Brian Lawler: SLO Pano

Exhibits // Brian Lawler: SLO Pano

Feb 14 - Mar 30

Overview // Panoramic photos have been a part of the photographic landscape since the mid 19th century. Photographers would climb to a mountaintop and take a series of photos across the horizon to make an image they later pasted together as a panoramic image. Unfortunately, that technique doesn’t work well because the photos never match – lens distortions, exposure variations and parallax error conspire to make the images inconsistent and inaccurate.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that a camera was built to rotate while exposing a continuous roll of film to make a true panoramic image. Rotating cameras were popular with photographers from about 1905 until the middle of the 20th century.

In the late 20th century a few modern rotating cameras arrived on the scene, allowing photographers again to make 360-degree photos on commercial medium-format film. These cameras were very expensive and moderately difficult to use.

In 1996, Apple Computer released a new software product that made it possible to use a normal camera on a rotating tripod mount to make an optically correct panoramic photo by “stitching” separate images together into a whole. The Apple software corrected the distortion of lenses, then blended overlapping images into a complete and optically correct panoramic image. That software opened the flood gates to a new generation of panoramic photographers. In the years since, stitched panoramic photography has become much more sophisticated, with better software and better camera mounts to make the source images. Today, compelling panoramic images can be made with an iPhone!

In SLO Pano, the Museum of Art exhibit opening on February 14, 2014, San Luis Obispo photographer Brian P. Lawler will be showcasing many of his panoramic images. Some of these are modern day replicas of historic images taken in the early 20th century, while others are completely new images he has taken in the local area and around the world.

Lawler’s passion for panoramic images has taken him to the top of most of the local peaks, with photos from Terrace Hill, Bishop Peak, and Cerro San Luis Obispo. He has also trekked to the hill overlooking Camp San Luis Obispo (with California National Guard assistance) and out into the Tank Farm (with Chevron’s assistance) to take modern replicas of historic photos taken by Frank Aston, a photographer who made his living in San Luis Obispo from 1905 until 1947.

The panoramas taken by Lawler are made with a special camera mount called a GigaPan, which is a robotic camera controller. He sets up an image, gives instructions to the GigaPan unit, and the camera and mount then take up to several thousand images. These images are later stitched together into ultra-high resolution panoramic photos that are gigabytes in size. Comparing that to the resolution of a single photo from a digital camera, his Gigapans are hundreds or thousands of times greater in detail.

The show, which features one of those high-resolution images enlarged to almost 60 feet in length, will run from February 14 through March 30, 2014. His other panoramic images feature local, national, and world landmarks displayed at partial or complete 360-degree photos.

In the center of the Gray Wing gallery at the museum will be two fabric domes with panoramic images printed on the inside. These “panodomes” are immersive structures designed to delight viewers who step inside to see the panoramas in lifelike detail.

Details // Opens Friday, February 14, 2014