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

  • ATrapAtNoon

    *defuse ;)

  • Michael Zhang

    Haha. Too much writing about photography over here. Thanks for the catch :)

  • Pat O’Brien

    I can’t help but think the vibrations on that bridge would hinder the final result. Wouldn’t you want someplace that’s a little more stable?

  • would be bomber

    Thanks for the tip. That will come in handy when I’m planting my next bomb, I just need to remember and label it as a camera.

  • AJ Korkidakis

    last year I put a ton of these up around Brooklyn – had similar fears (especially in NYC) and I considered labelling them, but decided against it.

    Give then fact that you don’t want the camera to move at ALL, putting anything on them to attract attention will inevitably lead to people messing with them, even if not maliciously. Pulling them down to read the label or just moving them will totally ruin the photo. I figured the best bet was to camouflage them as best as possible and hope nobody finds them.

    Luckily, I found 10 out of 13 still in their places 6 months later.

  • wickerprints

    The police want to charge the photographer because they were embarrassed by their disproportionate response to a completely and obviously innocuous object. A bomb would not be strapped to an obvious location where it is likely to be spotted. It would be hidden as much as possible.

    They were made to look stupid so this is about payback. End of story.

  • Janet

    It’s pretty ludicrous to charge someone for disrupting traffic. Unless it’s well publicized that you can’t attach anything to a bridge or there are obvious signs posted, what is the crime? The police stopped the traffic, not the photographer.

  • HidetoS

    Oh no, don’t include your contact info because they’ll think the phone is a trigger device.

  • canon fanboy

    I have forwarded your comment and a screenshot to the FBI. They will be contacting you shortly.

  • gochugogi

    I wonder if the police bothered to develop the film?

  • this guy

    Yup, also I doubt they’d be like “Guys, it says it’s a camera… lets go home” if the photographer labelled it as such.

  • Scott M

    AaaarrrghhhH!!!!! A BOMB!!!! RUUUUUNNNNN!! When did Americans turn into such a wussy society?

  • Benicio Murray

    Oh America, how silly it is to watch you jump at your own shadow

  • stupidpeople=stupidcountry

    the case against the photographer isn’t going to go far because he did not violate anything… just embarrassed them because they’re idiots. nobody cares about threatening randomville virginia. stupid stupid people. everyday someone is calling in a bomb threat because someone left their backpack on the bus bench or a suitcase next to an atm. now if someone really wants to do something, all they need to do is distract people by placing an empty box next to a pole and divert all police and squads to that certain area. stupid people.

  • Joey D

    It’s pretty dumb to think that a entire unit, that is designed to investigate, detect bombs and keep people safe are simply going to disregard an object that is placed in the middle of a bridge just because it’s in “plain site”, They aren’t, because it’s their job to ensure that that object isn’t a threat, is has NOTHING to do with where it is placed, only that it is there. Also, as for the charging, it makes sense as well, some Counties or cities require that the person be charged for things like this.

    I will say, that this person had every right to put it there to what ever degree within the law, I don’t fault him for doing it. lol but he/she DID have it on a bridge named after MLK on the day he was in being remembered… There is a little more cause for concern there…..

  • dumb dumb

    so this guy should be charged for expressing his creative freedom? also, it’s solargraphy, meaning that they couldve put it up WAY before the memorial and crap. it was probably up for a while before someone noticed.

  • Evan Skuthorpe

    In a word, yes. He should have notified the relevant authorities. Freedom doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. Do you vote? God help us!

  • Mat Miller

    A bridge is a terrible place to put a long exposure camera, they move so much! Puh, what a noob.

  • A.M.

    Did you inquire as to an municipal organization in Brooklyn that could be informed–ie. “hey, I have this long term project, and I’d like to attach cameras, here, here and here so no one freaks out…”

    I’m not sure if anything like that exists; and even if it did the police would not likely remember to check when such a box is found. But it’d be nice.

    By the way, the would-be bomber beat to it–labeling the thing would no good!

  • Steve R

    If the guy is doing a six month exposure, then vibration from the bridge would have very little effect.

  • OSAM

    It’s such a long exposure that it really doesn’t matter. It’s part of the aesthetic.

  • Antonio Carrasco

    When the government hangs cameras that can watch your every move, it’s called “public safety” but when an individual mounts a camera onto public property it’s somehow deemed a threat to public safety?

  • Wes Stewart

    Yes, I always call the local Solargraphy Installation hotline and report my pinhole cameras to relevant authorities…

  • Evan Skuthorpe

    Yeh you do that. The rest of us will call the council or police and let them know.

  • stephen ramsden

    and the terrorists win again…


    Oh no. So now anything named MLK is a suspect terrorist target. Rolling in the grave of irony. Go home you suspicious toy soldiers. The twist has gone too far.

