Camera Obscura’s Vortex Tunnel – the science behind the illusion!

Test your walking and balancing skills in our vortex tunnel. But be warned, you may be left feeling a tad dizzy!

This bizarre and exciting contraption works by tricking your mind and body into thinking and feeling like the ground beneath you is moving when in fact it is completely still and fixed in place.

So, to get a little more technical as to how your mind is tricked, we need to introduce the human senses of sight and touch. Contradictory messages from these two senses make it difficult for your brain to decide what is actually happening. Your visual receptors, your eyes, see that the outer tunnel is moving, while your touch sensors (in this case your feet) feel that the ground is completely still and you are not moving. These conflicting messages make you feel off balance and a little bit dizzy.

As sight is one of the most developed senses within the human body, the brain chooses to believe sight over touch. Therefore, even though you can feel the bridge is still, your eyes see the tunnel moving which causes your brain to automatically think you are moving.

Don’t believe us? Come and give it a try for yourself!!


Faces in Space: it’s just an illusion!

Last Friday, Edinburgh saw a spectacular and rare partial solar eclipse.  Over 90% of the sun was blocked out and, even though it was not a total eclipse, it did get rather dark and noticeably colder.  In Ancient China, an eclipse was believed to have been caused by a dragon eating the sun.  People would bang drums to scare the dragon away!

In a sense, an eclipse is just a giant illusion; it looks like the sun is disappearing, but it’s not and it will soon return.

face in space 2

Face on Mars, picture source: wikipedia

Space is full of illusions. such as when the cosmos and other planets look like faces. Take the Face on Mars, for example….

This is called ‘pareidolia’ and is a human tendency to see faces in inanimate objects.   It stems from the fact that our brains only need a few features to identify a face, and when these are seen we perceive the face – an evolutionary hangover to help us identify our fellow species, and thus safety, in dark environments.

Mars is home to another occurrence of pareidolia, a more amusing one; the Galle, or ‘happy face’, crater:

face in space 3

Picture source: wikipedia

With pop culture, social media and Internet memes becoming very popular, pareidolia can be used for other objects too, such as the heat signatures of Mimas and Tethys, two of Saturn’s moons, which bear an uncanny resemblance to Pac-man.

face in space 4

Picture Source:


face in space 5


Of course, you do not have to go to space to see pareidolia.  At the Camera Obscura, we have many examples on display, such as copies of work by the sixteenth century artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo.



You can also find examples in your own home!

face in space 6

face in space 7









Written by Jen Cresswell

Watch the Eclipse at Camera Obscura, Friday 20th March

We are offering you the unique opportunity to watch the solar eclipse in our Camera Obscura!

We will be opening our doors extra early to give you the chance to see this rare spectacle in the Camera Obscura itself.  An immense 94% of the sun’s light is expected to be blocked by the moon in this Friday’s eclipse, which will be projected live onto our large round Camera Obscura viewing table, all through a piece of technology invented over two millennia ago. Looking directly at the sun can severely damage eyesight, so it is essential to watch the eclipse through a filter or reflection.


Even though the sun will not be completely covered up by the moon, this solar eclipse is not to be missed. The next partial solar eclipse is not for another ten years, and the next total solar eclipse observable from the UK will only occur in 2090.

Andrew Johnson, Manager said: this is the first time in my lifetime that we may have the opportunity to see an almost total eclipse on our camera obscura table. This is truly the best way to view it, as it is perfectly safe, and not obscured by anything.  The last time we had a partial eclipse the experience was incredible. Given clear skies, this will be even more so.

On Friday, the eclipse is predicted to begin just after 8:30am, which is why Camera Obscura and World of Illusions will be opening from 8.30am. The peak of the solar eclipse will occur at 9:35am, lasting just under 3 minutes, and it will all end at around 10:40am.

Doors open 8:30am, entry charges apply. Eclipse glasses will be available on the day and included in the ticket price (sorry, no more advance sales of glasses). Please allow enough time to climb the 6 flights of stairs to the rooftop! Tickets are valid all day.

Mesmerising GIFs!

