Solargraphy (making a camera out of a beer can!)

Solargraphy is the art of long exposure photography that captures of the image of the sun moving across the sky.  These exposures can last days, months, even years. You do this by converting a beer can into a pinhole camera, by loading it with photographic paper and leaving it outside facing the sky. I first learned about this technique whilst doing a wet plate collodion course in Scotland last year and it totally fascinated me. It’s a combination of photography, art and astronomy all rolled into one and the results are just mind blowing! 

During lockdown I finally found the time to try this technique out and left a number of solarcans in position, including one overlooking Tynemouth Priory. This solarcan recorded the path of the sun for the first 50 days of lockdown and here is the finished result below, along with a photo of the pinhole camera in position:

My solar can in place on fence

After the success of my first solar graph I was hooked and started putting up some more solarcans, from my garden fence, to some well known spots around the North East. See some of the spots below:

The problem with attaching beer cans to public places, is that they always seem to draw attention of curious people. I’ve had three cans damaged or removed on the High Level Bridge, two damaged next to the Angel of the North and lots more just completely disappeared. However the buzz you feel when one remains intact and in position upon your return in amazing! Here’s a few more examples of some of my solargraphs below:


Angel of the North (one day)

Swing Bridge (one day)


Angel of the North. (This solar can had been damaged and moved)

Tyne Bridge and Swing Bridge

This solar can was totally crushed by someone

Garden (one day)

Garden (6 months)

The best thing about Solargraphy is that literally anyone can do it! All you need is the following:

1. Some empty beer cans (ideally 330ml cans)

2. Light sensitive photographic paper (5x7”) (Available online)

3. Waterproof gaffer tape

4. Scissors

5. Pin or Sewing needle 

6. Cable ties to fasten solarcan in place

7. Scanner 

If you would like to give it a go, here are the step by step instructions below:

1. Take an empty beer can and remove the top with a tin opener

2. So the can now looks like this

3. Stick a pin hole somewhere around the middle of the can

4. Make sure the pin goes all the way through

5. Inside a darkened room, place photographic paper inside can, leaving a gap where pin hole is

6. Place home made lid on and then cover can in gaffer tape (leaving gap where hole is). Place one last bit of tape over the pin hole. You will need to remove this, once camera is in place.

7. Attach solar can in place using cable ties and then remove the tape covering the hole. Leave in position as long as you wish.

8. Once finished, place tape over pin hole and take down can. Take paper out of can in a darkened room and put it inside a scanner straight away. Notice the image is in negative form, so you will need to invert it.

9. Once you’ve scanned the image, invert it and flip it horizontally. It should now look something like this

I hope you all enjoyed reading this blog and if you have any questions, please feel free to fire them over. Enjoy giving this a go. I’ve got lots of new solar cans ready to go out after Winter Solstice! 

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