Camera=box + hole + film.

December 20, 2005

I am always asked “What camera should I buy” or “How do I use my camera?”. Cameras can seem very complicated, and a bit scary. Novices also assume that the more modern & expensive the camera, the better it must be. However, a camera is fundamentally nothing more than a box with a hole at one end which allows light to enter in a controlled manner, and a surface at the other end of the box where film (or a digital sensor, in the case of digital cameras) is located. The whole point is to let a controlled amount of light to shine on the film for a controlled amount of time. Then you take out the film, develop it to get a negative, and print the picture. Voila, you have a photograph. That’s all there is to it. Light reflects off of the subject (whatever you’re photographing) and goes through the little hole in the box, and shines on the film. You control how long the light shines on the film simply by covering up the hole with your finger or a little flap. You can also make the little hole larger or smaller, to let more or less light in. If you manage to get the right amount of light on the film, you’ll end up with a picture of the subject. It just may take a few tries to get it right. 

 The “box with a hole in it” camera is called a pinhole camera. And its more than sufficient to make some very interesting photographs.

Pretty simple.


That’s basically all you have to know about cameras.

Everything else is extra.

Since cameras were first invented, nothing else has changed much in this set up.

Oh sure, the little hole in the box can have a lens placed over it, so that the light which reflects off the subject forms a sharper, clearer image on the film. You can also put a shutter over the hole, so that you can control how long the little hole remains open, even if its just for a few tenths of a second. Then you can also make the sheet of film into a roll, so you can take more than a picture at a time simply by cranking out out a new section of film roll for each new picture. Finally, you can put some sort of “aiming” device on the camera, which allows you roughly point the camera at the right direction towards the subject.

Now, you have a slightly more complicated camera, but basically, its still the same box with a hole in it.

Next, you can use much larger boxes with much larger pieces of film that allows you to make great big pictures. You can also use complicated, movable lenses which allow you to take photographs from subjects much farther away, or much closer. You can make the aiming device on the camera more exact, so you can see exactly what you’re photographing.

Congratulations! You’re still using nothing more than a box with a hole in it!

Next, you can add a motor to the camera which automatically rolls out a new section of film as you take each photograph, at a very high rate of speed. You can add another system that automatically adjusts the lenses, so you always have a clear, well-focused picture of your subject, even if its moving at a high rate of speed. Heck, you can also add another system that automatically measures the amount of light available, and adjusts both the size of the hole which lets light into the camera body, as well as the amount of time that the hole stays open.

You can even remove the film entirely, and instead put a digital sensor in the camera which absorbs the light reflected off of the subject, and creates an electronic image instead of a film negative.

But even now, you’re still using a box with a hole in it. But you’ll pay a lot more money for it!

So, the lesson is this: cameras don’t make you a better photographer. Stop worrying so much about the gosh darned camera and pay more attention to your photography! 


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