Antarctica Day

Below you can enjoy the results of a collaborative school, art & science project. Camera Obscuras were distributed to several school locations throughout Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg for a science education project.

Detailed  information about the recorded images can be found on this XLSheet.

Background story
Every year APECS organises a special day to celebrate and educate everything there is to know about Antarctica. This year I am participating with a special solargraphy project emphasising on the theme Night and Day. It is a joined forces project of APECS Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg. I have always liked the name BENELUX and to be involved in this collaboration is an absolute pleasure. Until now my long exposure photography has mostly taken place on Spitsbergen in the Arctic. Talking about differences between north and south we found common ground in the theme of light and the idea to reflect on the influence of light on working in the field as scientist or artist.



Solargraphy is the technique of capturing a longer period of the sun’s trajectory into one image through pinhole camera’s. A pinhole is just a tiny hole, it means that the camera we use has no lens. The light falls through this tiny little hole in the front. Inside the camera is a piece of light sensitive photo paper. The image in front of the camera projects itself on the back of the inside of the camera and gets recorded. Steadfast objects will be recorded over and over while moving objects like people and cars are not. So there is no privacy issue at stake her, people will not be recorded onto these images. The beauty is that, when the sun passes by she writes her own track onto the paper, etched into it like a black stripe showing the trajectory through the sky. When it’s dark at night, there will simply find no recording place, possibly an occasional street lantern will show up on the result, but usually the light is too dim to be recorded in this technique. We really need the power of the sun.

Below you see an image of the type of camera’s we use. If you look close, you can see the tiny needle size pinhole.
pinhole camera by Udo Prinsen
They are old film canisters, before the days of digital media capturing a photo camera would need a roll of film. These rolls came in canisters like these. IN this image you see one tightly secured to a wooden structure in order to keep it in place for a long time.

Step 0.
Make sure to plan to hang the camera’s before 21 december 2018. This is the day with the least amount of light in the year and we will work towards the day with the most light 21 june 2019. The goal is to record half a year of solar tracks.

Step 1.
When you receive and open the package first of all make sure all the shutters of all the camera’s are still closed with a piece of black electro tape covering the front. On the camera you will find a white stripe, this is the front, where the pinhole is (1). Next, think about a location where you could hang the camera’s for a very long period. It should be a place where you can see the sun and at the same time see the structure of a building, an antenna or something else interesting.  You can play around with direction, if you point the camera towards the east you will record a rising sun, to the south you will catch the sun ad mid day and to the west the sun going down. The beauty of working in the (Ant)Arctic is that, in the summertime, we can also catch the sun facing north as she will not go down below the horizon. It would be good to find a location that does not bother anyone for the next half year, if possible maybe a bit hidden.

Step 2.
Make sure you attach your camera to a rig or something that allows you to tape it very tight. Remember, it should not fall down for the next half year, it has to be taped very tight. Usually it is good to use a combination of cable ties (tie wraps in dutch) and strong duct tape (2)

Antarctica Day insructies 1

Step 3.
When you have set the location and the direction and you camera is tied strongly to a rig, you can open the pinhole by removing the small black tape on the front.
Check the number of your camera (3) and make a note of the date you opened the lens, your GPS location and the direction in which the camera is pointing. If you want, you can  be very precise using a compass to find the exact angle. For this project it would be OK to note east, south or west. That said, in the light of APECS nature, the educational fun is in the science of it, so to be as accurate as possible.

Step 4.
Don’t touch the camera until 22 June 2019.

Step 5.
Close the lens. Stick the black tape back onto the lens.
Make a note of the date the camera was closed.

Step 6.
Take the camera’s down, and send them back all together in one box.

Step 7.
Be patient, the results will not be available until late 2019.
It is a fun lesson in not being able to control this element. Try to let go.

The principle of a pinhole camera or camera obscura is very old and can be build in many ways. It was already used by Leonardo Da Vici and even in roman times and in ancient ~china were records of a similar usage of light to create images. In present day we have examples of versions as big as a caravan, a ship or you can even transform  your entire class room into the inside of a camera. All you need to do is to make it very very dark, cover the windows with black cloth. Then you need to find the middle of the room on the side where the window is and create a small hole in the dark cloth. The light will fall through and slowly you will be in the middle of the outside world which will be projected on the other wall and filling the room. Mind you it will be upside down and in mirror image, like in the example below.

camera obscura

What you need
– a pop soda can.
– a needle
– black tape
– scissors
– light sensitive matte photo paper (for example you can use Adox Easy Print – follow this link for a Dutch online shop or use a search engine for a shop near you)
– computer & scanner

For your own camera you can begin with a pop soda or a beer can. Cut off the top wit a special type of scissors, find the middle of the can and stick a needle through the can on that spot. Be careful, you are working wityh sharp materials. Now you have a can with pinhole. The next step is, you have to go into a very dark room, use a special red light or a red light filter on the light of your phone so that you will not expose the paper with natural light before it’s in the can. The bathroom is often a place that could do service for your household photo dark room. Make sure you have light sensitive photo paper available and fill half the can with that paper, opposite the tiny hole. The paper should be matte, if you use brilliant foto paper it works too, but you risk reflection of sunlight beams inside the camera). Close the can by taping the lid back on. Make sure no light can fall into the can from anywhere else than the pinhole. Close the pinhole before you leave the dark room or turn on the regular light. Take your can camera outside and find a place where you would like to record a long exposure image capturing the sun’s tracks.
When you are done after a certain period of time, take the can back into the dark room where you will need a computer and a scanner. Your image is a negative, you  will need to scan the image right away and turn it positive using image edit software tools like photoshop. You don’t need to use any chemicals like developer or stop, it is not necessary with this type of long exposured photo paper. Scan it, use software to turn the image positive and see the magic happen !

Dutch Arctic Station. Maarten Loonen is a Dutch scientist and manager of the Dutch Arctic Station in Ny-Alesund, Spitsbergen. He helps me realise images on that location.

Solargraphy by Tarja Trigg, one of the first scientist I heard of using solargraphy. She has developed a website with a lot more explanation and inspiration. Also on HOW TO make solargraphs.

Analemma, a phenomenon caused by the evolving of the earth around it’s core and shifting position in relation to the sun.

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