So, today we discovered the amazing and entrancing work of visual artist David Szakaly, aka davidope (it’s taken us a while). Below are some of our favourites….be prepared to be mesmerised:









7356ceb141ada319b5d0b45c3f051e2aLike what you see? Check out more of his work at







The Mystery of the Ames Room at Camera Obscura

Did you know that you can shrink and grow at ease in our Ames Room? Here’s how!….

The first Ames Room was built in 1935 by American ophthalmologist Adelbert Ames, Jr. However, it is thought the concept of the Ames Room was inspired from the German physician Hermann Helmholtz in the 1800’s.

Here comes the spoiler alert…..the Ames Room isn’t actually cubic in shape, it’s trapezoidal! The walls and ceiling are sloped and the floors are built on an incline which creates a forced perspective. This, when viewed at the right angle, tricks your brain into thinking one person is considerably taller than the other.


The Ames Room – picture by Tony Marsh

It has proved so effective that it has been used to create special effects in many Hollywood movies. Ever wondered how they made the Hobbits look so small next to Gandalf? Yup, that’s right, all done using the same technique! (Sorry to spoil the Shire magic for you all!)

Want to share your photos of the Ames Room? We would love to see all the creative posing we know our visitors do!

Why You Should Bring a Date to Camera Obscura This Valentine’s Day

Camera Obscura and World of illusions

Flowers and chocolates are so 2013. Make your Valentine crazy about you with a date to Camera Obscura – or find out if they’re really the person you want to spend the day with…

How hot is your date? Find out – literally – with the thermal camera.

New Thermal Cam

What will your kids look like? Decide if you never want this person’s babies by merging into each other on the Swap Heads or Face Transformers exhibits. You can also use the morph machines to find out if you’ll still fancy your date when they’re old and wrinkly.

Morph Machine

The Vortex. Send them head over heels (almost) with the help of the Vortex Tunnel. They just might think it’s you that’s put their head in a spin.

mtb world cup

Put stars in their eyes… with the Light Painter. Or be like love-struck teenagers, and scribble your initials together inside a heart – just to make…

View original post 210 more words

Toddler Fest: Cameron the Camera Obscura Bear checks it out!



This week has been beary exciting (so far!) as it’s Teeny Tiny Toddler Fest ’15!!

I’m having great fun checking out the special exhibits and different workshops that are on.  This workshop looked at my interpretation of language!


And there were lots of me and my new duck friends in our new mini Kaleidosphere!


There is story telling in the shop. Now, not that I’m biased, but I think the story is beary good, possibly the best I have ever heard. It’s all about a brave little bear, called Cameron, and his adventures. You should check it out! What a classic!! You can even take a picture of me home….what more could anyone ask for?


There is even a quiet room which I have made great use of. I will be sad to see it go after Toddler Fest.

quiet room

The Quiet Room – photo taken by a Quiet Room user! (@kersti)


And look….. lots of my friends have come to check out all the fun too!…


PLUS, I hear there is going to be face painting on Sunday…. I wonder what I’ll get painted on my face?!



Teeny Tiny Toddler Fest Schedule of Special Events


Creativity Workshops

These will be located on the 4th floor of the World of Illusions. This is a drop-in activity that one child at a time can take part in. Experiment with unusual objects, discover new ways of using them and help the researchers at Edinburgh University learn more about imagination and the development of creativity in toddlers.

For more information please ask the researcher at this station.

Language Workshops

These will be located on the 3rd floor of the World of Illusions. This is a drop-in activity that one child at a time can take part in. Play with some unique toys, make up a story and help the Edinburgh University learn more about the way language develops in toddlers.

For more information please ask the researcher at this station.

Talks on the Science of Learning and Discovery

From Monday to Friday, researchers from the University of Edinburgh’s Developmental Science group will be discussing the amazing mechanisms that allow babies and toddlers to learn to make sense of the complex world around them. Please ask at the reception desk when you buy your tickets if you would like to have a place reserved for you in one of these sessions.

Stories in the Shop

On the hour at 12.00, 1.00, 2.00 and 3.00 our creative shop team will be sharing the story of Cameron the Bear’s adventures in a snug little corner under the stairs. No need to book, just walk down the musical staircase and find us at the bottom.


