Solargraphy Camera

In this post, we will discuss the solargraphy in general and also provide you with the information on how to build own solargraphy camera, where and when to mouunt it, etc. 

Solargraphy Camera

Understanding the Concept of Solargraphy

In order to be able to create own camera for the solargraphy we first have to have the understanding of what the solargraphy is. It can be defined as the long exposure photography that is able to capture the movement of the sun over the certain period. Of course that period can be for a day, week or even years. Naturally on the of the length of the exposure depends the type of the photograph you will get.

How Solargraphy Cameras Capture Sun's Path

The way that solargraphy cameras capture the suns path is relatively simple concept. Solargraphy cameras are mainly created form the simple materials mostly from a can in which the photographic paper is placed. On the can is created a small pinhole that serves as the aperature of the camera.  This allows only a small amount of light to enter.

Of course the camera then should be placed strategically on a place where it can capture the movement of the sun. The pinhole’s small size causes the incoming light to be projected onto the photographic paper or film very slowly, resulting in an extended exposure.

Materials and Equipment

Essential Materials for Creating a Solargraphy Camera

As already previously mentioned, you will need a can in which you should put the photographic paper. The photographic paper or a film is what will capture the movement of the sun. Also you will need a small pin with which you will be able to create a pinhole through which the ohotographic paper will receive exposure. This hole must be really small and that’s why you will need a small pin.

Types of Photo Paper for Long-exposure Solar Images

Choosing the right photographic paper is essential if you want your solargraphy to be successful. Of course depending on how you want your photo to look you will choose the right paper. So, the first one and the most common one is Black & White photographic paper.

  • Black & White photographic paper:  It’s available in various grades that determine the contrast of the final image. Grades range from 0 (low contrast) to 5 (high contrast). The choice of grade can impact the final appearance of the Sun’s path. Additionally, black and white paper tends to produce more dramatic and high-contrast results, focusing on the light and shadow aspects of the image.
  • Color Photographic Paper: Color photographic paper is surely less popular option when it comes to the solargraphy. It can introduce an artistic scene because of the long exposure but most of the photographers actually evade it for this reason. The colors do not accurately represent the natural colors of the scene due to the long exposure times and the complex interactions of light.
  • Fiber-Based Paper: Fiber-based photographic paper is known for its archival quality and rich textures. It can add depth and character to Solargraphy images. Fiber-based paper is often used in traditional photography and can provide a more tactile and visually pleasing feel to the final prints.
  • Resin-Coated Paper: Resin-coated (RC) photographic paper is a more affordable option and is less susceptible to moisture and damage compared to fiber-based paper. It has a plastic-like coating on both sides, which makes it less prone to curling. While RC paper might not have the same tactile quality as fiber-based paper, it can still produce good results for Solargraphy projects.
  • Specialty Photographic Paper: Some specialty photographic papers are designed specifically for pinhole and long-exposure photography. These papers might have unique coatings, textures, or characteristics that enhance the final results. It’s worth exploring options that are explicitly marketed for alternative and experimental photography techniques.

Building Your Solargraphy Camera

First step is that you take the 16oz can, most commonly people use beer cans. Why I suggest using 16oz is that it will be able to fit most of the photographic papers inside who usually come in dimensions of 5×7”. Of course you can cut the paper and use smaller can but it is some extra work that you can avoid.

After you have prepared the can, take the can opener and remove the top part. Then use the scissors to remove the sharp and uneven edge left by the can opener.

Then you should wash the can from the inside so that there is no dirt left. Once the can is dried out you can take the needle and pick a hole halfway up the flat part of the can.  The pinhole should be about 0.2mm in diameter.  You should also put the small piece of the electrical tape over the pinhole from the inside part of the can in order to make the loading of the camera much easier.

Take another can and cut the bottom off, leaving about an inch or so of the flat part.  This will be the lid. You should be able to press the lid onto the body with a little pressure.