  • stephen ramsden

    you’ve apparently not had many dealings with asking permission of a government authority…

  • stephenramsden

    also, its an F1 field of view. the vibrations wouldn’t even be noticed…

  • yourbt

    Some lame vague charge will probably be used against the photographer, plenty of publicity, plenty of expense on his part then once it fades away from the news it will be dismissed. ONE very expensive photograph and chances are he did not get the shot! As far as the comments if he notified someone? Really… some official would take and say NO with no law or basis to say so (you can’t get fired for saying no) and no one would even remember or care weeks or months later when the suspicious report would come in. Once it’s done and over with someone will say Oh yea I told him NOT to do it and then they got a reason to charge him because so and so told him no…to leave something unattended in public which last time I checked is NOT against the law, just “at your own risk”.

  • AJ Korkidakis

    yeah, that’s the thing – asking is great in concept. but the answer would either be a) absolutely not or b) sure, if you get X license for some asburd sum.

  • AJ Korkidakis

    have you ever even tried to get permission for something like this? maybe in a small town it’d be possible, but in a larger city there’s no chance you’re going to get permission, certainly not for free – and even if you do from one person there will be 100 other departments that are unaware/don’t care/etc.

  • Leonardo Abreu


  • DaveHimslef

    When you are done laughing at America, try putting the names of your cities plus “harmless bomb scare” into google. No apology necessary.

  • kyoshinikon

    Call the cops in advance tell them that you are doing this project and they usually wont mind.

  • Been there done that..

    I’ve been on both sides of this issue. What makes this story interesting, as with most internet stories, are the absurd comments made. As a photographer, and one who also worked in law enforcement for almost 20 years, the police and the photographer were in no win situations.

    1) If the police in Roanoke didn’t respond, and the unknown object was marked as a camera as some suggested it should have been, only then it turned out to be an actual bomb that detonated, there would be people calling for the heads of every elected official, and every police administrator on the departmental payroll.

    2) I also agree with what one person suggested, mark the camera clearly as being a camera and with your contact information. I’ve done that before myself. But as was also pointed out, marking the camera invites the pranksters among the population to mess with the camera, or in some cases, steal it or destroy it.

    3) I’ve been in this situation, and when I placed my camera’s out, I had them clearly marked. But, I also informed the local police as to where they were placed and for how long they would be there. I never once had a problem.

    4) One comment was made that some cities might request a permit be obtained, and that is if you do contact the local authorities. That’s very true. Still photography can fall under the same rules in some cities as filming a movie, and the permit fees can be very high.

    So what’s the solution? Either take your chances with this type of assignment, or change careers.

  • David

    This story is sad, hope it doesn’t get charged for merely trying to take a photo!

  • Chris Popely

    There’s always ONE…

    And I’ve found found him. *sigh*

  • Ajay Fahlman

    In todays world you can’t leave a shopping bag on the ground in public places, let alone a black cylinder or box zip tied to a bridge’s support structure. Use your brain dude.

  • james

    It’s a pinhole camera ffs! The movement of the bridge is insignificant. You call this guy a noob? How many solargraphs have you made?

  • triplesec_ice

    Yes, let’s prosecute anyone who does anything at all interesting and unusual

  • triplesec_ice

    it’s revolting and unintelligent attitudes by the institutions that are meant to be ours

  • triplesec_ice

    I like your idea about informing them for safety’s mistake, but permits is 1st amendment chilling, and prosecuting is indefensible!

  • triplesec_ice

    and if they do mind, it’s none of their effing business.

  • triplesec_ice

    He should sue them for criminal damage and criminal stupidity

  • triplesec_ice

    lol I hadn’t thought of that

  • triplesec_ice

    You’d think so, but they can scare people into anything, and laws are twisted so much. See the case of Star Simpson in Boston airport, and indeed about the guys who put up cartoon ads for Aqua Teen Hunger Force

  • atheist

    So press charges for someone who put a camera there? Not his/her fault that the bomb disposal unit was there and blocking traffic.

  • Samuel

    You see I’ve been involved with a fair few weather balloon photo adventures and its common sense that if someone finds a box in their yard full of wires, cameras, altimeters etc they are going to panic. Hence why you label it as what it is, in our case

    “DONT PANIC! Weather balloon launched scientific experiment, if you’ve found this then dont worry, ring – #### and we’ll come get it back. Thanks”

    Its simple stuff, say its a long exposure camera and PUT A CONTACT NUMBER!

  • Samuel

    Its more likely they will contact you to ask you to stop sending them screenshots.

  • Samuel

    Well i just did that and got no results that actually referred to my city… an apology is not necessary for your assumption that every city in the world is as paranoid as america.