The Solarcan

I've never used Kickstarter before. The projects have either been too mundane, too risky or simply not interesting. Usually they tend to be too risky for my appetite and the approach is littered with failed examples and lost money.

However I did want to share the first Kickstarter project I've ever backed. The product is complete, so no risk. The idea is something I think is cool. And it's priced nicely.

It's called the Solarcan.


Doesn't look like much! 

Howver inside is a 5x7" piece of photographic paper with the can serving as a weather-proof container. There is a hole in the side equivalent to an f/132 pinhole aperture.

The idea behind solar photography is to shoot long exposures - VERY long exposures,  of the order of months and even years. Sample results are shown below but generally you get otherworldly, ghostly representations of your scene with a series of stacked light trails as the Sun moves across the sky.

My favourite of the three sample images, I love the water reflections of the path the sun has taken. 

My favourite of the three sample images, I love the water reflections of the path the sun has taken. 

This is a very unusual form of photography, one that we as photographers have little direct control over. In fact, what control we do have is where to point the camera and even then it's a best guess scenario! I think it's a wonderful approach to produce some unique and creative images.

The Kickstarter is still running and a Solarcan can be picked up for £15 in the UK.

 I also took took the chance to interview the creator of the Solarcan, Sam Cornwall, and ask him a few questions. 

DCP: What prompted you to start this project, then take it to kickstarter?

I recognised that this type of photography was something people were interested in, but found it difficult to get the materials or knowledge to create one of their own. I have made many at home and attempted to sell them as recycled, clobbered together items for people to use, but it just didn't work. Solarcan is a solution to that problem. Kickstarter is the platform to see if people believe in what I'm doing.

DCP: Were you nervous about launching it on Kickstarter? Solar photography is a relatively niche interest!

I don't think it is. On first impressions I can understand why anyone would think that, but honestly the intended market is anyone with an interest in: photography, art, astronomy or science! Young or old, this could be a fun, easy to install project for anyone.

DCP: Some techie questions - what are the minimum & maxium exposures you would recommend?  Is there an optimum you've found in your testing? Does the film inside have an ISO rating or is it not really comparable?

No less that a week to anything over a year! For optimum results go from winter to summer solstices. That way you'd catch the entire coverage of the Sun through the sky. Inside is photographic paper, not film (no processing required before you ask.)

DCP: There have been some public cases of solar photography cameras being confused for bombs and destroyed - what advice would you have when it comes to placement?

Place it somewhere with permission. If you put it somewhere public you do run the risk of someone damaging it also. 

DCP: What were the biggest challenges in designing & building the cameras?  What would you do in a solarcan mk2?

Thinking ahead, I like it! If I manage to sell the first 1000 Solarcans I have the materials to build, a Mark 2 will definitely be on the cards. I'm keeping the 'upgrades' secret at the moment.

DCP: What are you plans for the future? Can the idea be upscaled to produce larger cameras? What would the benefits of a larger photo-paper surface area be?

Solarcan, as much as it is a camera, is also an idea and a learning experience for people. Anything that achieves that goal and creates excitement around those three ares: photography, art, science is my goal.

DCP: What does it feel like to be an inventor?  I'm assuming it feels pretty epic :)

Ha! Well thank you. The design is borrowed from a workshop style camera which you create out of spare and old parts. Solarcan simply turns that into a finished, ready to use product with everything you need to create a Solar photograph. Believe me though, I have a few more grey hairs now than before. The start up costs to make this a commercial product have broken me.

DCP: Tell me more about you - your background in photography, what you shoot etc.

Gosh, how long do you have? I'm a photographic artist and I have owned and used many different types of camera. Wetplate, film, non lens based, pinhole, glitch, video, experimental. Anything to do with the 'reproductive arts' a la Walter Benjamin is within my scope.

Also, I'm 36, a father to 2, live in the Scottish Borders with my wife Beverley who is also a photographer.

DCP: What advice would you give to people looking to start their project on kickstarter?

This is my first Kickstarter, so I don't know if the successful funding is attributed to luck or hard work. Make sure your goal is attainable, you can deliver on the pledges and skip all the hyperbole!


The cans should be available in May. Which means the results of my first image should be available in, well, 2018....