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Camera Obscura

Posted by
Stephen Phillips (San Francisco, United States) on 18 February 2010 in Documentary & Street and Portfolio.

At The Cliff House - Lands End - San Francisco

The pyramid atop the roof shields a periscope which slowly rotates 360° collecting the scene and magnifying it through a lens pairing before projecting it onto a 6 foot (1.83 meter) parabolic surface inside the darkroom.

Here is a link to the camera's website. It is a funky site - but fun and informative. The Camera Obscura is more than worth the $3 admission - should you find yourself along the coast here.

© copyright 2018 by Stephen Phillips Photography / Oakland, California /
please respect these rights - do not copy or use these images without permission.

Mirko Herzner from Germany

This has the look of some strange submarine stranded in the last storm :-) Thanks for sharing, Stephen.

18 Feb 2010 6:05am

Alun from cheshire, United Kingdom

Love the shape, nice one

18 Feb 2010 6:19am

MontereyJohn from Salinas, California, United States

They used to have a wonderful museum under the Cliff House with all sorts of 19th century and early 20th century arcade thingies. No idea to where that has gone. I'll have to check this out.

18 Feb 2010 8:32am

@MontereyJohn: Good morning from a fog-bound San Francisco, John. I'll make short work of your inquiry. That would be the 'Musee Mechanique' which was in the basement of the Cliff House - right next to our Camera Obscura here - before they re-built it all.

The Musee moved and is still in operation - down at Pier 45 at Fisherman's Wharf' at Taylor and The Embarcadero - across from Grotto Number 9. Here is their website:

You will be instantly greeted by good ol' 'Laughing Sal' of 'Playland' fame. Seeing her at The Fish Wharf caused me momentary mental anguish - as I had just seen her at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk a few days earilier. Some research revealed that there were 319 Laughing Sal's built by The Philadelphia Toboggan Company in the early 20th Century. Each more annoying yet charming than the next. And now you know...

Anthony Morgan Lambert from Bielefeld(old West Wales boy), Germany

I just wish I could manage to visit this stretch of coastline but as it is often in life,money gets in the way of dreams.... Ah well,maybe one day !!!

18 Feb 2010 10:51am

@Anthony Morgan Lambert: Please allow a suggestion, Anthony: Get a few local hotels and B&B's to display your fine prints of local features. They get great images to beautify their walls and you get sales. Save your proceeds in your 'Trip to San Francisco' fund account - and we'll see you in 2012!

Chris from South Jersey, United States

what an unusual sight on the cliffs - must be a fun thing to do.....and a fantastic view......

18 Feb 2010 11:22am

Pavan Kaul from Mumbai, India

Wonderfully the depth and soft light and interesting subject!

18 Feb 2010 12:28pm

k@ from Paris, France

What an unexpected one ! Very interesting indeed !

18 Feb 2010 2:30pm

Cathy from Moon, VA, United States

Haha, this is great! How long has that been there, do you know?

18 Feb 2010 3:05pm

@Cathy: There was a Camera Obscura in the Mission District's Woodward Gardens in 1860. There is some historic record that shows a Camera Obscura on the forth floor of the original Cliff House in 1896. The present camera - as you see it here - was built and has been in continuous operation since 1946.

Liang from San Francisco, United States

i wish i had the wide angle lens to take this kind of photo. great shot of the giant camera above the cliff house here stephen!

18 Feb 2010 4:38pm

@Liang: Thanks for the visit, Liang. I own five Canon lenses and probably use this 16-35mm as much as all the others combined.

MARIANA from Waterloo, Canada

Interesting POV and compo .

18 Feb 2010 5:12pm

Rui from Leiria, Portugal

Looks like an alien spaceship abandoned on its own... very well spotted, and your elevated POV brings more interest, showing the whole "thing" and where it's inserted. Interesting shot.
Well done Stephen.

18 Feb 2010 6:12pm

Curly from South Shields, United Kingdom

Nice shot, I've only ever experience one camera obscura and that was sighted high above Edinburgh, you could spend hours looking around the city from up there.

18 Feb 2010 6:37pm

@Curly: Wow - I stayed several days in Edinburgh a few years back and never heard that they had a Camera Obscura. I'd have surely been there. Another reason to return!

sherri from Little Rock, Arkansas, United States

Very strange, Stephen:-)

18 Feb 2010 11:38pm

Viewfinder from Bradenton, FL, United States

Somehow this place totally escaped my SF radar during our visit. Rats! Looks like a cool spot to sightsee.

19 Feb 2010 1:28am

Paco Díaz from Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Fantastic invention! I like very much the idea andalso the angle of this photo.

19 Feb 2010 5:36am