A solargraph is a long-exposure image that shows the path of the sun as it arcs across the sky, usually over several months – and sometimes even longer.
Because it’s such an extreme long exposure, the image formed will record how the path of the sun varies over the weeks and months that it is exposed, and can produce pictures that are both scientifically interesting and beautiful to look at.
Fortunately, these are relatively easy and cheap to make.
In fact, all you need is an empty beer can with a small pinhole aperture loaded with a sheet of low-sensitivity photographic paper.
Position the loaded pinhole camera somewhere safe and sturdy, pointing towards the sun, and wait for three to six months.
During the exposure an image will form on the photo paper, but processing it in regular photographic chemicals will ruin the image, as it’s technically over- exposed.
The solution is a combination of old and new technologies, using a scanner to record the unprocessed image, then tweaking it in Photoshop.
Create a solargraph with one (empty!) beer can, photo paper and a scanner
In the can
Leave your can with photo paper inside it for three to six months. Before you open it, let it adjust to room temperature. Open the can in a dark room (ideally with a red safe-light; if not ensure the room’s dark). Dry the paper with a hairdryer if necessary.
Scan in the dark
Set your scanner to scan an area the same size as the photo paper and turn the preview scan off. In a near-dark room, place the photo paper on the scanner, close the lid and scan in colour at 500dpi. Next, put the scanned negative into a light-tight box.
Finish in Photoshop
Open the digital scan in Photoshop and go to Edit>Transform>Flip Horizontal. Invert the image (Cmd+I) to reverse the colours from negative to positive. The pinky-brown negative will turn blue, giving an impression of sky. Tweak the contrast and colour.
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