How Does a Camera Work? - Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Kathryn Miedema Dominguez

Kathryn has taught elementary students for over ten years and has her master's degree in elementary education.

The invention of the camera has allowed humans to capture a moment in time and revisit it forever. Today, digital cameras make taking pictures really easy. In this lesson, you will learn about the similarities and differences between film and digital cameras.

Basic Cameras

Most kids these days haven't used a camera that uses film. Today, digital cameras are the most commonly used. Many people have a digital camera on their phones. Whether a camera is digital or uses film, there are some basic commonalities among them. They can capture a moment in time called a picture. So, what happens when you push the button on a camera to take a picture?

Film Camera

It's All About Light

The very first thing that has to happen when working a camera is that light has to pass through the lens. The lens is a glass plate that covers the opening to the camera's body. The lens directs from an object to the film when the shutter opens.

When you push the button on a camera, it opens a shutter, which is a lid that protects the film. The shutter is like your eyelids, and when you open them, then the light comes in. On a camera, the shutter opens and closes really fast. It only wants to let enough light in to capture the image and then close before it gets too much light. The film is stored in the camera's body and has special chemicals on it that cause the film to change colors when light touches it.

What's interesting is the image on the film is the opposite of what you see. For example, if you were to take a picture of a dalmatian dog, then the spots would be white and the background fur would be black. This is called a negative film. The negative film is the strip of plastic that captures the image through a chemical process in opposite colors. Once the film is processed in other chemicals, then the colors reverse and the image appears as it did when the button on the camera was pushed.

The trees are light and the sky is dark in the film negative.
Film Negative

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