360° Panorama

By Thomas Schiff Back to


Although I have always owned a 35mm camera, I have never been comfortable with the small format and have preferred the medium and large format cameras, the 4 x 5 and 8 x 10. Not only did the large negatives provide more detail and greater range, they forced me to slow down and think more about the process of making a photograph. As a result, the tedious nature of working with large format cameras has helped me in making a logical transition to making photographs with the Hulcherama panoramic camera.

The camera is based on the old circuit camera from the turn of the last century, but the Hulcherama uses 220 roll film, which is easier to work with than the enormous rolled film used in the circuit camera. I have a custom-made tripod that allows me to elevate the camera 15 or 20 feet into the air. Since there are often many obstructions at ground level, elevating the camera allows me to get above stop signs, fireplugs, parked cars, sewer lids, etc. You get a much purer picture from my elevated point of view.

I prefer to shoot color negative film because it is easier to deal with lighting variations you get by pointing the camera in all different directions. Sometimes the light will change in an exposure when the sun comes out or goes in, and that is easier to correct because of the use of color negative film. Due to economic considerations, camera manufactures have not developed digital panoramic cameras to the same degree that they have developed point and shoot cameras, so I have chosen to stay with the color film camera. The quality of the color in the film process is much greater and better controlled. The disadvantage is that it is very time consuming to get the film processed, proofed, digitized and run through the computer programming process. The final images are printed on a Fuji LightJet 5000 Archive printer.

Art Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

In conventional photography we are taught to compose a photograph by selectively cropping out the extraneous parts of an image. Ansel Adams talked about cutting out a square in a piece of cardboard and looking through that square to create the composition. Telephoto lenses allow you to do this in the extreme. Panoramic photographs are composed by doing the opposite. When you take the opposite approach, not only do you get a view in a 360 degree circle, but I prefer to use a wide angle lens which allows me to capture more of an image above and below the horizon line. So instead of cropping out the images, I have something that allows me to look in all directions.

The challenge in doing 360° photography is to find an ideal vantage point, that is, the right tripod placement and camera height in order to get the best photograph. I want to transform 3-D space into a 2-D image. With exterior shots, I have to choose the right time of day to get the right sun reflection on building surfaces.

I have always been drawn to man made structures. I think the work that has been done by great architects is very interesting. The variety of styles: Frank Lloyd Wright, Eero Saarinen, Philip Johnson, Richard Meier and many other architects, intrigues me more than what I see in nature. So many architectural photographs concentrate on the exterior of the building, but I find that the panoramic camera works equally well when defining interiors. Logistically interiors are more challenging because you are required to acquire permission with the building owners and tenants, so a lot of coordination needs to be worked out prior to the visit to make this happen. But the extra effort is worthwhile because of the results obtained.

Lincoln Center Opera House, New York, New York
Nelson Center, Phoenix, Arizona

Obviously, when dealing with the transportation of cumbersome equipment and the necessity of scouting out locations, it is easier to make photos in your own backyard. It’s also easier to revisit nearby locations under different conditions, seasons, and times of day. But as you exhaust that subject matter, you have to spread out. I did a book on Cincinnati in 1998 and one on the state of Ohio in 2003. Currently I have been shooting the large variety of American architecture in numerous locations. So as I travel across the country to each site, I make photographs on different book projects that are in various stages of completion. I soon hope to have books out on Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings, the architecture of American theatres, American libraries, Columbus, Indiana, religious architecture and art museums.

I like to assign myself projects from ideas that capture my imagination. The projects listed above are among those I have taken on myself, but I have also enjoyed projects that I have been invited to do, such as a book on the parks of Cincinnati and the campus architecture of Northern Kentucky University. I’m working on all these projects simultaneously because they take many years to plan, execute and publish. Consequently, the work is on- going and seemingly never ending. Being immersed in a number of projects gives me the flexibility to photograph in great variety of locations, which is how I like to work.

Product Resources: Camera: Hulcherama panoramic; Lenses: Mamiya 35mm, Nikor PC 28mm; Film: Kodak, Fujicolor Pro.

About the Author

Thomas Schiff
Thomas R. Schiff is a lifelong resident of Cincinnati, OH. Although his professional life has been in the insurance business, photography is his passion; he's been shooting with the Hulcherama 360 Panoramic Camera since 1994. The results of his panoramic work have appeared in gallery exhibitions and in books which include Vegas 360, 2008, BrightCity Books. www.brightcitybooks.com.