The Art of Panoramic Photography


General Photography

This entry doesn’t really contains anything new for regular visitors of this weblog. I just thought it would be interesting to look at how different photographers work with panoramic photography. I’m going to exclude all those photographers who use a camera that allows taking panoramic photos - such as the Hasselblad Xpan. Instead, I will focus on more unusual ways to produce panoramas. I do not intend to say that it’s easy to take a good panoramic photo with the Xpan. It’s actually quite hard as composition has to be re-learned.

But often, I find that such a panoramic format doesn’t really add anything to what you see. Panoramic landscapes are like normal landscapes; you just see more of the scenery. And I think those people who try to go beyond that usually use different ways to get their panoramas. It’s almost like what makes me like certain cover versions of known songs better than others: If an artist just re-plays the song, it’s boring. If the artist interprets the song and makes it sound different it’s getting interesting.

Curiously enough, digitally stitching doesn’t necessarily produce interesting results - unless the photographer is willing to exploit the digital process and manipulate the results. The most well-know photographer doing this is probably Andreas Gursky even though most people probably think his photos are just huge. In a similar fashion, Tom Bamberger’s digital panoramas are quite interesting and somewhat disturbing.

Making the decision not to stitch and to just go with imperfect overlaps or connections usually is fairly bold but the results can be quite stunning. Susan Bowen produces her panoramas using toy cameras, by overlapping “frames” inside the camera. Her photos are almost the exact opposite of those of the digital stitching camp but they’re equally if not even more interesting. David Hilliard and Joachim Knill don’t use overlaps but, instead, put photos next to each other to achieve panoramas. If you compare these two, you’ll find some differences in how they achieve their respective effects. Joachim Knill’s panoramas don’t match up that well so his panoramic sceneries get additional tension that ordinary panoramas of the very same scenes would not have. David Hilliard, on the other hand, involves people closely and thus has to work somewhat differently. In his panoramas, optical distortions are almost unavoidable and he uses them to great effect.