Brief History of Panoramic Photograpy

The word panorama is attributed to Robert Barker (1739 – 1806) who coined the word from the Greek word ‘pan’ meaning all and ‘horama’ meaning view when describing his paintings of Scotland.


Barker is said to have made a fortune showing a panorama of London as if painted from the roof of Albion Mills in a purpose build circular building in Leicester Square. It was more than three meters in length.

Barker’s London panorama of 1792, from the top of the Albion Mills.

These panoramic paintings became incredibly popular for a time with panoramas displayed in many major cities. Notable artists include Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677)

Long View of London from Bankside, a panorama of London by Wenceslaus Hollar, 1647.

and the Russian artist Franz Roubaud (1856-1928) who created great circular paintings or cycloramas of battles which were viewed from the inside.

Panorama of Moscow battle in 1812 (or Battle of Borodino). Created y Russian painter Franz Roubaud in 1912. Panorama is installed in Moscow Poklonnaya Hill Museum. Only part of the panorama is shown in the image.

I understand that around 30 of these 19th Century panoramas can still be seen today. One of the oldest being Wocher Panorama of Thun in Switzerland.

By Tobikuehn (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
‘Moving panoramas’ were created by scrolling the painting in front of viewers.

Louis Daguerre (1787-1851) took panoramas to another level by developing the diorama theatre. Audiences would sit in a theatre to view a large painting created on several sheets of linen that was transparent in places, then as light was manipulated using mirrors and shutters the image would appear to change. After 10 or 15 minutes, the audience would rotate to view a second or even a third painting.

Daguerre went on to develop his well documented photographic technique and some of the earliest panoramic style photographs were created by placing two (or more) daguerreotype plates next to each other, carefully moving the camera after each exposure.

The image below is of Nashville, Tennessee created from two daguerreotype plates taken by George Barnard in 1864.

1864 George Barnard albumen silver print; US Library of Congress

George Barnard is also known for taking panoramic landscapes for the Union Army during the Civil War. These would have been very useful for army officers making plans for their next attack but making the prints would have been very difficult as all plates were prepared, exposed and negatives developed in the field. Prints would have been made back in the studio where they would also be trimmed and mounted into a panoramic spread.

View from the top of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. February 1864, George Barnard albumen silver print, US Library of Congress

Slightly earlier in the 1840, William Henry Fox Talbot was doing something similar with Calotype photographs.

The image below is taken at Talbot’s studio in Reading, west of London in 1844 and consists of two salt prints. I understand that is Talbot in the middle of the picture operating the large camera.

Reproduced from the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television collection, by courtesy of the Science and Society Picture Library

Eadweard Muybridge created an impressive 13 photograph panorama of San Francisco in 1878. Each print is captured over four or five hours on wet collodion negatives. Each print was attached to a sheet of paper and all of the photos attached to one long sheet of fabric nearly 18′ long.

It is interesting to note that just 30 years before this photograph was taken San Francisco was a small town of no more than 1,000 people until James Wilson Marshall found gold in 1848.


There were lots of problems with this collage technique of panoramas. Odd distortions can occur and people can appear more than once in the photograph or even appear with limbs missing.

The problem was that originally cameras had a narrow field of view, perhaps 25-40 degrees but later cameras began to be manufactured specifically for taking panoramic photographs These were either swing-lens cameras where the lens moved sideways while the film remained still, or 360 degree cameras where both the lens and the film moved around.

The earliest record of a panoramic camera is from a patent in Australia in 1843 for a hand crank-driven swing lens panoramic camera awarded to Joseph Puchberger, a chemist and Wenzel Prokesh, an optician. It still used daguerreotype plates but they were 19 – 24″ and the lens was able to cover a 150 degree arc.

Friederich von Martens (1809-1875) a German, living in France developed the Megaskope Camera in 1844. It was similar to that of Puchberger but used curved daguerreotype plates and later wet collodion emulsions on curved glass to help minimise distortion.

In 1857 a patent was given to an M. Garella in England for a rotating photographic instrument. Instead of just the lens moving, this camera pivoted through 360 degrees while inside, a sensitive plate moved in the opposite direction to the camera.

Several panoramic cameras followed in quick succession. Thomas Sutton invented this camera in 1858.


And this was closely followed by Johnson and Harrison’s Pantoscopic Camera in 1862.


Victor Albert Prout invented a panoramic camera in 1865 and we have previously mentioned Camille Silvy and the panoramic camera that he invented in 1867 to name just a few.

Silvy’s innovative design used a sensitive sheet that gradually unwound from a spool and passed through the camera. In 1881 a flexible celluloid photographic film invented by Hannibal Goodwin made this process even easier and in 1884 when George Eastman’s roll film became commercially available swiftly followed by the Kodak camera in 1888 photography became available to the masses.

With the invention of digital photography and home computers photographs are now stitched together to create sophisticated panoramas in no time at all. Many cameras and even mobile phones have an in-camera panoramic capability and freely available Apps can perform the most sophisticated manipulations that the likes of Robert Barker couldn’t even imagine.

This image was created using an app called 360Panorama by Occipital.

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