher, living in the 5th century BC mentioned a device that could invert images created by rays of light travelling through a pinhole into a dark room. He referred the dark room as the “locked treasure room” or a “collecting phase.” The next mention of the optical device happened in 384 to 322 BC by the one and only Aristotle, an acclaimed Greek philosopher.
Aristotle perceived the optical device as a technique for partially exposing the sun onto the ground through the holes created in the sieve. During the time, no one had thought to perform experiments using the optical device, or made remarks on it by the given information on hand. Alhazen saw an opportunity here. Alhazen was an Islamic scholar and scientists in 965 to 1039 AD. He performed experiments that included the positioning of five lanterns outside of an area with a hole. In 1490,
it was Leonardo Da Vinci’s turn to make his own clarification of what the camera obscura is. In his notebooks, he began to describe the characteristics of the camera obscura. By now, people knew the function of the camera obscura and on how it allowed people to capture images. The next step was to improve the quality of the pictures taken.
Light goes through a straight line, reflecting the rays from a bright object, which passes through a hole. In doing so, it reforms the object into an upside down picture on a flat surface, which is held parallel to the hole. The process was improved in the 16th century by adding a convex lens inside the aperture and later a mirror to reproduce the image down or up onto a surface.
Due to improvements made to the device, it gained notoriety amongst artists in 1558, especially from Magia Naturalis, which recommended artists to use the optical device to assist them to draw images. Nowadays, camera obscura is extinct and referred to as a pricy antique if obtained.
One thing for sure, this ancient optical device left behind a legacy for future innovators to refer to, which they did, when cameras were introduced. Since then, the world has seen other magnificent inventions that assist people capture the beauty of life through a lens in day light, without the help of a dark room to do it.
It has been proposed by some that a number of famous artists from the past used camera obscuras or other optical techniques to produce their photo realistic masterpieces. This theory is discussed and duplicated in the excellent documentary Tim's Vermeer, it really is worth a look.