When Art meets Science

When you are snapping off a picture, exposing a film, uploading an album onto your Facebook, did you ever think about what makes it possible for you to do all of these?

Pretty as it is, what behind these photos is the hidden science.

How can we see the image?

The word “photography” came from “drawing with light”. The light reflected from a subject is processed by our eyes and brains to provide sense of sight. The difference in wavelengths results in a variety of colors. Jumble of light reflected from points on subject is controlled by the iris in intensity and by the stretching and compressing of lens in focus to form an image.
One characteristic of light is that its path is bent as it passes between mediums of different density, for example from air to glass. This principle is used to construct a converging lens. Such a lens takes the jumble of light from one point on the subject and converges these rays to one point of focus. The lens is moved backwards or forwards to focus, that is to create a sharp image. The image formed by a lens or pinhole is upside down.

Please click to see larger view

Both the shape of the lens and the density of the glass alter the light bending power of the lens. The ‘focal length’ of a lens is a measure of its light bending power. For a simple lens the focal length is the distance between the lens and where the light rays are brought into focus.

For the same subject a shorter focal length lens produces a smaller image than a long focal length lens.

Please click to see detail of a long focus lens

The image quality of a simple lens is poor, that is why compound lenses are used in most photographic equipment. Within a compound lens barrel there are several positive and negative lens elements, each with their own focal length. A good quality lens will produce a bright, sharply focused image without aberration.

A ‘standard’ lens is used to produce an image that is roughly equal to the human eye’s view of the scene. A standard lens has a focal length that is approximately equal to the diagonal of the film format. For example the standard lens for 35mm film is about 50mm however for the larger medium format film it is almost 80mm.

The focal length of a lens, in conjunction with the aperture setting, determines how much of the view is in focus. The amount of the view, from near to far, which is in sharp focus is called the “depth of field”. The shorter the focal length of a lens the greater the depth of field.

So next time, when someone ask you what will happen when Art meets Science, you should give them the definite answer “MAGIC!”.


This entry was posted in Science of Everyday Things by sunnyxinyiwang. Bookmark the permalink.

About sunnyxinyiwang

Hi, my name is Xinyi Wang, but everyone calls me Sunny (So often that my friends blame me for raining.). I am a senior at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, majoring in Biochemistry and Organizational Management and Communication and minoring in Biology and Psychology. I am from Shanghai, China (and YES, it is really different from the small town in Indiana I'm at now). I am member of Science Research Fellows Program and Information Technology Associates Program here at DePauw. On campus, I am actively involved as civic intern for WTIS trip, Director of Fundraising for Timmy Global Health-DePauw Chapter, President of ASIA club, Campus Rep for Clinton Global Initiative University and Student Senator. I love to explore and have lots of interests. My loves for photography and video production are no less than my love for sciences and nature. Who says Art and Science can't work together? Since the medical brigade I went on with Timmy Global Health to Tena, Ecuador, I am committed to this cause and global health. I am planning on attending graduate school for a MPH (Master of Public Health) or MHA (Master of Health Administration) after graduation. I am also planning on going to medical school afterwards. (So yes, I will be in school for a long time.) I hope you enjoy this Common Sense Science Blog and join us to uncover the science in our everyday life.

3 thoughts on “When Art meets Science

  1. Hey Sunny,
    I am excited that you posted about cameras and lenses. I have been interested in photography and I found it useful to get this refresher on what really the physics behind lenses is.
    I recently watched the keynote to the newest iPhone 4S and while I was reading your post, part of that came back to me. They apparently added another lens in their camera, making a total of 5, in order to make the image brighter and more crisp:
    When I read your article it does make a little more sense why a complex lens will allow for such flexibility and a better image in the iPhone 4S. The properties of multiple lenses make for a complicated physics problem, but simplifying them and showing that an image can be portrayed in better detail using a complex rather than a simple lens is vital to understanding the process.
    Thanks for explaining that.


  2. The title of the post “When art meets science” and its optics content remind me instantly a talk I went to a month ago at DePauw. The speaker, Dr. Charles Falco is a physics professor at University of Arizona. In 2000, he worked with the British-American artist David Hockney in discovering the evidence of using optical projections as aids in paintings made as early as 15th century. By accurate mathematical calculation, they have shown that the distortion in the perspectives of the paintings is a result of the focusing and re-focusing effect of certain type of optical instruments (lenses). The conclusion that even many renowned artists have used optical instruments to aid them in painting has caused heated discussion among art history scholars .

    Here are the links to a talk given by Dr. Falco in this topic. It is very interesting – check it out:

    Here is an introduction to their findings by Wikipedia

  3. Hey Sunny,

    The topic of your post immediately made me think of the art of science visualization. Structural biology is on the rise with scientists being able to create a visual representation of protein structures, DNA, RNA, cells, etc. I think these visual representations can be considered a form of art. I believe they are pretty at least! There is a publication titled the Journal of Structural Biology put out by Elsevier that contains many of these novel structures.
    The structure of a molecule can shed light on the functions and mechanisms of that molecule. It has always been known that structure and function go hand in hand when discussing biomolecules. We are now able to determine the structure of these biomolecules and then in turn determine their exact function. This kind of knowledge can impact many aspects of life from drug development to alternative forms of energy through better understanding of the combined force of structure and function.
    Recently a new game online came out that allows anyone (not just trained scientists) to determine (or play around with) molecular structures, typically protein. It has kind of taken the area of structure determination by storm enticing people to play and potentially learn science. Gamers that played the game have even been able to determine the structure of a molecule to a higher degree than a computer running the program. It has been fascinating to see this new combination of scientists and gamers come about.
    It is nice to sit back and think of science in the different light of art. You can see how beautiful the world truly is. Thanks for posting!

    Elsevier Journal of Structural Biology http://www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-structural-biology/

    Foldit Solve Puzzles for Science http://fold.it/portal/

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