Shooting a Panoramic Photograph

On a cold December day, some Library of Congress staff members volunteered to be the subjects of a demonstration of how a panoramic photograph is made.

Download the MPEG (27.6 MB) or Quicktime (15 MB) Video of this Presentation*

Group of people posed for a panoramic photograph

On a cold December day, some Library of Congress staff members volunteered to be the subjects of a demonstration of how a panoramic photograph is made.

When shooting a picture, the Cirkut panoramic camera moves in an arc from left to right. The people in the front row are arranged along a corresponding arc, so that in the finished photograph they will seem to be standing in a straight line.

A photographer under a hood looking into a view camera

While under the hood, the photographer focuses the picture. Unlike a 35-millimeter camera, a Cirkut camera has no mirror and prism to reverse the image, and the photographer sees the picture upside-down.

The aperture is "stopped down," to allow only the proper amount of light into the camera. The back of the camera is loaded with film, and the gears are wound so that when the picture is taken, the roll of film and the camera move in perfect synch.

Close-up view of a camera lens A hand turning a gear wider shot of cameraman and camera

Photographer: "…We're just about ready to photograph you, but I first need to explain a little about the camera. This is an antique panoramic camera. It works a little differently from what you're used to because it does not take a snapshot. It takes a timed exposure, so you need to hold very very still. If you move during a timed exposure, you'll turn out a blur…"

The photographer sets the angle of the arc that the camera will travel and releases the wound gear advancing the film and rotating the camera on the tripod. As the camera rotates it photographs one section at a time until it has exposed the entire length of film.

A photographer standing next to his panoramic camera Panoramic photograph being taken, first view  Panoramic photograph being taken, second view Panoramic photograph being taken, third view
Panoramic photograph being taken, fourth view Panoramic photograph being taken, fifth view Panoramic photograph being taken, sixth view

And here is the end result:

Panoramic photograph of a group of Library of Congress staffers

*This video was shot on December 19, 1992, in front of the U.S. Capitol. It documents the staff of the Central Photo Company shooting a group portrait with a Cirkut camera, and the subsequent development and printing of the resulting negative. The group assembled for the portrait consists of Library of Congress staff members, mostly from the American Memory pilot program and the Prints and Photographs Division.

The video was produced by Bucky Wall of Buckaroo Associates, and could not have been made without the generous cooperation of James and Rochelle Ivey of Washington Central Photo Company.

The scenes in the photographic laboratory were restaged for the video camera. Film development, which must be carried out in complete darkness, was simulated for the camera using a piece of clear film and, during the video editing process, the scene was reduced to black and white in order to simulate darkness. The footage of exposing the photographic paper in the contact printer was also manipulated in order to simulate the reddish tones of the safelight.