The next thing that can be done is that you should insert the photographic paper inside of the can. Of course we have previously discussed the type of paper you should use. This should also be done in fairly dark room since a lot of light can ruin the paper and ultimately your image. Gently roll up the paper, glossy side in, and insert it into the can. The electric tape you previously applied on the pinhole should prevent the paper going over the pinhole. After this you should use some tape to secure the paper in place.

Last step is that you should place the lid you cut earlier over the open end of the can and tape up the seam with a couple wraps of electrical tape.

Setting Up and Installing the Camera

Finding the Perfect Location for Solar Exposures

As previously mentioned you should place your newly built camera strategically outside so that it can capture the movement of the sun for long exposure. Your camera must also be super fixed. The less it moves in general the better picture you will get!

Also there are few more suggestions. People are super easily alarmed when they notice an taped object in their neighbourhood and are really suspicios. In order to avoid getting your camera removed without the notice you should hide your camera as more as you can. If you cant hide it well write your name and number on it and notify people that it is a pinhole camera that should not be removed.

Of course it can be challenging to find a good spot since it needs to have a clear view of the sun and it should be hidden at the same time.

Don’t forget to remove the tape from the pinhole after you secure your camera!

Factors Affecting Exposure Duration

The biggest factors that determine the exposure time is the brightness  or light in the environment. The more light the less exposure time it is required. In Solargraphy, the intensity of sunlight varies throughout the day and across seasons, impacting the length of exposure needed to capture the Sun’s path.

Of course the diameter of your pinhole will also determine the exposure time. If you create larger pinhole it will allow more light into the can. This means that the picture will require less exposure time.

The artistic and visual goals of your photograph also influence exposure duration. Longer exposures can result in smoother motion blur or light trails, while shorter exposures freeze fast-moving subjects.

The stability of the camera during the exposure is essential. Any movement during the exposure can result in blurred images. Solargraphy cameras should be securely positioned to prevent unintended movement due to wind or other factors.

Weather conditions such as clouds, haze, or atmospheric conditions can affect the amount of available light and the overall lighting conditions. Cloud cover, for instance, can diffuse light and might require longer exposures to achieve proper exposure.

The position of the Sun in the sky changes throughout the day and across different seasons. During the winter, the Sun’s path is lower in the sky, while in the summer, it’s higher. This impacts the angle at which light enters the camera, which can affect exposure duration.

Developing Solargraph Images

Prepare a darkroom or a light-sealed area with red safelight to handle and develop light-sensitive materials. Use appropriate developer, stop bath, and fixer solutions for the specific type of photographic medium you’re working with.

Development Process: Carefully immerse the paper or film in the developer, ensuring even coverage. Monitor the development time according to the paper’s specifications. Transfer the paper or film to the stop bath solution to halt the development process and prevent overexposure.

Immerse the material in the fixer solution to remove unexposed silver halide crystals, ensuring your image’s longevity. Rinse the material thoroughly in clean water to remove residual chemicals. Allow it to dry in a dust-free environment.

Of course you can always adjust and play a bit with the time and chemical dilutions so you can achive your desired outcome.

Sharing Your Solargraphy Creations

Portfolio Website – There are a lot of ways that you can share your creations with the worls, especially online. First idea is that you can create a portfolio website that will showcase your photos. If you don’t know how to create a website there are a lot of freelancers online who will do it for you for relatively cheap prices since that website should not be complicated.

Blog or Stories – Share the story behind your Solargraphy process. Write blog posts or short stories that explain your inspiration, the location of your cameras, and the results you achieved. A lot of people will be interested in the process if they are trying to achieve the same thing.

Social Media – In todays world people share a lot of things on various social media patforms. I would suggest using Instagram for photography in general as it is photo based network. You can also search for our profiles there and send the photos to us, we will gladly feature your photos to thousands of our followers. Here is the link to our profile.

Author at Photography Official

Hey there, I’m Dominic Corbyn​, and photography is my life’s calling. With countless shutter clicks and endless hours spent perfecting the art, I’ve earned my stripes as a professional photographer. You can catch a glimpse of my world on the Photography Official blog. Trust me, I’ve poured my heart into sharing insights that’ll help you navigate the captivating universe of photography.

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