Capturing the Sun’s Path: Exploring the Art, Science, and Chaos of Solargraphy

A solargraph camera is a simple yet fascinating type of camera that records the passage of time through a series of unique images. This camera consists of black and white photographic paper sealed inside a cylinder with a tiny pin hole drilled into the side. The cameras are then placed in a secure location, left undisturbed for days, weeks, or even months at a time. The duration for which the camera is left to record is at the discretion of the photographer, who may choose to capture as little as one day or an entire season. However, experts suggest that the ideal period of time for a solargraph camera to record is from solstice to solstice.

For three solargraph cameras installed on the roof of The Weather Network in Oakville, ON between June 21 and December 21, 2023, this was precisely what happened. The cameras were painted black inside and out to minimize reflections and positioned facing south to track the Sun’s movement across the sky. Leaving solargraph cameras in public places may result in theft or damage, so it’s crucial to choose a location carefully.

During this period, sunlight passing through the pin hole creates a bright line of exposure on the photographic paper whenever the Sun is shining. The Earth’s motion along its orbit causes the Sun’s path to shift by approximately 1 degree each day, resulting in a unique line of exposure being traced across the image for each day recorded by the camera. Clouds obstructing the sky will interrupt this line of exposure, with overcast days showing no trace while partly cloudy days showing a fragmented line.

As the photographic paper documents the Sun’s daily passage and changing angles due to Earth’s axis tilt, it also captures basic sky conditions present above the camera’s location each day. Each solargraph is a blend of art and science, featuring an extreme overexposure effect that results in colors ranging from deep blues to fiery reds depending on weather conditions like clouds or pollution levels. Expert Culp describes solargraphy as “a fusion of art, science and chaos.”

By Samantha Johnson

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