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Inquiry 6: How does it work? Cameras & Photography

Since the time of Aristotle people have been able to view pinhole images, originally as shapes flickering through tiny holes made between several overlapping leaves. Pinhole photography, however, was developed later and involves the capturing of those images and shapes onto film using a tiny hole, instead of a lens. In a pinhole camera, light passes through the hole and an image is formed on the back wall of the instrument. The image that appears is upside down because light travels in straight lines. Therefore, light traveling from above goes straight through the hole to the bottom of the camera wall and light traveling from below goes straight through the hole to the top of the camera wall. Thus, if you were looking at an outdoor scene with a pinhole camera, the image on the wall would show the sky at the bottom and the ground at the top.

Pinhole cameras can be small or large and can be made of seashells, oatmeal boxes, film canisters, soda cans, or any size box. Even cars and rooms in large buildings have been used as pinhole cameras. During the Renaissance and later centuries, the pinhole camera was mainly used for scientific purposes in astronomy. However, as time went by the pinhole camera, sometimes called a camera obscura, was used more and more as a drawing aid for artists and painters.

Make a Pinhole Camera - Have students make their own pinhole cameras, which are an easy and safe way to view the sun. To do this you they need a sunny day, a partner, and two pieces of white paper. They should punch a hole in the center of one piece of paper and then go outside and hold it up with the hole aimed at the sun. Make sure to caution your students to never look directly at the sun. They should then move the other piece of white paper back and forth until the image of the sun is on the paper and is in focus. Explain to them that what they see is not just a dot of light, but an actual image of the sun. Encourage them to experiment by making the pinhole larger or smaller, by punching 2 holes in the piece of paper, or by bending their paper so that the images from the 2 holes are placed one on top of another.

Creative Writing - Magic lanterns were once considered one of the most famous and entertaining inventions in history. The early form of the magic lantern is considered the forerunner of our current day slide projector or overhead projector. Have students research magic lanterns and the kind of settings they were used in. Then ask them to write a story about a person who enjoys a magic lantern for the first time. Encourage them to describe what they would see, who else would be there, and how they would feel.

Comparison and Contrast - Daguerreotypes were the first quality photographs, but the metallic images could not be reproduced. The first type of photograph that could be used to make multiple prints was the Calotype, which produced a negative picture on paper; the lights of the image were recorded as darks, and the darks as lights. Both kinds of technology were available during approximately the same time period. Ask students to design a project that compares and contrasts the two different types of photography and have them decide which they think would be best to use. They should keep in mind, that the subject of the pictures they would want to take might play a part in whether they would prefer Calotypes or Daguerreotypes.

Invention - In 1947 the Polaroid Land Camera was able to produce instant pictures within 60 seconds, making it one of the most popular cameras of all times. In fact, Polaroid film and cameras are still being manufactured and have undergone many changes since the original instant camera. Edward Land actually got the idea for the invention when he was taking pictures of his family on vacation in the southwest. His young daughter asked, "Why do we have to wait to see the pictures?" and Land thought to himself, "good question!" He later sketched out some of his ideas and experimented with them after he returned to his lab in Boston. The Polaroid camera and the science of instant photography emerged soon thereafter. Have students research how Land's invention originally worked and record their findings in a report or ask them to invent a new "imaginary" kind of photography that they see a need for. Ask them to think about what they would like cameras to be able do to get them warmed up.

Oral Presentation - In 1888 Thomas Edison created an apparatus that he called a kinetoscope, which means "moving view." The invention involved continuously photographing a series of pictures occurring at intervals greater than eight per second. The images were recorded in a continuous spiral on a cylinder plate in the same manner as sound was recorded on the phonograph. Place students in small groups, which will study the life of Thomas Edison and give an oral report on some of the inventions he patented during his lifetime, noting the creative way he attempted to answer his own questions about the world around him. You might want to assign each group a specific invention to concentrate on to avoid overlap.

Persuasive Letter Writing - In 1900 the Brownie Camera, which was made for children to use, sold for $1.00. The intention was to make cameras available to as many people as possible. The Box Brownie contained a roll of film with 100 exposures. Once the film was used, the camera and the film were sent back to Kodak where the film was developed and new film was put into the camera. Ask students to think about other kinds of technology that is especially designed for children and what they would like to have made for them. Then have them write a letter to a fictional company that attempts to persuade them to design a product of their choice especially for children. Tell them to include why those products made for adults are unsuitable (for example, too expensive, too big, or too complicated) and why they should take the students' opinions seriously.

Journal Writing - Thomas Edison and George Eastman from Kodak worked together to produce the first motion pictures. Have students conduct research about the partnership and then write a series of journal entries as if they were one of the two scientists. Ask them to discuss progress on the development of motion pictures and how their scientist feels and thinks about his partner. Also, encourage them to include relevant background details and facts that will make their journal entries more realistic.

History - Ask students to research the history of movies and movie technology. They might want to focus on something such as how films are being restored because the film itself deteriorates or how movies have changed over time. Have them report their findings in an essay or in a presentation designed to be shared with the class.

Poster Presentation - A photocopier is an invention that has made our lives more convenient. The term "xerography" comes from two Greek words meaning dry writing. In 1938 Chester F. Carlson first invented this technique, which gave rise in 1959 to the first office copier produced by Xerox. Photocopiers today use lenses, mirrors, color filters, lamps, and toners of magenta, cyan, yellow, and black to reproduce images. Have students design a poster, or a series of illustrations, that demonstrates how a photocopier (or another approved invention) works.

Advertising - Some students are already familiar with video camera and digital camera technology. Therefore, students could use newspapers to research the cost and features of various types of video cameras and digital cameras. Afterwards, have them design their own ads that would encourage consumers to purchase a particular type of camera, keeping in mind their target audience.

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