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This 8-year exposure (using a beer can) might be the longest ever taken!

12-year exposure using beer can
(Image credit: Regina Valkenborgh / University of Hertfordshire)

A university student may have accidentally captured the longest exposure photograph ever taken, with an 8-year shot of the movement of the sun – and it was captured on a very unorthodox camera. 

Forgetful students and lost cans of beer usually go hand in hand, and in this case they also went in hand with a student working on her master's degree. Regina Valkenborgh, who was studying for her MA in Fine Art at the United Kingdom's University of Hertfordshire, created a pinhole camera using a beer can in 2012 at the institution's Bayfordbury Observatory. 

Her goal was to record images without employing modern technology, so she constructed a camera by lining a beer can with photographic paper to make it suitable for pinhole photography

She placed the camera on one of the Observatory telescopes – where it sat forgotten until September this year, when it was removed by technical officer David Campbell, having shot a continuous long exposure for eight years and one month.

During that time it captured 2,953 arced trails of the sun, along with the building of an atmospheric gantry (visible from the center to the right of the photograph), which was constructed halfway through the exposure. The image also depicts the dome of Bayfordbury’s oldest telescope (to the left).

"It was a stroke of luck that the picture was left untouched, to be saved by David after all these years," said Valkenborgh, who is now a photography technician at Barnet and Southgate College in the UK.

"I had tried this technique a couple of times at the Observatory before, but the photographs were often ruined by moisture and the photographic paper curled up. I hadn’t intended to capture an exposure for this length of time and to my surprise, it had survived. It could be one of, if not the, longest exposures in existence."

According to the University, the current record for longest exposure photograph ever taken is believed to be held by a German artist, Michael Wesely, which captured an exposure over four years and eight months. While it seems unlikely that validated dates exist to make her an official record holder, Valkenborgh will surely stand as the new unofficial champion. 

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James Artaius

The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a magazine and web journalist and started working in the photographic industry in 2014 (as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy, who succeeded David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus). In this time he shot for clients as diverse as Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L'Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus, and providing training for professionals. This has led him to being a go-to expert for camera and lens reviews, photographic and lighting tutorials, as well as industry analysis, news and rumors for publications such as Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon MagazineN-PhotoDigital Photographer and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and demonstrations at The Photography Show. An Olympus (Micro Four Thirds) and Canon (full frame) shooter, he has a wealth of knowledge on cameras of all makes – and a particular fondness for vintage lenses and film cameras.