Panoramic photography comes into focus for photographers and collectors looking to capture large vistas

Photographers take a broader view: panoramic photography comes into focus for photographers and collectors looking to capture large vistas

Debbie Hagan

In 1901, photographer George R. Lawrence wanted to take a panoramic shot of Chicago, but he encountered one problem–how to get himself and his camera high enough to take it. An inventive man, Lawrence devised a cage attached to a balloon that elevated him 200 feet into the air. Unfortunately, the contraption collapsed, hurling him and his camera to earth. Luckily, a net of telephone lines saved him.

What reads like a Laurel and Hardy comedy sketch actually illustrates the real-life perils early panoramic photographers faced. Fortunately, panoramic photography (and transportation) has moved light years ahead. Many different cameras, lenses and film are now on the market for panoramic purposes, including a 360-degree camera that enables photographers to capture a flail circle around them. Lighter and more adaptable cameras with the sides of helicopters for skyline shots (as Jerry Driendl does) or hike up the mountains of Patagonia to photograph the glaciers (as Colin Prior does). Because photographers now can do all this and more, an increasing number of panoramic images are showing up in galleries and museums as prints and posters. What’s better, they’re popular with the public, too.

“We used to sell boxes [of poster panoramas]. Now we sell skids and skids of them,” said Jerry Driendl of Driendl Skylines, a panoramic photo company. He reported that sales of his panoramas have gone up significantly these past few years, doubling or even tripling. Why? Driendl laughed and couldn’t come up with a good reason, except, “I think, in terms of a photographic image, it’s an eye-catching size.”

Historically Speaking

Panoramic photography began shortly after the introduction of the daguerreotype in 1839, according to Carol Johnson, curator of “Taking the Long View,” a Library of Congress collection of 4,000 panoramic photographs. Early photographers knew they could recreate a city scene or landscape by taking a series of consecutive photographs. They photographed one scene, then moved the camera slightly and took another until they had the desired tableau. Photographers call this a segmented panorama.

In 1843, an Austrian developed the first swing-lens camera. The lens rotated while the camera remained stationary. But the big breakthrough came in 1904 with the mass-produced, large-format Cirkut camera. Both the film and the camera moved on a special tripod. The Cirkut could capture views as wide as 360 degrees and pictures as long as 20 feet. Some panorama traditionalists still use it.

Panoramic Photography Today

“There’s definitely a resurgence right now,” said Johnson about this growing group of photographers, who formed their own trade group, the International Association of Panoramic Photographers, 20 years ago.

The revival of the panoramic image began in the mid-1980s. That’s when Loring Holtz of Everlasting Images began publishing posters of sports stadiums and events. His business has grown steadily since–as much as 25 percent per year. He attributes this growth to continually broadening his market. Today he photographs stadiums and events that include baseball, football, hockey, tennis, soccer and basketball games, plus the Super Bowl, NASCAR races and the Stanley Cup.

“It’s history in the making,” he said about a marketing strategy that’s similar to what photographers used a century ago. With as many as 100,000 people in the sports stadiums, Holtz knows that he has a ready market of souvenir-seekers. Because his large-format film captures such fine detail, customers can actually pick themselves out of the crowd.

“It’s a great format for any type of landscape,” said Christo Holloway, who, like many contemporary photographers, uses the panorama to capture large vistas. Holloway, a model maker, graphic designer and owner of A Clockwork Apple Gallery in New York, took several cameras with him when he traveled to the Namib Desert where he captured clay-carved huts, wind-ravaged trees, angular shapes and long waves of red sand.

“The panorama is suited for this landscape,” said Holloway. “You need to get as wide as you can.” A 35-mm format, he said, “seems too narrow for such a big view.” He displayed his photos, “Namibian Panoramic Landscapes,” in his gallery in August.

Colin Prior, a Scottish photographer, has taken his own panoramas of the Namib Desert in addition to other wild places, including Kenya, the Sahara Desert and Bungle Bungle in Australia. One of the world’s top panoramic photographers, Prior just released, in the United States, “Living Tribes” a book of panoramic photographs published by Firefly Books.

Inspired by Galen Rowell and Ansel Adams’ ability to “distill the very essence of nature” in photography, Prior gravitated to the long, wide panoramas, which he considered “visually exciting.” But he faced two problems–lack of panoramic mentors and a good camera. Then, in the mid-1980s, camera manufacturer Lindhof re-engineered its 617S panoramic model. Prior bought the first one offered in the United Kingdom and carried it to the wild Scottish highlands. There he compiled images for “Highland Wilderness,” which has been reprinted four times.

