Photog Captures Time in Stunning Color Pictures Using a Pinhole Camera


When Matthew Allred isn’t teaching photography to his students at the University of Utah, he’s out creating incredible works of photographic art with the simplest of tools; the pinhole camera.

Allred calls his process ‘Heliography’, a term first coined by pioneering French photographer Joseph-Niépce in 1822 to describe his photographic invention. Allred’s process is not too dissimilar from Niépce in the fact that he constructs his own cameras and even goes as far as formulating his own chemistry for the task.

He describes Heliography as:

A photographic process that utilizes pinhole cameras and ultra long exposures, ranging from 24 hours to 6 months. The resulting images are landscapes which feature the path of the sun. In the longer multi-month exposures the Sun’s path can be seen shifting with the seasons.

Check out this stunning example which not only captures the Sun’s arc, but its reflection on an office building too:


Earlier today we showed you ultra fast, high-definition photographs of the Sun. Allred’s Heliography work is a very different take on the same subject. In his artist statement, which can be read in full on his website, Allred makes an important point about photography and the capturing of time. When photographers want to capture tiny snippets of time they turn to the latest in technology, whereas when a long exposure is needed, they’ll resort to the most basic forms of photography such as a pinhole camera.

Considering the battery life on a standard DSLR is only capable of 2-3 hour long exposures, Allred’s pinhole cameras aren’t just a preference, they’re a necessity:

I originally set out to build a camera that could look beyond the instant and immediate present. I wanted it to accumulate time, slowly, like a meditation on its own purpose. It was designed to continuously capture the landscape until even the sun distorted to trace an arc of time across the sky. Throughout the history of photography the emphasis has been on capturing ever smaller slices of time. My approach, however, shifts away from capturing the instant and focuses on describing the expansive motions of extended time.

Allred’s Heliography not only captures the perfect composition for the study, it goes one further and does so with a beautiful aesthetic. Throughout the series is a wide variety of colours and textures, each one complimenting the next, detailing the fascinating movements of the Sun in a single frame. The silhouettes of mundane, everyday objects such as bridges, wind turbines and fencing become mysterious statues within the image.

We have seen other great examples of pinhole photography before and we’d love to know what you think about Allred’s work. Please let us know in the comments below.

Before you do that, take a moment to enjoy some fantastic imagery with a selection of Matthew Allred’s work:









You can view more of Allred’s work over at his website.

Heliography is currently showing at The Coconino Center for the Arts, Flagstaff, AZ.

Image Credits: All photographs by Matthew Allred and used with permission.

  • Kristian Saks

    The process is actually called solargraphy which ets its name from the sun solarising the sheet of photographic paper inside the pinhole camera. Heliography is quite different.

    That aside, the images are quite interesting. I’ve been using the same technique for several years now :)

  • Kay O. Sweaver

    Me likey.

  • Kat

    The most inspiring photographs I’ve seen in a while.

  • Alex

    Question — even though they are pinhole cameras, how do the images not over-expose over the course of six months, incredibly small pinhole? The pinhole cameras we make in my school usually are shot at 30 sec exposures, not thousands of times longer.

  • john james wood

    great stuff, love it

  • Kestas Z

    In solargraphy for medium we use not photo film, but photo paper with much less sensitivity.

    Btw, biggest problem with long exposures is not overexposure, but geocachers and other curious strangers :)

  • Alex

    We use photo paper too (black and white). Still can’t understand how it doesn’t overexpose though, I’ll just have to try it myself some time :)

  • dez

    it is actually called “solarography”

  • Graystar

    They’re interesting to photographers because of how they were made. But “art”? That’s a stretch.

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    Oh no, I’d say this is definitely art.

  • HidetoS

    I not only dig his work themselves, but also his philosophy and motivation behind it, that he “shifts away from capturing the instant and focuses on describing the expansive motions of extended time”. Great comment.

  • Kristian Saks

    Well you don’t use photographic paper in the conventional way. If you were to develop and fix it, the result would most probably be a black sheet of paper (haven’t tried it). In solargraphy (or solarography) the image is burned into the paper and visible when you take it out of the camera.

  • Slavo

    Very interesting, although the proper name spelling is solargraphy or solarigraphy (created for first time in 2000 in Poland, with artistic purpose in Solaris proyect).

    I like your approach, good luck with it.

  • Alex

    Thanks@facebook-1347194438:disqus — I checked out the Flickr group, read up on some instructions and background, and I definitely will try it out once I get some photographic paper from my school. Very cool how it works out.