Architectural Photography: Panorama - The Wide View

On occasion the panorama is useful way of describing the contextual setting of a building or site, whether in an urban or natural landscape. In addition, I have found that a number of architects and designers simply like the look of an image with an elongated horizontal aspect ratio, if only in part because the aspect ratios of computer monitors, flat screen TV’s and hand held viewing devices all tend to be more or less horizontal.

There are several ways to produce an effective panorama. The simplest and most obvious is to shoot a wide horizontal view and crop down the image, removing un-necessary sky and foreground. The compromise here is the significant loss of image “real estate” - 50% to 75% in some cases - depending on the horizontality desired - resulting in relatively low resolution images.

Another much more effective way of producing panoramas is to use a camera specifically designed for such purposes. These cameras come in both analog (film) and digital versions, and can be quite expensive.

The Widelux 1500 and Noblex Pro systems use 120 roll film, and retail for $3,500 to to $5,000. They come with built-in 50mm lenses. The Noblex Pro 175 U system offers focus control and shift for architectural applications.

The Linhof Technorama 617s III uses 120 or 220 roll film, and accommodates a variety of interchangeable Schneider lenses, varying in focal length from 72mm to the longer 250mm. This system offers a shift adapter for lenses from 72mm to 110mm focal lengths. The shift range of 28 mm (14mm up and 14mm down) is extremely wide, making it particularly attractive to architectural photographers. This camera with a single lens, without the shift adapter, retails as a kit for $10,000.

The Seitz 6x17 digital camera, shown here, will produce huge 160 megapixel images.


Seitz claims that this camera brings to photography what IMAX brings to cinema. This camera accommodates Schneider lenses in focal lengths from 90mm to 250mm. All lenses can be shifted to the full extent of their image circles (+/- 15mm) making this system particularly well suited to architectural applications. The Seitz 6x17 camera body with scan back retails for $38,000. Lenses, and accessories come at extra cost, easily pushing this system into the $40,000 to $50,000 price range.

There are, however, more cost effective ways of producing high quality, high resolution panoramas, that do not necessarily involve the use of specialized panorama cameras. These involve - guess what - my tools of choice (shown here) - the view camera by image cropping, and the DSLR by image compositing.


By shooting multiple images with the DSLR, and then stitching together the images using Adobe Photoshop’s built-in features, one can make seamless composite panoramas of significant size, and high quality, varying in aspect ratio.

I’ve produced effective panoramas in three ways. The first involves cropping down an image shot on 4"x 5" film. This method will yield a finished image from 25 to 50 megapixels or more, from a high resolution drum scan.

The second involves the use of a wide angle tilt-shift lens, on a DSLR - shifting extreme left and then progressively extreme right, capturing up to three overlapping images, and then stitching them together in a seamless composite.

The third method involves the use of a normal lens to moderate telephoto lens on a DSLR - shooting overlapping images - up to 19 thus in my experience - in vertical format to maximize the vertical dimension of the resulting composite.

Following are a variety of images I’ve done using these methods. The largest of these, shot at the Lakewood Garden Mausoleum in South Minneapolis (4th image below), is a 19 image composite, shot with a 90mm tilt-shift lens in vertical format. The image measures 84.2" wide by 18.4" high by 300 pixels per inch - a 139 megapixel image! View these images larger on a computer monitor, from links below, for full visual impact.


Above - Minneapolis, Riverfront: Flatbed scan from 4" x 5" Kodak Ektachrome, cropped to panorama proportions. Image size: 2.5" x 6.4" x 300ppi (1.5 megapixels, as scanned - could have been scanned much larger). This image effectively shows MS&R’s Washburn Crosby ‘A’ Mill / Mill City Museum (center/left) in the context of the Minneapolis riverfront. View larger at:


Above - Hayward, Wisconsin Residence, Albertsson Hansen Architecture: Canon 17mm tilt-shift lens, horizontal; 2 image composite; image size: 12.4" x 27.8" x 300ppi (31 megapixels). View larger at:


Above - Lakewood Garden Mausoleum, HGA: Canon 45mm tilt-shift lens, vertical; 16 image composite; image size: 52.6" x 17.7" x 300ppi (84 megapixels). View larger at:


Above - Lakewood Garden Mausoleum, HGA: Canon 90mm tilt-shift lens, vertical; 19 image composite; image size: 84.2" x 18.4" x 300ppi (139 megapixels). View larger at:


Above - St. Paul skyline from High Bridge: Canon 24mm - 105mm zoom lens at 105mm, vertical; 16 image composite; image size: 65.5" x 9.0" x 300ppi (53 megapixels). View larger (pan to view complete image) at:


Above - City House and St. Paul Riverfront from Harriet Island: Canon 24mm - 105mm zoom lens at 60mm, vertical; 11 image composite; image size: 50.8" x 9.0" x 300ppi (41 megapixels). This image effectively describes MS&R’s City House adaptive reuse/renovation/rehabilitation - formerly Federal Barge No. 1 Municipal Elevator - (tall structure, far left in panorama) in the context of the St. Paul riverfront. View larger (pan to view complete image) at:

Once again, the DSLR comes out on top for its high quality image capabilities, it’s versatility, and last but not least, it’s cost effectiveness. And, the view camera remains a close second.

For more on panorama photography, see:

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