s I have mentioned elsewhere on this site, my first exposure to panoramic photography was when I was a young boy, through old B&W photos I had seen in the museums that my parents frequented with me and my siblings. Initially, I was attracted by the exotic "oldness" of the photos' content— the archaic garb seen on the people, the old-fashioned architecture, and the ancient look of the transportation equipment (a frequent subject of old panoramas). But as I studied them, I saw something even more amazing and totally unexpected.
These didn't really look like any of the other photos I had ever seen. For one thing, they were extremely long, narrow, horizontal rectangles. And then, everything in the photo seemed to have a kind of unusual perspective— it seemed like I wasn't looking in just a single direction, as in every other photo I had ever seen. It was easy to believe, as I looked into the photo and beyond the surface of the paper it was printed on, that I could see in many directions, maybe even every direction! As I continued to gaze into the scene, and as I slowly scanned my eyes left and right, I could almost believe that I was there in person, standing there where the photographer had stood so many years before, looking at the same place that he had.
Hamilton, Bermuda, from the Cathedral tower (200° view) — W.H. Wallace, 1911
The views provided were so magical, that I wished that somehow, I could make them myself, never really dreaming that it might be possible. I wondered what made this all work, and why my parents' "Brownie" snap-shot camera couldn't do the same thing.
As I attended college, my interest in photography continued and I bought my first 35mm SLR. Over the next few years I took loads of photos for my own interest— mostly B&W negative film and color slides. Eventually my old desire to produce panoramic scenes myself resurfaced, but the cost of the only true pano cameras available was far beyond my means. Then, I reasoned that I might be able to accomplish something approaching the panoramas I had seen, by carefully panning my camera horizontally on a scene, taking sequential shots.
I stood at my one of my favorite spots atop West Camino Cielo, overlooking the entire Santa Barbara Valley and Channel. I placed my tripod on top of a large sandstone boulder, aligned the camera's frame to the horizon, and began clicking off pictures (making sure to slightly overlap each frame). After heading back down San Marcos Pass, I threw the film in the developing tank, prepared my enlarger, and a few hours later had a stack of about ten 8x10 prints that documented the whole sweeping view of Santa Barbara, from the top of the mountains behind it.
I began carefully attempting to precisely align the left and right margins, looking for the key overlaps. Before long, I realized that because of the distortion intentionally built-into photographic lenses, it would not be possible to get a perfect match. Regardless, I did finish the project and stood back to marvel at what I had accomplished. Here it was, the same scene I had witnessed just hours earlier, duplicated before me. I curved the long print into a semicircle, and placed my face near the center of the arc, about a foot and a half away from the prints. As I pivoted my head left and right to view all of the picture, I was transported back to that same place— I had done it! The process left something to be desired, as far as precision of alignment and the stated problem of the lens distortion and inconsistent perspective, but I was hooked.
Here I am now, nearly thirty years later, with what has been for me a new revelation in technique for producing panoramas. For many years, my old technique of cut-and-paste lie dormant (not enough time to pursue it, and too many other interests). And then one day I happened upon some powerful software that allowed me to take sequences of digital images, geometrically remove the built-in photographic lens distortion, and accurately align and blend the frames into a single seemless panoramic image. I quickly obtained the software, and was absolutely amazed with the first image I produced. It worked far better than I ever dreamed, and my digital camera is now used nearly exclusively for panoramic images.
How I Got Started
by Bill Brockmeier
by Bill Brockmeier
Stone ruins at Mission San Juan (300° view): San Antonio, Texas — © 2002, Bill Brockmeier
|This site is produced by
little star Ideas,
under the direction of Bill Brockmeier.|
All text and images contained herein are Copyright © 2004, Bill Brockmeier, All rights reserved.
This document was updated on 5/27/04.