Sunny Days: Building a Solargraph


I've never made a conventional pinhole camera before, but I tried solargraphy for the first time this fall. A solargraph isn't much different from a normal pinhole camera, but it's made to track the movement of the sun.

Unlike other cameras, solargraphs need an exposure time of a few months to capture the desired subject matter: the sun’s trails as they move across the sky. Because they’ll be outdoors all this time, they need to be built very durably. I just collected the results from my first solargraph and this tutorial is the product of me making a few more for the summer.

What you’ll need:

  • A container to be the body of your camera. I used a 23 oz soda can but any size will work so long as your paper will fit.
  • B&W RC photographic paper. I used Ilford 8×10. (The final image will be in color. I have no idea how that happens.)
  • Opaque tape – duct or electrical tape
  • Small amount of cardboard
  • Scissors or a box cutter
  • A pin
  • A darkroom (with dim red light if at all possible!)
  • A scanner
  • A location for your finished solargraph: an open view facing the sun

How to assemble:

1. Cut the top off your container. Since I’m using an aluminum can, I placed tape around the sharp edges to protect my hands and the photo paper.

2. Pierce a hole with the pin about halfway up your container. It should be about 3mm wide, but don’t worry too much about being exact.

3. Cover the pinhole with tape. This piece will serve as the shutter, so it’s important that it’s fairly opaque (I also covered the entire can with duct tape. Just an aesthetic choice; if your container is opaque this is not necessary). I ran out of black duct tape halfway through and ended up using teal — much more garish, but still effective. I’d stay away from white or yellow, though.

4. Make a “lid” for your camera. I just traced the top of the can onto cardboard and cut that out. If you have access to something waterproof (like plastic?) it might be better, especially if you’re leaving it out through winter. I put a few pieces of tape atop mine so it’ll be easier to place later.

5. I was using 8×10 photo paper, so I knew I would need to trim it down before it would fit in the solargraph. I recommend experimenting with a piece of regular paper before going into the darkroom. The paper should be about as tall as the container, and its circumference should be slightly less so that the paper doesn’t cover the pinhole. My can was 8 inches tall and had a 7.5 inch diameter, and I used paper that was 7 × 6.5.

6. Time to go to your light-sealed room. If your photo paper needs to be trimmed down, do that now. Since you’ll be using scissors or something else that’s sharp, and need to make exact measurements, now might be a great time to invest in a dim red light. It’s not impossible to trim the paper in total darkness though.

Once your paper is ready, roll it up EMULSION SIDE INWARD and slip it into the camera. If you’re in a darkroom that has dim red lights, you can look inside the can to make sure the paper isn’t covering the pinhole. If you’re in darkness, you can touch the inside of the can and feel a rough spot where you make the pinhole. If the emulsion side is not facing inward, or if that pinhole is covered, you won’t get an image after months of waiting!

7. Once the paper’s all set, put on the cardboard lid and tape it down. Don’t stop with the two pieces of tape we put on earlier though — really wrap a ridiculous amount of tape around the top. No light or water should be able to get inside.

8. Your solargraph is now complete! Congratulations. Your next mission is to find a location that’s perfect for the camera. You need an open view of the sky that faces the sun. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, this is South, and if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, face North. I duct-taped mine to a railing on the roof of my dorm. Make sure it’s secure and won’t move around over time. Remove the tape shutter.

10. Wait. Mark your calendar so you’ll know when to collect the solargraph.

11. Collect the solargraph. Cover the shutter with tape again before you move it.

12. Processing the solargraph is really easy. Cut through your lid in a dimly lit room, dry the paper with a blowdryer if necessary, and scan the image. You’ll have to invert the colors using a digital editing program.

Don’t let the paper cover the pinhole!

Words of Wisdom:

I chose to cover my entire container with tape, even though this isn’t necessary to the function of the camera. I wanted it to look as unassuming as possible, rather than resemble a discarded pop can. This won’t be necessary for everyone, but if your camera will be living somewhere frequented by other humans it’s probably a good idea. I also wrote a short note on the side of the can, explaining that it was a photo experiement and should not be removed. I even left some contact info just in case it caused a problem, or someone else wanted to know how to make a solargraph!

Scenery! This photo need not be just about the sun. My solargraph overlooked a part of the roof that frequently was rained on or had a large puddle, and the sun’s reflection is visible. A view over a lake, pool, or just a puddly road would be awesome! Having a beautiful cityscape, treetops, a landmark, would be a beautiful addition.

An artist named Tarja Trygg collects solargraphs from around the world. Once yours is complete, why not submit it to her website?

Keep the sun in mind! Each day it will be lower or higher in the sky. It peaks on the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and the Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Its lowest is the opposite solstice. So, if you leave your camera open from one solstice to the other, for six months, you’ll have captured its highest and lowest paths, and everything in between. From that point on, there are no different paths and it’s redundant to leave the solargraph out longer.

Since there is a digital component to “developing” a solargraph, play around with the level of detail you can achieve. I’ve yet to strike the right balance of color and scenery. Here’s a few different versions of my solargraph from last fall: the freshly-scanned negative and two versions of the positive. I usually present them as a group.

Information from this article was taken from Solargraphy, and Pinhole Photography by Justin Quinnell.

written by petrichorify on 2012-04-25 in #gear #tipster #pinhole #camera #tipster #solargraph #diy #lomography #light-painting #tutorial #long-exposure


  1. detroitlomo
    detroitlomo ·

    Can you use a scanner not meant to scan 35mm or 120 film for this? Because at the moment i only have my printers document scanner

  2. petrichorify
    petrichorify ·

    Yep, that's what I used!

  3. happydizy
    happydizy ·

    I'm going to try this now!

