The LEGO lockdown camera was conceived as a way of representing the strangeness of the Covid-19 lockdown. As I write we’ve spent 40 days inside, with occasional forays to the shops or for dog walks. I had intended to get this finished for World Pinhole Day, which was last weekend, but didn’t quite get it together on time.
The LEGO lockdown camera is basically a camera obscura. I added a viewing portal through which the lens of a digital camera can look (I used a Fuji X30 with macro mode enabled). So, in the same way that you could turn a room into a camera obscura by blacking out the windows and photographing the inside, you can photograph the inside of this camera and its little LEGO family. Whatever the pinhole is pointed at is projected onto the walls of their tiny room.
If you want to try this at home, you will need:
- A1 piece of 5mm white foam board
- black acrylic paint
- LEGO figures
- old black sock
- black gaffer tape
- small piece of thin black plasticard
- glue, craft knife and some pins
I constructed the camera from 5mm white foam board. That turned out to be too translucent, so it was necessary to give the outside two thick coats of black acrylic paint and seal all the edges with black tape. A felt carpet was added to the floor and the two internal walls that were not visible to the camera were also painted black to improve contrast. I also cut up an old black sock and attached it to the camera portal with tape to make it light-tight. The foam board is too thick to make a good pinhole, so I cut out a larger hole and placed a thin piece of black plasticard in front of it with a small hole drilled in the centre. I pushed pins through the sides and into the top of the box to secure it, and allow it to be removed if necessary. The other sides were glued with superglue.
I tried various pinhole sizes. The optimal pinhole size for this focal length (to create the sharpest possible image inside the box) is 0.73mm diameter, but that produced a very dark image and it was too hard to photograph with the Fuji X30, which doesn’t have a bulb exposure mode. So I settled on a pinhole which was 2mm in diameter, which gave a much brighter image at the cost of sharpness. Exposures were around 4 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 800.
The LEGO figures were attached to the floor of the box with double sided tape. In a camera obscura, the projected image is flipped horizontally and vertically. So I turned the box upside down, with the figures suspended from the ceiling - that way, the projection on the walls was the right way up.