Ross den Otter Takes Stunning Portraits with a Camera Obscura

All images by Ross den Otter. Used with permission. 

Inspired by the painters during the Renaissance period, Ross den Otter built his own camera obscura which he needed to literally walk into and be inside the camera box to take pictures. He has created a series of stunning portrait photographs with this process.

Camera obscura technically was a 16th century camera used mainly by painters to accurately reproduce perspective. Only the wealthy at that time could afford expensive paintings of themselves. Motivated by using this 400 years old photo technology in a modern setting, Ross den Otter constructed a life sized obscura camera, roughly the size of a walk in closet at 4 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet dimension. Ross shared some interesting facts about this project utilizing a 19th century Fox-Talbot paper negative process, several 20th century electronic flashes, a World War II era aerial reconnaissance lens, a scanner from the 21st century, and finally, digital post-processing in Adobe Lightroom.

The technical process of making a photograph with the camera includes triggering a flash remotely from within the camera, and allowing light to be admitted into the camera by removing the lens cap from the back of the lens. You can get a better picture of how the camera obscura operates in the Youtube video below.

One of the unique designs of this camera is the limitation of not being able to see or interact with the subject as Ross was shooting them. He has to be inside the camera closet which acts as a barrier between himself and his subjects. By reducing the photographer’s involvement to merely just a technician facilitating the process of a image to be taken, Ross claims that this blind collaboration with the subject outside the camera is what makes the images unique.

Ross den Otter’s creative reconstruction of the camera obscura was inspirational on both levels of the shooting process as well as the final photography output. Breaking the norm by not having the subjects look at the photographer while their portraits were being taken resulted in pleasingly natural facial expressions, being comfortably at ease. The subjects were not posing too hard, there was no tension, and they seemed like they were being themselves when the images were being taken. The black and white presentation in a real classic film look and feel further enhanced the natural look of the portraits.

To find out more of Ross den Otter’s photography work, please visit his website here.