Bomb Squad Called to Bridge to Deal with a Solargraphy Pinhole Camera


Solargraphy involves using a pinhole camera to shoot extremely long exposures of scenes. Photographers who engage in it often leave their cameras fixed to outdoor locations for months or years in order to capture the path of the sun across the sky.

Waiting until the whole exposure is complete before seeing if an image turned out is painful enough, but there’s another major difficulty that can cause practitioners pain: the cameras are sometimes mistaken for bombs.

That’s what happened last Thursday over in Virginia. The Roanoke Police department received a report of a suspicious device strapped to one of the metal support beams of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge with zip ties.

By sheer coincidence, there was a memorial and prayer service for Martin Luther King scheduled to be held nearby later in the day, so the police didn’t want to take any chances. Thus, they treated the device as an extremely dangerous bomb.


A bomb squad arrived on location early in the day and sent in a robot and a heavily armored expert to investigate. The police shut down traffic across the bridge to keep citizens from getting too close. They also visited nearby schools and advised everyone to stay inside the buildings.

After investigating the device up close, the bomb expert clipped the ties that held the can to the bridge, causing it to fall onto railroad tracks below.


The whole team then moved onto the railroad tracks to “defuse” the can.

Only much later in the day did investigators announce that the device was simply a homemade pinhole camera that some photographer was using for a long-term solargraphy project.

Authorities are now looking into pressing charges against the photographer due to the fact that their bomb defusing caused major disruptions to traffic.

Here’s local news station ABC 13’s report on the incident:

This story reminds us of a similar case back in 2011 in which a university was locked down for hours while a bomb disposal team investigated a solargraphy camera.

If you’re planning on investing months or years toward creating a solargraph, here’s a pro tip that could save you a lot of trouble: make sure your harmless pinhole camera is clearly labeled as such! (It’d probably be a good idea to include your contact information on it as well.)

Thanks for sending in the tip, Brad!

Image credits: Still shots and video by ABC 13

  • Jake

    Yeah! Every other country runs *towards* the bomb to show how badass they are!

  • Scott M

    Nope. But other countries wouldn’t stop traffic and make such a big deal out of it. By using common sense and logic, a more fitting response could have been taken that minimized both the impact to people and the embarrassing result. Police departments are soooo excited to use all their new toys.

  • Scott M

    Panic. Brought to you by the major networks (CSI, 24, NCIS, etc etc)

  • EOD222

    I hear the FBI is assembling a team to respond to this post. Good job citizen!

  • David Alex

    Haha this is kinda funny, but good to see they’re cautious

  • fat matt

    photobombing at its best!

  • Evan Skuthorpe

    I live in London, a pretty big city. And yes you can get permission to do these things, that’s what civil organisations are for. Call the council, call your MP. Perhaps in ‘big cities’ in the US where you’re more likely to be shot or arrested on vague anti-terrorism offences you can’t but then again, the ‘land of the free’ isn’t exactly free, more like trigger happy, paranoid and panicky. Hence this over the top, bomb squad reaction.

  • jsteele98

    Sadly you have pegged my country to a “T”

    And there is no way to stop it because far, far too many people have vested interests, money and power, in continuing the paranoia … they get very upset when people piss in their rice bowl.

  • jsteele98

    Scott, there is a LOT of money and power involved so its unlikely to be stopped any time soon … way too many people have a vested interest in keeping you on edge. They get very upset when people piss in their rice bowl.

  • jsteele98

    Because “We the People” are mere citizens … THEY are important.

  • jsteele98

    Been saying this since the jackass shoe bomber. The terrorists never have to risk being caught again, all they have to do is let some rumor loose on the Internet and our government will tie itself in knots restricting our rights.