Make Your Own Camera Obscura: IDI Student Interview with Tim Fisher (Photography)

We sit down with IDI Photography student Tim Fisher to find out how to make a Camera Obscura at home and his secret to mixing work with play when it comes to a career in the creative industries.


What was the initial inspiration behind the ‘Charleroi: A Light On Earth’ Project?

There were two inspirations. Firstly Abelardo Morell, he is an American photographer born in Cuba and his work is inspirational, whatever he chooses to do. One of his projects was indeed a tent Camera Obscura but his projects are numerous and all interesting! Also worth a look is the work of Robyn Stacey in Australia, doing the same thing only on a different side of the planet.

‘Charleroi: A Light On Earth’ photography project by Tim Fisher

The other inspiration was Charleroi itself, I visited a year or so ago and saw that it was a town that had once been very opulent but was now, in many places ruined as the industries had left, leaving behind the shells of old factories etc. I thought I could use this is some urban photography project and perhaps simulate the work of Marchand and Meffre in Detroit, but this just wasn’t difficult enough for my final project so then incorporated the use of the tent Camera Obscura.

Camera Obscura prototype built by Tim Fisher

How did you build your Camera Obscura tent? Tell us a little about how this works?

I built 4 different versions of my Camera Obscura, the first one from reclaimed tent poles bent into a dome shape covered in black bin bags but it was not light tight enough (although an image was visible). Then different versions, even a pyramid made of wood, but it needed to be transportable within ruined buildings.

Camera Obscura built by Tim Fisher

In the end I googled light tight tent and what do you know, on amazon they sell light tight tents for indoor horticulture. The tent has entry points for bright lights and ventilators which can be closed not allowing light out of the tent but similarly, not allowing light in! this was idea. My lens had a focal length of 2000mm and the top of the tent was two metres high, so I was very happy.

‘Charleroi: A Light On Earth’ photography project by Tim Fisher

The photographs feel like memories, is this something you explore often in your work?

No. Professionally I am an architectural photographer. Architects are extremely demanding when it comes to photographing their work, my top client is Zaha Hadid Architects in London and they are one of the top architects in the world. Perfection is the name of the game. BUT when I’m not working I like to explore old forms of photography, Camera Obscura, pinhole, 5×4 negative and cyanotypes. It is at completely the opposite end of the spectrum from architectural photography.

Oculus WTC, New York. Photo by Tim Fisher
Oculus WTC, New York. Photo by Tim Fisher

Tell us a little more about your pinhole camera project?

I love alternatives to digital photography everyone has a digital camera, everyone is a photographer. What I like to do is go back in time to the days of Victorian photographers where every image takes time and effort to produce. To ‘earn’ every photograph. Pinhole photography is not as easy as it looks, it takes time. I use direct positive paper so that when I develop my work it is immediately a positive photo. It is also unique, one sheet of paper, one image, there are no others..

Pinhole Camera photography project by Tim Fisher

How does the pinhole camera work? Did you build this?

I didn’t make it myself, although this is very possible and in the past, many years back I did make one from a shoe box. I use the Hartman Titan pinhole camera from Ilford and direct positive paper in 5×4 film holders.

How do you strike a balance between commercial and artistic projects?

Commercial is where I make some money, artistic is my hobby and experimental area. I learn a lot from the experimental area, it makes me investigate the work of other photographers, read books. Commercial work I also enjoy, getting new clients, travelling, photographing, enhancing in post processing, having happy clients. I enjoy it all, it truly is my life.

Port House, Antwerp. Photo by Tim Fisher

What made you choose to study with IDI?

I’m English but began this course when I was working in Germany in a completely different job as a senior director in a large logistics company. I knew that I wanted to step away from this but to start my own photography company I knew that I would need a proper qualification. So in June 2013 I searched the internet for online courses with a REAL university degree qualification. IDI offered a real degree from the University of Hertfordshire, which is a highly recognised University. Much to my surprise I passed the entry exam and was accepted.

It was also very convenient to do an online course as I knew that I would be moving from Germany to Belgium and needed the flexibility to work on my degree when I had the time, although there are final deadlines on this course during the semester you can work at your own pace.

How has studying with IDI impacted on your work as a photographer?

It has opened my eyes a great deal. My horizons have broadened beyond belief. The history of photography is so deep and so wide. I could be reading about it for the next 30 years and still not know everything. IDI and its tutors made me investigate avenues of photography that I never knew existed and because of this I think I have become a much more informed photographer drawing on both historic and contemporary photographers work to inform my own practice.

IDI and its tutors made me investigate avenues of photography that I never knew existed.
Tim Fisher
BA (Hons) Photography

What are you working on now?

Currently I have three projects on the go. The biggest being the Zaha Hadid Condominium called 520 west 28th street in New York, next to the High Line, which is due for completion later in the year but they needed intermediate photos. Plus two renovation projects just being completed in Belgium of Antwerp Zoo which was built in the late 1800s and has been renovated by a company called Origin and the same for the Museum of Africa a large renovation project almost completed. These last two are projects for the next two weeks.

What are your plans for the future?

Develop my business further, try and fathom out pricing. If ever anyone says that they know how to price different photography for different clients, they are lying. Once you become a recognised photographer and have lots of work (some even turn it away!) then you can price however you like but in the start-up phase where every customer is valuable it is extremely difficult to get the price right to ensure the customer is happy, but every customer is different and every customer has a price in mind. Sometimes I get it right other times I don’t…

Visit Tim’s website for more examples of his photography work.


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