Photo Science: How 5 Photo Techniques Work & How You Can Play With Them!

Extra photos for bloggers: 1, 2, 3, 4

Ever wonder how your camera works?

…If instant photos are actually made of something other than magic?

We sure as heck do!

In fact, we think the science of photography is half of the reason that being a photographer is so freakin’ cool.

While photography usually feels like magic, it’s actually very scientific and mathematical. (We even know the ISO of the human eye!)

We’re going to show you some of our favorite basic photography techniques, what makes them tick, and how you can try them all yourself for a hands-on view of how all your favorite photo stuff works!

5 Ways to Play with Photo Science

The Camera Obscura

beforeEver see pictures with an entire city projected onto bedroom walls?

Yep, that’s a camera obscura. The most basic type of camera in the world (it was around even before photography was!)

A camera obscura is basically just a dark room and a hole in a window opening.

The light rays from the outside world get squashed and travel through the tiny lens hole in your window, flip themselves around, and end up showing up again on a projected upside-down image.

It’s the most basic form of a lens, and works a lot like your very own eye!


The smaller you make the lens hole, the sharper and more in-focus your image gets.

If your lens hole is too large, light rays have too much room to move and make your image blurry and out-of-focus.

Camera obscura photo by afroboof. (…want to read more about the camera obscura?)

The Pinhole Camera

beforeYou can practice the science of the camera obscura hands on by using a pinhole camera!

Like a mini-camera obscura, a pinhole camera is a fully functioning camera made with nothing but a pinhole, a box, and a piece of photo paper!

Check out how much you can do with a pinhole camera (which includes several ways to make your own!), try experimenting with different sized pinholes, or even make a solargraph!


Photo Paper

beforeSo you’ve filled your handmade camera with photo paper. Ever wonder how that magical stuff works?

Photo paper is made simply by coating a piece of paper with a light sensitive chemical called “emulsion.”

It’s then kept in complete darkness until you’re ready to make your picture. When you do, the light that comes into your cameras pinhole gets flipped, squashed, and projected onto the paper in the back of the camera (just like it was projected onto the bedroom wall with a camera obscura!)


The brighter parts of the projected image react with the tiny light-sensitive crystals in your photo paper. When a developer chemical is added, the brighter parts turn dark. Your photo paper stays white in the areas where no light reached it’s surface.

Good news! You can experiment with photo-sensitive paper without having to deal with messy chemicals! Sunprint paper will allow you to make pinhole pictures or photograms that develop in water.

Instant Film

beforeInstant prints magically develop before our eyes. How do they work?

The bottom part of your instant prints contain something very special inside: a mini-darkroom!

That’s right, that tiny pouch on the bottom of your picture is actually holding packets of gooey chemicals that develop your film for you while you watch!

When your instant camera takes a picture, the light travels through the lens and lands on the surface of your instant film.


Then, your instant camera ejects the picture in between two metal rollers. The rollers pinch the chemical packets on the bottom of your film, break them open, and spread the developer chemicals all over the surface of your image.

Watch your instant image develop and you’re actually watching a chemical reaction in a mini-science lab!

Color Filters

beforeRemember when we showed you how you can make a color image from three black and white ones? or how you can make an epic color mashup?

Those techniques work because your film is actually made out of three color layers.

One layer records all the red information in your images, one layer records all the yellow info, and the last one records everything that’s blue.


If you hold a green filter in front of your lens, it will filter out all other colors and only allow green light to pass through to your film.

You can experiment with color filtration by using color filters to remove or add certain colors to your photos the old fashioned way!