Tim's Vermeer Camera: the ENTIRE Installation




About: Physics teacher and visual arts enthusiast. Trying to advance the noble cause of vandalism by designing graffiti drones and recovering optical apparatuses of seventeenth century painters.

Okay, this is my first instructable and I am doing this in my Christmas holiday. I reproduced the camera installation from the film Tim's Vermeer on my job as high school physics teacher. That means I don't have all materials at my disposal to photograph yet, but I will upload them in a week or two.

I will try to keep this instructable as practical as possible. I can imagine that this will raise some questions on the optics behind the machine, so I will answer those in the last step.

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Step 1: What We Need

The camera consists of three components: A tiny flat comparator mirror, a positive lens and a concave mirror. The combination of lens and mirror work as a negative lens and I achieved reasonable results with just a negative lens (with a focal length of -20 cm). The thing is that the installation actually makes your image smaller, so you want a lens that has a long focal length so the image is not extremely tiny. Tim Jenison makes use of a lens with a focal length of 70 cm that he ground himself. Rightfully so, because these lenses are extremely hard to come by. Fresnel lenses with such focal lengths exist in solar ovens, but are useless for image projection because of spherical aberration and grating effects. The concave mirror can actually be any shaving mirror you can find for a few bucks.

So you'll need:

A large as possible positive lens with a focal length of at least 30 cm (embroidery lenses work fine here. (A company called Velleman has a pretty good one here.)

A shaving mirror (any will do, as long as it is concave)

Something to use as a comparator mirror (there's a tool called "inspection mirror" that is perfect for the job, but at my school we took small mirror tile we put at the end of a stick, so we could have entire classes work with those for less than 10 bucks.)

A table to work on

A screen with an angle of 90 degrees with the table top on which to put the concave mirror

some sheets of paper

a flashlight (optional)

Step 2: Setting Up the Comparator Mirror

This is reproduced extensively all over the internet, but I believe this method is the easiest. The mirror should be exactly in the right position for the image not to shift, otherwise you move your head and your image is different. This is how I let 13-year olds do it:

1. Take two identical sheets of paper (like to halves of an a4 or two a4's)
2. Tape one to your screen and put the other down on the tabletop

3. arrange your mirror in such a way that the angles of the paper on the table coincide with the angles you see in the mirror.

4. If you attach a photo to the screen, you can easily trace it on a sheet of paper. (this actually takes some practice and is fun to do. I recommend trying it before building the entire camera.)

Step 3: Enter the Concave Mirror

Put your concave mirror on the screen. That's it.

I know what you are thinking. "but doesn't the image shift forward now? Won't there be any parallax?" No, the virtual image the concave mirror creates is right behind the concave mirror. The only think you should make sure is that the object of the hollow mirror is then right in front of it. And this is where the lens comes in.

p.s Oh, and it is wise to put the concave mirror a little to the side, so the comparator mirror is not between the lens and the concave mirror. As long as it is in this correct plane (see previous section) you are quite allright.

(p.p.s I noticed that it doesn't make a big difference if you change the angle of the concave mirror a bit to center on the lens.)

Step 4: Putting the Lens in Position

Okay, so you got hold of a large diameter lense with a long focal length. You will want to project an image right in front of the concave mirror. So put a sheet of paper in front of the concave mirror (I usually go for a few millimeters, but if you tape the paper to the mirror that works fine). And you put a flashlight exactly where the nearest subject is you want to paint. That would be the object closest to the lens, like the carpet in Vermeer's Music Lesson. From that position, you shine at the sheet of paper. You know your lens is in the correct position when the led's or the bulb of the flashlight are sharply projected on the paper sheet. You can remove your sheet and flashlight now and start painting/drawing. You will notice that your object is projected on your tabletop without any parallax. So you can move your head as much as you want, the image will not shift in relation to the tabletop.

When painting/drawing, try to avoid the edge of the lens to minimise spherical aberration. Vermeer has some in his paintings, but you want to shift your lens a few times to expand your image. For this, you will just need to repeat this step with the flashlight in another position. I guess that if you are Johannes Vermeer or Tim Jenison, you might want to have a wooden framework in wich your lens can move within a set plane. But I never bothered.

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    8 Discussions

    aaron brown

    3 years ago

    Hi Dirruk- regarding this sentence "the object of the hollow mirror is right in front of it;" would the 'object' be the real image formed by the lens? I've attached a diagram below-- it's not correct, but I'm trying to learn. Thank you for the article.

    3 replies
    Dirrukaaron brown

    Reply 3 years ago

    It looks pretty correct to me. I mean, in terms of scale it isn't, but the principle is exactly right.

    The concave mirror "flattens" the image so the comparator mirror works better. You would see this if you were to put a second object slightly further away from the lens.

    aaron brownDirruk

    Reply 3 years ago

    Flattens the image? That is very interesting. Tim mentioned that word in an interview, and I've wondered what he meant. If I understand you correctly, does that mean parallax in the scene is eliminated? I've added an image below to illustrate:

    Figure A.) A sphere, cone, and cylinder are at different distances to the lens.

    Figure B.) The scene, as viewed in the comparator mirror.

    Figure C.) I'm unsure of this: The scene, as viewed in the comparator mirror, but with the viewer's head shifted slightly... is there parallax movement between the sphere, cone, and cylinder?

    Dirrukaaron brown

    Reply 3 years ago

    Well, the comparator mirror eliminates parallax if placed correctly. It puts its virtual image on the working surface, i.e. the tabletop. But it only does that if the image is two-dimensional, like a projected image on a screen or a photo stuck to the wall.

    The virtual image of a lens isn't exactly flat. It is compressed in depth, but it isn't flat. The further the object goes away from the lens, the closer the image gets to the focal length. Since this is a hyperbolic function, there is some depth compression going on, but it doesn't make the image really two-dimensional. The concave mirror does some compression similar to the lens, but from the other side. The result is that all depth in the room (about 5 meters) is compressed to a few millimeters. Almost entirely flat and thus perfectly suited to use with a comparator mirror.

    You can try in your first drawing. Just put a second object further away from the lens. You will see how this distance hardly matters in the position of the eventual mirror image.


    Reply 3 years ago

    You're welcome. It is my first instructable, so I guess there will be some unclarities. I'm ready to answer questions and expand this instructable where needed.


    Reply 3 years ago

    I think it's pretty clear, and a very good first instructable. Teachers generally write good instructables! :)