Around 400 BC, Chinese philosopher Mo-ti recorded an inverted image formed by light rays passing through a pinhole into a dark room.
The pinhole effect is based on the scientific law of optics. Light travels in a straight line. When light rays pass through a small hole, the rays cross and reform the image upside-down on a flat surface.
Aristotle (384-322 BC) observed the sun during a partial solar eclipse using leaves and a hole in a filter to view the phenomenon.
Leonardo Da Vinci gave two clear descriptions of using pinholes to view solar eclipses in his notebooks around 1490.
German astronomer Johannes Kepler first used the term camera obscura (latin for "dark room") in 1604 to refer to these rooms and boxes.
He used camera obscuras for astronomical applications and used a portable tent camera obscura for surveying upper Austria.
Two uses would evolve for the camera obscura: art and entertainment.
During the 1600's-1800's, artists used camera obscuras for drawing and painting. Both portable, boxed camera obscuras were used along with room-sized ones.
This easily led to the photographic camera in the early 1800's with the addition of a sheet of light sensitive material to the camera obscura.
Art Controversy: Talent or Copying?
A camera obscura is believed to have been used by Vermeer in the above paintings along with the background painting. It is still debated in the art world of whether he was that talented of an artist to paint in such camera-like detail or whether he was using a camera obscura to aid in his painting.