In the absence of a specialised wide-angle camera, the earliest photographic panoramas were produced by rotating a standard camera through a horizontal arc and taking a series of consecutive exposures. The images were then aligned and joined in sequence.
Although the process seems simple today, it was an intricate feat for nineteenth-century photographers: making a uniform series of individually processed wet-plate negatives, all exhibiting the same density and contrast, was no easy task. The first paper panorama taken in Australia was a five-part view of Hobart. nearly a metre long, taken by John Sharp and Frederick Frith, using the wet-plate process, in late 1855 or early 1856.
For most of the nineteenth century, panoramic photographers resorted to joining a series of images together and mounting them on linen backing. Some were very successful and Charles Bayliss’s famous 1875 panorama of Sydney, taken from the tower of Holtermann’s residence in North Sydney, was the pinnacle of large-scale vistas in Australia. Made from a series of twenty-three wet-plate negatives measuring 56 by 46 centimetres many of which were duplicated four or more times to obtain the best image -the finished panorama was nearly ten metres long. From the identical viewpoint, another version was made using the same-sized plates (but rotated to landscape orientation) with a wide-angle lens. Finally, another extraordinary panorama of four mammoth plates, each approximately 1 by 1.5 metres, was produced.
At the turn of the nineteenth century, swing-lens cameras, such as the Al Vista (1898) and Panoram Kodak (1899), proved popular with amateur photographers able to afford them. Panoramic roll-film negatives from swing-lens cameras were less than thirty centimetres long and could easily be contact printed. Some professional photographers specialised in the panoramic format and American adventurer Melvin Vaniman built his own cameras based on the swing lens.
Cameras that rotated, such as the Kodak Cirkut (1904), became the standard for professional photographers. They came in a range of sizes and the largest, No.16, could make panoramic negatives as long as six metres. By changing a series of cogs in the clockwork mechanism, the photographer could alter the angle of view and length of film exposed. Charles Kerry imported a No.16 Cirkut camera to record the arrival of the American Navy’s ‘Great White Fleet’ in 1908 and the world heavyweight boxing title match between Tommy Burns and Jack Johnson at White City later that year.
An Eye For Photography, Alan Davies, State Library of New South Wales, Megunyah Press, 2004
If you would like to download any of these panoramas as high resolution images we have provided a set on Flickr for you