When you think of panoramic photography, you may be reminded of cinemascope or widescreen films like Lawrence of Arabia, where the shots of expansive desert vistas are visually stunning, and you feel like you’re there. The use of panoramic photography, a subject I studied in depth at photography school (and hopefully you’ll have a chance study at one of the photography schools as well), has been in existence since photography’s origins, even though the early prototypes and approaches were cumbersome, and at times consisted of multiple plates displayed next to each other to depict the wide view.
The first instance of panoramic photography dates back to the 1840s, when Joseph Puchberger developed a camera that would expose a large daguerreotype of approximately 24 inches in size.
Other developments followed: the German inventor Friedrich von Martens created the Megaskop in 1844, which consisted of what is called a swing lens that was operated by gears and a crank; his initial prototype used 4.7″ X 15″ curved Daguerreotype plates with a 150 degree arc. The term Megaskop derives from the magic lantern, which was used to magnify opaque images, such as glass slides, and served as an early prototype of the motion picture.
The development of the wet-plate collodion process (which created a negative image on transparent glass that required the image to go through a 15-minute process, in which it was coated, sensitized, exposed and developed, proving much easier than daguerreotypes), allowed photographers to take a range of photographs and arrange them edge by edge to create a panorama.
Another thing I learned in photography school was that the word panoramic is usually used in regards to an image with a wide aspect ratio. The ratios of panoramic (also known as wide format photography) usually feature an aspect ratio of 2:1 or larger, with the image, in many cases, being almost twice as wide in length compared to its height. The ratios often vary; for example, they can range from 4:1 to 10:1, with some images capturing a range of 360 degrees.
It became more of a possibility to create panoramic photographs once Eastman Kodak created photographic film in the late 1880s. As daguerreotypes were traditionally made of glass and took long periods of time to expose and develop, photographic film became a revelation of sorts, allowing for different sizes and a greater ability to create panoramic photographs.
Many other developments followed, such as the Cylindrograph, which was a rotating lens panoramic camera that had a range of 170 degrees; the film was rotated by hand in order to create an exposure.Kodak also developed two panoramic cameras at the turn of the century: one with a 112 field of view; the other with a 142 field of view.
Developments with panoramic cameras continue to the present day and their usage and technique is actually being taught more frequently in photography schools. Digital technology has also made it easier to create panoramic images.
While in photography school, I had the opportunity to experiment with a full rotation film camera. They’re pretty spiffy in that they feature a mechanism that continually rotates the camera and takes the film through it, allowing you to take full 360-degree photography.
Later on at photography school, I would experiment with a high resolution digital Panoscan, which also allows for 360 degree panoramic images. I would have to say that I preferred the Panoscan for its higher resolution and its ability to digitally enhance the color, based on its CCD elements. Whatever camera you choose, however, always make sure to take advantage of the unique aspects of panoramic photography.