My Panoramic Photography
I am a lifelong photographer who went from developing film in the basement as a kid, through gaining and using professional photo skills, on to simultaneously freelancing, teaching and creating Fine Art work, and have adapted to the possibilities the digital world. Early on, I had a desire to capture a wider view with the camera than was normally possible, and combining frames to do this seemed like a good possibility. It worked fairly well just putting the pictures in a line for viewing, but the mismatches of perspective kept them from being one integrated image. While making prints from these early negatives, it was possible to adjust the images by trial and error to make a better fit, but this required backbreaking darkroom work to get them to assemble properly.
At one time, I had an opportunity to use a 70 mm film panoramic camera that would capture up to 360 degrees, so I took it for a test drive and liked the unusual results it produced, but thought it a difficult and erratic machine to use. It’s prints were small and not easily enlargeable, and monochrome to boot, but it did create a single smooth image in the camera itself.
Fast forward to the new century. The ability to assemble digital images and display or print them as one was the key to being able to create the panoramas displayed here. When the panorama stitching software became available initially, digital cameras weren’t quite up to the quality of film cameras, so I started by scanning negatives and then assembling them. Not so great in terms of being able to easily create matching frames, so there was more backbreaking work, though now it was possible to work in color.
It was finally time to go digital, as equipment prices had gone down while the image quality had gone up. The earliest of these images were made with a Kodak semiprofessional 8 megapixel camera, and the latest with a Sony NEX camera, loaded with lots of in-camera quality improving features. Years of research have perfected the camera and support system down to a compact lightweight unit, whose portability and reliability encourage more shooting and experimentation.
Throughout all of this, there has always been the hunt for the “sweet spot”: the place to be where the composition works in 360 degrees. Finding this place is the best part of making these images. I move around, viewing and comparing, until finally there is the needed balance of near and far with light and shadow. I generally have a rough idea of how the image will look in the end, but am usually pleasantly surprised when I finally see it put together.
Another important element in the process is time. As the pictures are not all made at the same time (but should be made as close together as possible), sometimes elements may pass through the field and become ghostly blurs, or stay in place and become an unexpected detail. These impromptu happenings (like a car with headlights on driving into the scene) are sometimes just the accent that was needed to pull it all together and make it right.
It is a pleasure for me to make these images (a great reason to travel, too) and I am very happy to share them with you. I would appreciate any comments you might have.
Steven J. Cahill January 25th, 2014