I first became interested in panoramic photography over fifteen years ago. Digital photography technology was in it's infancy and it's application to panoramic photography was very limited. I shot in black-and-white and printed using traditional photo-chemical techniques.
Eventually I discovered that I wanted to combine several images to create a panoramic wider that my camera's 140 degree limit. Cutting and joining several prints together was a frustrating process and resulted in seams running vertically through my images. I knew that new digital technologies like Photoshop would allow me to join several scanned images digitally but outputting the panoramas in an age before modern inkjet printers was a problem.
Using a process created by Dan Burkholder of Lenswork magazine, I made large negatives from my digital files using lithographic film output systems. Since a large piece of film had to be made to transfer an image to a lithographic plate, it was a simple matter to create a large negative which could be contact printed onto photo paper in a darkroom. Although the images that this process created were free on seams, I found working with black-and-white images in a digital form limiting. The conversion of the black-and-white images to digital form resulted in the loss of many of the tonalities of a traditional photo-chemical print and I began searching for a new technique of reproduction.
Color inkjet printers producing high quality photographic prints were becoming affordable and my interest in color reproduction was renewed. A graduate of a film and photography university program in the eighties, I carried the bias that existed against color photography as art worthy. I had experimented with color from the beginning, hand-tinting my black-and-white images with oil pastels. My discovery of the work that had been done by early color photographers like Eliot Porter, Joel Meyerowitz, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston and Richard MIsrach further pushed me toward this form of expression.
I eventually began shooting with color film exclusively. Scanning the original negatives and performing all my manipulation digitally, the images are outputted with an archival inkjet printer.
This was the journey I made to the process I currently use for creation of my prints. I don't think that journey is over! Digital capture has reached the point where even medium format film is being equaled in resolution and exposure latitude. Where panoramic photography will be in another twenty years is something I look forward to discovering.
I purchased my first panoramic camera, an old 35mm Widelux F5, in 1991. This camera captures a panoramic image by panning it's lens 140 degrees, creating a negative 1 1/2 times wider than the typical 35mm image. Traveling around the western U.S. with this camera, I began taking panoramas of many places. Although the camera produced images that held up well when enlarged, I moved to medium format film for the added resolution of the large film. My next camera was a Noblex 150, the camera I still use today. I also create "telephoto" panoramas by combining several images taken with a Pentax 67 II and several long focal length lenses.
When I began shooting panoramas with black-and-white film, I almost exclusively used TMAX 100. An excellent film with a large exposure latitude, it produced beautiful crisp images when printed. As I made the change to color, I began shooting with color reversal film. From years of shooting standard 35mm format, I had a preference for Kodachrome 25 with it's saturated color palate. However, I quickly realized the issues of shooting reversal film for panoramic images. Since a panoramic camera captures a very wide image containing both skies filled with white clouds and dark shadows on the ground, reversal film couldn't achieve the latitude required to cover these differences. After several frustrating experiences of either losing sky or shadow details, I made the change to color negative. I now shoot almost all of my panoramas with Fuji 400 ASA negative film. Using 400 ASA film allows me the flexibility of using a faster shutter speed for handheld shots or stopping down the lens for tripod based photography. With medium format film, the problem of increased grain size with the higher ASA is negated.
As I mentioned earlier, digital capture has reached the point where is can compete with medium format film in both resolution and latitude. The point at which I may remove any photo-chemical medium from my process is now in sight. In spite of it's costs, I'll miss it. Despite the immediate gratification of digital photography, seeing your images a day or several weeks later after development is a experience I enjoy. Sometimes first seeing your images without the pressures of an ongoing shoot is good for your objectivity.
Although I have always originated my work on film, most of my manipulation is done digitally. Scanning from the original negative is one of the most important steps in this process, and I purchased an Imacon Flextight Photo scanner for this purpose. This scanner is one of the finest negative scanners available to the consumer. I scan all my negatives at 3200 dpi, the finest resolution the scanner can perform and the level at which film grain becomes visible. I prefer to start with the highest quality image manageable and scale down my work for printing. Below is an example of the resolution achieved by medium format film and the scanner.
Currently an Epson 4800 Photo is the printer I use for most of my final prints. This printer has the capacity to print on a roll of paper up to 17" wide. I usually print on Epson Enhanced Matte paper or Breathing Color's Chromata White Canvas depending on the type of display prefered. The images are scaled to print at 300 dpi without any upsampling. This resolution gives them a sharpness that approaches the sensation of viewing a landscape with your own eyes.
Panoramic photography has been around since the earliest days of the medium. I first became interested in the format because I felt that it presented a different way of seeing the surfaces of the world. No other camera system can photograph both the sun and land that is being directly illuminated by it. We're physically unable to see in several directions at once, but when viewing a panoramic print, you can. Thus, you find your eyes wandering through a panoramic image much as they would at any place where you stop and take in a view. Happy travels!