More Interesting Articles

  • My Pinhole F Cardboard Camera Inspired By the Diana F+ Camera

    written by raypg on 2014-09-05 in #lifestyle
    My Pinhole F Cardboard Camera Inspired By the Diana F+ Camera

    I love the different styles of cameras that Lomography has, but I also like to create my own cardboard cameras that use pinholes to be able to take pictures using traditional film. This time I created the Pinhole F, a camera inspired by the Diana F+ and shoots 12 pinhole photos using 120 film.

  • LomoKino: Life in Moving Pictures!

    written by adi_totp on 2014-08-21 in #reviews
    LomoKino: Life in Moving Pictures!

    I bought the LomoKino years ago, and since then I've been having great times with it. I will continue documenting my daily life with the LomoKino, which is Lomography in motion! You can see the movements and facial expressions of people - it’s priceless! Documenting life in moving pictures, the Lomokino can be used as a camera that not only shoots moving pictures but also works like the multi-frame wonder camera, Supersampler!

  • Kyoto in a Heartbeat

    written by kenaz on 2015-07-30 in #gear #lifestyle
    Kyoto in a Heartbeat

    Like a cluster of cherry blossoms, the temples in Kyoto can stop visitors in their tracks. These people assume the pose of a statue, a camera dangling from their neck and hands. On a first visit especially, the impulse to photograph every angle is constant. The Kinkaku-ji Temple and the torii-lined Fushimi Inari-Taisha are always packed; one would think the tourists would hurry along. But really, many are busy taking snatches of Kyoto with them.

  • Shop News

    The Lomography Experimental Lens Kit opens up a new, creative photographic domain!

    The Lomography Experimental Lens Kit opens up a new, creative photographic domain!

    Satisfy your hunger for creative snap-shooting with this lens package made especially for Micro 4/3 digital cameras! Don't miss the 20% discount!

  • Kimmiechem2 is our LomoHome of the Day!

    written by Eunice Abique on 2015-08-05 in #world #news
    Kimmiechem2 is our LomoHome of the Day!

    From everyone here in Lomography, congratulations to kimmiechem2 for winning Home of the Day!

  • LomoAmigos: Aquilo

    written by hannah_brown on 2015-08-05 in #people #lomoamigos
    LomoAmigos: Aquilo

    Performing on the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury Festival last year was one mean feat for Lancashire, England-based electronic musical duo Aquilo. With three EPs and a full-length album on the way, the band has caught considerable attention and received positive reviews. Here's a quick chat with Aquilo's Ben Fletcher and Tom Higham, who had the chance to shoot with the La Sardina recently.

  • Fascinating Stills from Cecil B. DeMille's 'The Ten Commandments' (1923)

    written by Julien Matabuena on 2015-08-05 in #world #lifestyle
    Fascinating Stills from Cecil B. DeMille's 'The Ten Commandments' (1923)

    These blue-tinted photographs were taken by Edward S. Curtis, renowned ethnologist and photographer who had also worked on the set of the 1923 silent epic film not only as still photographer but also as the second unit cameraman.

  • Shop News

    Shoot recognizable images with the Petzval

    Shoot recognizable images with the Petzval

    You want your subject be the center of attention? Petzval lens photos are recognizable for sharpness and crispness in the centre, strong color saturation, wonderful swirly bokeh effect, artful vignettes and narrow depth of field that will make your subjects stand out!

  • Travel Stories: Trekking Mount Papandayan by shufi

    written by Julien Matabuena on 2015-08-04 in #people
    Travel Stories: Trekking Mount Papandayan by shufi

    There are about 127 active volcanoes in Indonesia, one of the most popular ones being Mount Papandayan, located 2,665 meters above sea level in Garut, West Java. My boyfriend and I usually go hiking together so we decided to spend our long weekend holiday (three days/two nights) at Mount Papandayan.

  • Aton is our LomoHome of the Day!

    written by Eunice Abique on 2015-08-04 in #world #news
    Aton is our LomoHome of the Day!

    From everyone here in Lomography, congratulations to aton for winning Home of the Day!

  • Restaging the Tarot: Photographer Alice Smeets in Haiti

    written by Kwyn Kenaz Aquino on 2015-08-04 in #world #lifestyle
    Restaging the Tarot: Photographer Alice Smeets in Haiti

    A tableu project enlivens Haitian streets with prescient symbols and participative art.

  • Shop News

    Colorsplash your World!

    Colorsplash your World!

    At 30% off you can now color your analog images with 12 different color gels. Experiment with 35mm slide film and play with the built-in color flash for the most intense colors!

  • Vintage Gallery: European Actresses in their Early Roles

    written by kenaz on 2015-08-04 in #world #lifestyle
    Vintage Gallery: European Actresses in their Early Roles

    Young Helen Mirren playing a corset-clad model. Juliette Binoche and Julie Delpy in early training with Jean-Luc Godard. Lena Olin and Helena Bonham Carter in literary adaptations. Before crossover projects, these actresses had to pay their dues—in bit parts and breakout roles.

  • A Compilation of Lomo'Instant Stories

    written by Jill Tan Radovan on 2015-08-04 in #gear #news
    A Compilation of Lomo'Instant Stories

    There are many possible reasons for taking pictures. It could be to document an event, to capture breathtaking scenery, to preserve a fond memory, or simply, to have a snapshot of someone close to your heart. Whatever the reason, there's almost always a story behind a picture, no matter how significant or trivial it may be. And for lomographers, nothing beats the feeling of having that story unfold in your hand, in the form of a print. If you want a quick keepsake from that treasured moment or a snapshot of that special someone though, you can have it instantly, through Lomo'Instant Stories!

  • Photographing the Back

    written by kenaz on 2015-08-04 in #world #lifestyle
    Photographing the Back

    An ongoing exhibition at Pace/MacGill Gallery focuses on portraits taken from behind a subject.