Solargraphy Project: Back Yard

Here’s a view of our back yard, showing about 75 days of sunrises over the house. It’s a Solargraph, taken with a pinhole camera, home-made from a 1-quart paint can. None of the activities in the back yard during this 10.5-week exposure are visible in this image: mowing the lawn 5 or 6 times, a neighborhood party, playing with the dog…. What you can see are tracks made by the morning sun from late July on the left (and why is this part brighter than the rest?) to mid-October, arcing through the trees on the right.

The colors are “unusual” because the exposure was made not on film, but on a sheet of black-and-white photographic paper. The image does not need to be developed with chemicals—it’s already visible, but it’s dark and very low-contrast. So you scan it, invert it (because it’s a negative), and do some fairly extreme levels and curves adjustments to make the image less muddy. (You may also notice that the extreme contrast adjustments reveal some imperfections, seen as vertical banding, in my modest desktop scanner.)

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Tim Messick Photography • Graphics
Copyright © 2011 Tim Messick. All rights reserved.

About Tim Messick

Photographer, cartographer, and botanist/naturalist. Home is in Davis, California. Home-away-from-home is the eastern Sierra Nevada. Compiling a flora of the Bodie Hills.
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2 Responses to Solargraphy Project: Back Yard

  1. Greg says:

    Hi Tim, have you thought of using some type of box instead of a paint can, to eliminate the perspective distortion? Though I guess what makes a paint can good is that it’s rugged and easy to access and seal.

  2. Tim Messick says:

    Hi, Greg! The shape of the can does indeed lead to some distortion, as the 4″x10″ sheet of paper wraps nearly all the way around the can’s interior. The distortion of horizontal lines is accentuated even more when the can is angled up a bit to catch more of the sky and sun. Distortion seems to be part of the aesthetic of this genre, though, and sometimes the lines of the land bend and swoop as much as the lines of the sun through the sky.
    Trying a box with a flat back is a good idea. I’ll have to see what I can find or make in the garage. Another tenet of solargraphy, though, is to minimize your investment in the “camera”. I’ve been lucky so far, but a camera located in a somewhat public place for a few months may not be there when you come back for it.

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