“I guess I was the first photographer in the United Kingdom to use the format creatively,” he said. “People say that I ‘own’ the format.” Many know Prior’s work from his four award-winning calendars commissioned by British Airways.

Vertical Panoramas

If photographers can create eye-catching panoramas horizontally, can they recreate the same effect vertically? Photographer Chris Gjevre of Blakeway Worldwide Panoramas thinks so. Plus, many homes constructed today many have tall, narrow spots that need long, narrow images. Gjevre manipulated his 70mm handmade rotational camera to take vertical shots. The Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building and the World Trade Center are among these images. Earlier this year, Gjevre shot the launch of Space Shuttle Columbia, which Blackway Panoramas turned into a charity poster for the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, a fund to promote youth education in math, science and technology.

“Knowing the [vertical] format is popular in the public domain at this time, I decided to create something new and visually exciting,” said Prior. Thus, he created a series of long, vertical shots, most of which are portraits of native people, such as Masaai warriors or Inuit boys. Though the images look as if they’re shot with a panoramic camera, Prior admitted that they’re not. They’re “cropped to give a similar impact”

In fact, Prior is a little skeptical about the success of many vertical panoramas. “In general, I feel that vertical panoramas taken with panoramic cameras do not work, and that in nearly 90 percent of the cases the images could be improved considerably by cropping,” he said. “There’s normally too much foreground information and sky, which does not add value.”

Print and Poster Sales

Driendl and Prior have both watched the panoramic business take off. In Driendl’s case, he juggles many commissions simultaneously–some from stock houses, others from print publishers and still others from designers, such as Calvin Klein, who used a beach panorama on a t-shirt. Driendl has even shot a cover for Time magazine.

“We’ve watched the panoramic business blossom,” said Gjevre, who partnered with James Blakeway 12 years ago in photographing city skylines and popular tourist sites, such as the pyramids of Giza, Niagara Falls, and the Great Wall of China. His most popular image is the New York skyline.

“It’s a fairly contemporary product, but I have seen [posters] double matted in a wood frame that would go in a boardroom,” said Gjevre. In fact, Blakeway has sold numerous panoramas for Exxon’s headquarters in Houston. “Often times people will put two images together, say a day skyline and a night skyline. They’ll leave just a couple of inches between the two framed pieces,” said Gjevre.

It’s the location that sells a panoramic poster, according to Prior, whose business, Earth Gallery, sells prints and posters. “People, in general, certainly in Europe, really will only hang a print or poster if they have some direct connection with it,” he said Currently most of his sales are in Europe. “My business in France and Germany is expanding, particularly since I introduced poster sizes that are industry standards,” he said. “This continues to be a problem in the sphere of publishing, and sizes differ between U.S. imperial standards and the metric ones in Europe.” Prior hopes to expand his distribution to the United States.

At the Museums

Even at the fine art and museum level, photographers use the panorama as a tool to express grander thoughts or a bigger vision. An example is artist Masumi Hayashi, a professor in the art department at Cleveland State University. She uses the panorama to bring viewers into the eyes of the “panoptician”–one who sees everything.

Hayashi doesn’t use a panoramic camera or an electronic flash. Rather she takes rolls of film shooting from various angles and at different times of the day, waiting for enough light to shoot the darkest spots. She compiles all of her photographs and cuts and pastes them together, editing out people and objects that don’t fit. What she ends up with is a surrealistic image that, she said, “goes beyond our peripheral vision. You have to stop and look at it again.”

Hayashi has been creating these photographic collages since 1985. She has photographed abandoned prisons, old Japanese interment camps and Asian temples. “French theorist Michel Foucault has noted that 19th-century prison architectural plans were often based on the panoptician, where one prison guard can see all of the prisoners in their separate cells. Such a space exudes hierarchy and control.” She explores this idea throughout her work, including her newest series, Asian temples. In this work, the panoptician is an all-seeing god. Hayashi’s work can be seen through Jan. 4, 2004, at the Los Angles County Museum of Art, in a show called “Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art.”

Certainly panoramic photographs catch the eye and engage the mind, drawing an increasing amount of public attention. “I’m very fortunate that they’re selling so well,” said Driendl. “It enables me to do what I want to do.”


* Blakeway Worldwide Panoramas, (952) 941-9797

* Clockwork Apple Gallery, (212) 229-1187

* Driendl Skylines, 800-347-9570

* Earth Gallery, +44(0) 1698 844430

* Everlasting Images, (207) 351-3277

* International Association of Panoramic Photographers, (702) 260-4608

* Masumi Hayashi, (216) 961-0026

* Library of Congress, (202) 707-6394

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