Panoramic photographs from the Prints & Photographs Division collections can show us a lot about the interests and activities of Americans at the turn of the twentieth century and the decades that followed, while offering a more expansive view of a scene than a more standard size photograph could provide. Subjects of panoramic photographs in the Prints & Photographs Division’s collections are wide ranging, from majestic views of American landscapes and cities to wars and natural disasters, from scenes of fairs and expositions to portraits of groups as diverse as unions, military units, and Sunday School classes.
One early panoramic photograph in the collection, showing a view of San Francisco from Rincon Hill, was made from five daguerreotype plates made in 1851 that were placed side-by-side to create a wider view. Although the daguerreotypes apparently did not survive, the resulting copy photograph, shown below, was submitted to the Library of Congress in 1910 as part of the copyright registration process.
The methods for producing panoramic photographs evolved over time, and the collection includes some early examples printed from multiple wet-plate glass negatives during the Civil War period, such as the view of Nashville from Fort Negley below.
Others were made from specially designed cameras that rotated the lens without moving the film, or those that rotated both the camera and the film, in order to achieve a virtually seamless panoramic view. These swing-lens and 360-degree rotation cameras were available starting in the late 19th century, and produced images like the action-packed one made from a Cirkut camera below. The catalog record for this photograph indicates that the image was doctored, with the planes added from other negatives before it was printed.
With only a handful of exceptions, the digitized panoramic photographs in the collection are free to use. The vast majority, over 4,200, have rights advisories of “no known restrictions,” so they are freely viewable and downloadable from anywhere with internet access.
We hope you’ll take the opportunity to explore more panoramic photographs on your own.
- Explore the Panoramic Photograph Collection using the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, where you can search for more images, and learn more about the collection.
- Consult “A Brief History of Panoramic Photography” for more information about the history of panoramic photography, including the Rincon Hill image included in this blog post and the camera technologies that became available over time.
- Read about a smaller, but aesthetically similar, format — the panoramic postcard — in these blog posts: “Taking the Long View (in Miniature)” and “Taking the Long View (in Miniature), Part Two.”