Contrasts at Camera Obscura

We thought we’d get involved in this week’s photo challenge because Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is an amazing place for contrasts. Here are just a few…


Ames Room

Tall and short


Giant lens

Big and small



Rooftop Crystal Ball

Upside down and right way up


Thermal camera

Hot and cold


Mirror Maze

Lost and found


Plasma Ball

Light and dark


Camera doors

Old and new


Did you find any other contrasts during your visit?


Picture Perfect

Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is a great place for photos. Visitors leave with photographic evidence of having shrunk during their visit (in the Ames Room) or their friend’s head on a plate (Severed Head). However, for those interested in photography, the World of Illusions can produce many great shots – even if it’s a challenge to capture them! Come along early one day to escape the crowds and see if you can come away with pictures of any of these:

Mirror maze. Test your skills by seeing if you can get a photo in the mirror maze – without you in it. I couldn’t quite manage, but this is my best effort:


It is incredibly difficult to take a good photo of the Vortex tunnel. The flash makes the lights disappear, but it’s so dark in the room that cameras don’t always cope well. Use a high ISO and a tripod if you can.


Hidden in the Middle. The image in this exhibit can only be seen by moving your head quickly from side to side. Can you capture it with a camera? Use a tripod and a long shutter speed, then move the camera from side to side to get the photo.


Infinity corridor. Similar to Hidden in the Middle, adjust the exposure to one or two seconds, then move the camera as the picture takes to transform photos of the Infinity Corridor.


Electricity room. I’ve tried countless times to take a good photo of the plasma dome for this blog, and it’s difficult. Mess about with the ISO and spend a bit of time editing to make these photos look their best.


Bendy Mirrors. This isn’t your average self-portrait.


Light tunnel. Like the infinity corridor, we have the ladder to Australia and this light tunnel that make use of lights and mirrors.


Whether the weather is bright and sunny or gloomy and grey, the view from our rooftop is one of the best in the city. You can create picture-perfect postcards of Edinburgh here.

Rooftop 2 24.03.14 small

Ducks make a splash at Camera Obscura!

Ducks are one of Camera Obscura’s favourite animals. I even brought this back from a holiday across the pond (I know you see what I did there):

Camera Obscura Ducks

Statue of Liberty (Duck!)

Camera Obscura Ducks

Famous Ducks


Great minds think alike, and I came back to James Pond, Sue Ducku, Bob the Billduck and Ductor House, amongst others. Everyone’s quackers.


Camera Obscura Ducks

The Duck Pond


We’ve created an amazing pond for them here at Camera Obscura. They’ve taken to it like ducks too… I’ll stop there.




Camera Obscura Ducks

Flashing Pirate!


This is not just a place for your average duck in fancy dress, however. There are also mini flashing ducks, a duck mood light, and lip balm and bubbles in duck-shaped containers.


Water you waiting for?!

Camera Obscura Ducks

Camera Obscura Ducks


Written by Lauren Robertson

Pretty Neat!

Pretty Neat!

Can you read the text?

This is a great example of the scrambled word comprehension phenomenon….it’s amazing that we can understand such a muddle!

Source: Cambridge University

Thank Your Teacher with Camera Obscura: top ‘thank yous’ from our gift shop!

We’re reaching the end of term now, so kids might be thinking about getting a little something for their favourite teachers…and we’ve got just the thing to say ‘thank you’ in a unique way.


‘F In….’ Books


We now stock some brilliant books that gather together funny answers to questions about history, science, literature and more. F in Retakes, F in English, Blackboard Blunders, amongst others, are hilarious (sometimes vaguely worrying) reads that will remind teachers of the best attempts their own pupils have made at trying to pass exams. Here are some wee snippets from F In School and F In Science

Q. Define Capital Punishment … A. When you get in trouble for not putting a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence.

Q. Where are vegetable oils found? … A. In the oils aisle



Ducks, ducks and ducks!




‘The world according to teachers’ is a little book on a keyring containing lots of quotes about teachers and teaching….


For quirkier teachers, we have dressed-up ducks. Or for teachers that particularly like ducks.


For their tea and coffee, what teacher wouldn’t love a heat-sensitive Pacman mug? Or a mug that changes from a day image to a night image when you add the tea? We have a large selection of unusual mugs that will probably be ‘borrowed’ in the staff room.


Camera Obscura & World of Illusion Bears

Cuddly Bears

Who doesn’t love a teddy bear? Particularly a plush teddy bear in a hoodie!

Chocolates & Shortbread

For teachers with a sweet tooth, pick up some shortbread or chocolate.



A great addition to any classroom, teachers can keep a worry-eater to aid communication with pupils, who can write any questions or concerns and put them in the worry-eater.


Worry Eaters

Melting clocks

When counting down the minutes until lunch, wouldn’t it be nice to have an unusual clock to look at? Some art teachers especially will love the reference!


Melting Clocks



Nail puzzles, Sudoku, lateral thinking puzzles, IQ tests, jigsaws – we have the best variety of puzzles in Edinburgh!


If they always have a book on their desk, why not gift them a special 3D bookmark?


Lenticular Bookmarks

Ancient Illusions and Camera Obscura

Think optical illusions are new?  Think again!

Holbein - The Ambassadors

The Ambassadors – Holbein

At Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, we have many exhibits that are very old.  Some of our 3D images date back to the late 19th century, while the Camera Obscura itself is a whopping 160 years old.  But optical illusions are even older than that.


The Hidden Skull


A painting, The Ambassadors,  by the famous Renaissance artist Hans Holbein contains a hidden skull.  Can you see it?It is the weird shape at the bottom.  It only looks like a skull when you look at the painting from the right.


It is really spooky.  Holbein put it there to remind everyone that death awaits us all, which is even spookier. But optical illusions were not always so creepy, especially ancient ones.  The Greeks and Romans were fans of optical illusions. Take the Parthenon in Athens…..


The Parthenon


The Parthenon – exaggerated

Built over 2,500 years ago in Athens, it may not look like an obvious example of an ancient optical illusion, but it is.  The whole building is a giant illusion.  There are no straight lines in its entire construction.  It is hard to see, which is the point.  It is so big that all the sides and columns need to be curved to appear straight.

This is an exaggerated version of what it actually looks like. The Parthenon is an expensive optical illusion, but they were also used to make cheap things look expensive.  In ancient Rome, marble was fashionable for decoration, but it was very expensive.  Therefore, many people had their walls painted to look like marble.

House of Griffins

House Of Griffins 

This is the House of the Griffins underneath the Palatine hill in Rome.  It is a late Republican House that was buried when the Emperor Domitian built his palace in the late first century.  The owner wanted the walls to look like they had expensive marble panels, so these were painted on.

The ancient world loved optical illusions.  Pliny the Elder (writing in the first century AD and killed in the eruption that destroyed Pompeii) tells a story of a Greek painter, Zeuxis, in the 5th century BC, who was in a painting competition and won by painting grapes so lifelike that they fooled the birds into trying to eat them.  His competitor, Parrhasius, did even better, for when Zeuxis asked him to draw back the curtain and show his painting, Parrhasius revealed that the curtain WAS the painting.  Zeuxis responded that while he had fooled the birds, Parrhasius had fooled him (The story is in Pliny’s Natural History 35:36).


It seems that throughout history, everyone has loved a good illusion.  So come for a visit today to join in the hands-on illusionary fun that’s packed into the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions building!


Written by Jen Cresswell

Picture credits:

Holbein The Ambassadors: Wikipedia

The Ambassadors detail: Wikipedia

The Parthenon: Wikipedia.

The Parthenon exaggerated:

The House of the Griffins: Jen Cresswell