For more information or to book your tickets, call 0131 226 3709 or email

Last Minute Christmas Gifts from Camera Obscura

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  The decorations are up, the carols are sung and you’ve wraped the presents for everyone and … HORROR!  You forgot to get a gift for someone.  Be it a friend, aunt, cousin, grandparent, we have all done it.  But never fear … your friendly neighbourhood Camera Obscura Gift Shop is here to save the day with these last minute present ideas….

Heat Changing Mugs

Heat Changing Mugs - small

Tis a cold time of year, and nothing heats you up better than a nice hot drink.  But in a heat changing mug, you can see just how warm you are getting. Be a matching pair, or family, with buy one and get one half price.

Rudolph mug

Rudolph mug - small

Christmas kitsch at its classiest.  Perfect to drink from while sporting your best Christmas jumper.

Stocking fillers

Stocking Fillers - small

Christmas stockings are one of our dearest, and most joyous, Christmas traditions.  Finding items small and fun enough to fill them is a nightmare.  We have that problem solved with 3 for 2 on all festive toys.

Worry Eaters


Christmas can be stressful, but so is the rest of the year.  Feed your worries to a worry eater and let them fade away.  Chosen as Toy of the Year 2014.



Be the host with the most when the family are round for Christmas dinner.  Rather than having just crackers, have some Facemats to make everyone smile at even the worst of jokes.

Gnaw chocolate


Christmas is not the same without eating too much chocolate.  So let us help you with buy one get one free on artisan Gnaw chocolate in many tantalising and sensational flavours

Duck Fizz!

IMG_1661 - small

Prepare for that grand Hogmanay party with a ducktacular twist in the shape of duck fizz.

And remember … if you spend over £25, you get a free iPhone 5 case!


Shop Opening Hours:

Standard winter opening hours are 10am – 6pm every day.

Wednesday 24th December: 10am – 5pm

Thursday 25th December: Closed

Friday 26th December: 11am – 6pm

Saturday 27th – Wednesday 31st December: 10am – 8pm

Thursday 1st January: 11am – 8pm

Friday 2nd – Sunday 4th January: 10am – 8pm

Monday 5th January onwards: 10am – 6pm



Teeny Tiny Toddler Fest ’15: How do babies’ senses develop?

Humans are born with all five senses virtually fully developed. However, slight changes and improvements happen to these senses as a baby develops and grows and this happens at a different rate for each of the five senses.  For example, by eight months a baby will have developed an understanding of a full range of sound frequencies, but it takes until the age of two for a child to develop adult perception in terms of vision. Sensory development can refer to the improvement of the five senses but it also refers to how a child reacts to the input from these senses and how they then form an appropriate response.

So, how does this all fit in with Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions?

participantWell, believe it or not, babies can be fooled by illusions from as young as five months! In 2005 the University of Bonn decided to see at what age babies begin to decipher information on distance based on perspective. The test was simple, place two toys on a chessboard background which was drawn to look like it was receding away from the babies. The toys were placed at different heights to make it look like one toy was closer to the baby than the other.  The researchers had worked out that a baby would naturally grab the toy that was closest to them. The test was repeated several times with 20 seven month old babies and 20 five month old babies, all of whom had one eye covered; this improved the perspective of the drawing and helped the babies make a more informed choice about which toy was “closer”.  The toy that was placed lower on the drawing, and therefore looked closer, was the favourite with 19 out of the 20 seven month old babies and, even more surprisingly, with 16 out of the 20 five month olds. Until this experiment was carried out, it was believed that babies could not process information on perspective.  Researchers now believe that the ability to process this information could kick in even earlier.

So, what better place to bring your little one than to Camera Obscura and World of Illusions? We’ve been fooling adults for the last 160 years…let’s see how your toddler can handle our illusions!

The event will run from the 12th-18th of January, so make sure you don’t miss out!

To book tickets call 0131 226 3709.

You can also get 20% off your ticket for the event by completing our Teeny Tiny Toddler Fest survey:



University Of Bonn. “Even Babies Can Have Optical Illusions.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 April 2005.