Solargraph | Solstice to Solstice

My long time-exposure is finally finished. It lasted 6 months starting near the Winter Solstice in December 2019 until the Summer Solstice in June 2020. Done in three parts, sunrise solargraphs were merged into this one image. Previous solargraph posts are found here.

Sunrises between Winter and Summer Solstices

A recent photograph of the current scene to the east.

The tools needed were simple. Ilford resin coated photo paper lined the inside of an old coffee can. The white photo paper is visible here wrapped inside this can. Small magnets held it firmly in place. The 5×7 paper size fit the can with no trimming. It can be trimmed to fit other sizes of pinhole camera.

On the opposite side of the can from the paper was a small hole to allow light to enter exposing the paper each day. A pushpin from a bulletin board was used to make the pinhole.

The final tools needed were a heavy rock and a ledge facing east at our front east-facing window. The rock held the can during windy days. We had a lot of those.

Starting in December, the can was left on the ledge for several weeks pointing southeast. The photo paper was removed and replaced with a fresh piece. The can was pointed a little bit more directly east and left to expose for several more weeks. Fresh paper was inserted and the can pointed a little northeast for the final weeks. Each exposure looked similar to this. Bright sunlight exposes the photo paper as dark streaks. Dark objects like trees appear light colored.

The paper exposures were placed on a scanner to be digitized. Photoshop was used to convert them to greyscale, invert the blacks to whites, adjust contrast and exposure, then merge the three images into one.


Our lives have been altered so much this year. There is unrest, violence, illness, death, isolation, and terrible stress on many people. This project was soothing for me because of the predictable way the Sun rose as it coursed to the north. Now it begins the journey south. I can count on this.

16 thoughts on “Solargraph | Solstice to Solstice

  1. Love your high-tec equipment. I remember how vivid the Milky Way was during the rural Iowa of my childhood. Just need to remember that it’s still there, even though I rarely get to see it anymore. (Yes, I wrote an essay about it–the first one I ever got paid for.)

  2. So interesting to see this in all one image. I note visually the points of sunrise and set through the seasons, but haven’t ever photographed it. It is pretty amazing to see the north to south range points. We travel far in 6 months!

  3. Even though it captures information which was entirely predictable, to actually see it on one image like that is quite a remarkable achievement. You must be very pleased with outcome!

    Many people would not even understand that the Sun’s motion changes in such a way over the course of six months, so as well as being a wonderful science experiment – capturing the motion of the Earth as it spins, orbits and appears to axially tilt – I think it also required great photographic skills.

    Am I right in assuming the paper was a photo-sensitive type which required development at the end of the period?

    PS, I like your brickwork!

    • I was very pleased with it. Things can happen to disturb the long process. Last year, I had a long exposure going and switched the paper out for a fresh one. I hadn’t lined the shiny interior of the can with black. Reflections made a very strange effect. Start over.

      I thought I had ruined the final two months for this latest image. I opened the can and saw nothing on the emulsion side of the paper. My heart sank. I had put it in the can backwards. But, when I turned it around, there was an image anyway. I didn’t realize the light would get through the paper anyway. Whew!

      The paper doesn’t need any processing at the end. It has an image on it but looks a lot like a negative of a color print. Do you remember film? No chemicals are involved. A quick scan to digitize captures it. The paper is now in a light-tight envelope along with a bunch of others from earlier projects. They hold their images in the dark.

      Thank you for your comments. I appreciate them.

      PS: Our house builder had done stone work before and was happy to do that wall. Glad he did.

  4. Very nice project, Jim! Since the stay-at-home orders I have become even more aware of the effect of the Earth’s axial tilt, not from photography but because my home office window faces ENE. As I sit at the computer the sunlight each morning traces a noticeably-variable angle on the desk and floor. My vertical blinds are easily adjusted to accommodate the changing angle but still allow enough light to trace the changing pattern.

    Speaking of the axial tilt, I read yesterday that one of the historically-coldest places in Siberia is experiencing a heat wave with a daily high record of over 100 F!! It is happening because the ice/snow cover has melted, virtually eliminating the area’s albedo. Since the sun never sets above the Arctic circle at this time of year the heating of the brown landscape is continuous! This of course is an historical tipping point that is accelerating climate change.

    • It is good to notice those things.

      I read about that excess heat problem. It forces a positive feedback loop. We are going to face many consequences in the decades to come. Our poor grandchildren will have to cope somehow.

  5. Wonderful post! Someone said the results were quite predictable, but to take the time to see it with our own eyes is what is important. Was surprised it didn’t take any chemicals. The world seems to be getting away from my understanding more and more each day. The only thing I know for sure is I can count on experiments that prove the secrets of the world, every time I learn something new. . . something amazingly new. Do you have an enlarger, red lights, trays and some old paper tucked away just in case you want to set up a darkroom again? Take care.

    • Thank you. I appreciate that.
      No, I don’t have that darkroom equipment. Never got into doing my own processing, etc. I can’t remember the last time I actually used film. The photo paper I used is really simple. Exposure makes dark areas on white paper. Keep it away from light after exposure and it will retain the image.

  6. The beautiful elegance of science is a comfort to me in these unsettling times as well, and I absolutely love this project of yours.

I'd like to hear from you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.