Taking photos with a pinhole camera requires very long exposures. But how about eight years long exposure? Artist Regina Valkenborgh made a pinhole camera from a simple beer can and he took a solargraph that’s believed to be the longest exposure photo ever taken. The camera recorded the sun’s path across the sky for eight years, capturing nearly 3,000 sunrises and sunsets.
A photograph thought to be the longest exposure image ever taken has been discovered inside a beer can at the University’s @BayfordburyObs! MA Fine Art graduate Regina Valkenborgh began capturing it in 2012 📸🌌
— University of Hertfordshire (@UniofHerts) December 10, 2020
Regina made the pinhole camera in 2012, near the end of her MA in Fine Arts at the University of Hertfordshire. She used an aluminum beer can, some duct tape, and placed and light-sensitive photo paper inside. She attached her camera to one of the telescope domes at the university’s Bayfordbury Observatory. After exactly eight years and one month, the observatory’s Principal Technical officer David Campbell removed it from the dome, and the project was successful. The resulting photo was named Days in the Sun, and it displays exactly 2,953 arced trails of the sun.
As Regina said in the statement, “it was a stroke of luck that the picture was left untouched.” She said that she’d tried this technique a few times before at the same place, but the moisture would always ruin the paper and it would curl up. “I hadn’t intended to capture an exposure for this length of time and to my surprise, it had survived,” Regina said. “It could be one of, if not the, longest exposures in existence.”
Days in the Sun was revealed on the Observatory’s 50th anniversary year. The Observatory shared a tweet with some interesting statistics about the 8-year solargraph: it has watched “16% of the observatory’s existence, 12% of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, and 4% of the existence of photography itself.” The project’s duration seems even more amazing when you turn it into numbers like this, doesn’t it?
The photograph was revealed on the Observatory’s 50th anniversary year – having watched 16% of the observatory’s existence, 12% of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, and 4% of the existence of photography itself.
— University of Hertfordshire Observatory (@BayfordburyObs) December 10, 2020
Personally, I have also never heard of longer-lasting exposure. Conceptual artist and experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats plans to break all records with his Millennium Camera. But, none of us will be alive when that happens since the exposure will last 1,000 years. Still, it’s a pretty interesting concept.
If you’d like to experiment with this historic technique yourself, I highly encourage you to do so. A pinhole camera can be made from all sorts of objects and you can find some ideas here. If you’d like to learn about pinhole photography, this article is for you. And you can even turn your digital camera into a pinhole camera, and you’ll learn how in this tutorial.