I woke up the other day in a bit of a daze. I’d loaded up on cold and flu tablets and a healthy measure of cough syrup but had still spent the night coughing and spluttering myself out of sleep. I am not the best patient and will do anything to get over being unwell as quickly as possible, hence being full of medication, vitamins and garlic pills that probably do nothing at all.

When I did wake properly, I lay in my bed gazing at the wall. The shadows from the curtains looked funny. The large metal eyelets cast shadows that looked just like the tyres on two upside down cars that seemed to be parked on my wall.

Naturally, I assumed I’d overdone the cough syrup and ignored it until my husband wandered in to see if I was still alive. On learning that I had survived the night, he turned and stopped, looking at the wall. “That looks like a car and a ute,” he said. I wondered if he’d had any cough syrup before heading down stairs to the coffee machine.


Not content with my theory about the eyelets in the curtain, my husband Carl decided to get his camera out and take a picture of the weird upside down car shadows. What he saw with the camera was even weirder.

He could see a scene from our street, upside-down, projected onto the wall. What wizardry was this?

camera obscura- A reflected, upside-down image of two cars parked on the street outside a house with a large, green tree.

Here it is again, with our daughter leaning up against the wall, with no idea that she is standing in the sky of an upside down world.

camera obscura

Here is the actual view from out of the window:

camera obscura


Was it magic? Nah, ‘course not. This, friends, was science!

Science was happening on our bedroom wall!

It turns out that I was NOT high on cough syrup, nor was my husband indulging his (rather impressive) imagination. What was happening was a natural optical phenomenon called camera obscura. In this instance, the camera (Latin for chamber, if you were wondering) was my bedroom. The obscura refers to the darkness needed to observe the phenomenon.

It was very dark in my room, but a small gap in the blinds and a slightly opened curtain formed an opening into the darkness. Meanwhile, outside, the sun was shining. Rays of light bounced off the houses, trees and cars in the street. These light rays would have been going in all directions, but some made it through the gap in my curtains. The rays of light were the same colour as the objects they were bouncing off. Light travels in a straight line, which is why the projected image seems to be upside down. This meant that my street was captured and projected onto my bedroom wall. The gap in the curtain was comparatively large, meaning lots of light rays were allowed in. This makes for a brighter, but less focused, image on the wall. A smaller gap would make for a clearer image but the colour wouldn’t be as bright.


camera obscura

Source: Wikimedia Commons

DIY Camera Obscura

This is a phenomenon you can easily replicate. You might have built one of these before, to safely view an eclipse or something like that. If not, try it out, especially with kids to foster that “I FUCKING LOVE SCIENCE” attitude early on. You don’t even need my dark bedroom to do it!





#IBOT @ Capturing Life

Gifs via Giphy

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