My day in Yellowstone last month was a long and varied one (see previous posts one, two, three). As I was leaving the park along the Madison river (almost the longest in the U.S.), I stopped occasionally to photograph the line of mountains on the opposite side of the valley.


As I was doing this, I had in mind the images from the month before of the landscape by Tepee Creek (post here). I was hoping to catch some of the rhythm, perhaps even musicality, that I found in both places. I’ve nurtured such a poetic and mostly unrealized hope since I read about photographer Michael Smith’s epiphany with sonograms, like the one below of a hermit thrush. Smith was inspired by the beauty of such sonograms in creating some of his wide landscapes. (Though it’s worth pointing out that Smith’s wife, Paula Chamlee, in her own way, succeeded as well or better.)

That wide panoramic format is not only reminiscent of a musical score or narrative progression, but also fit well with the actual manner in which the line of mountains scrolled past me as I travelled. So I tried cropping a few of my images to half their original height, which makes them three times wider than they are tall. It was fun trying to decide what slice to take; sometimes more than one seemed to work.



For comparison, below are the non-panoramic versions. I’m not sure I like these less, but there is a different feeling with them. The viewer wanders around more in the landscape, rather than taking a journey along a designated path.




The same approach seems to work as well for a vertical orientation.



As usual, I like to see how other artists have dealt with similar issues or used similar approaches. Lately, l’ve been looking at Bruce Marsh‘s landscape paintings, which are frequently in a panoramic format. Here are just a few from his Recent and Utah galleries (click to see larger versions):

Calf Creek II

Calf Creek II

Waterpocket Fold I

Waterpocket Fold I

Mira Bay Hill

Mira Bay Hill

The experience of viewing a panoramic depends on size and viewing distance. If it’s large enough that you need to physically walk along it, that tends to enforce a linear trajectory, like reading a Chinese scroll. On the other hand, at that size there is also plenty to see via local roving about of the eye. Wandering with a drift.

One thing I noticed is that my panoramics here seem to be more about repeated patterns and major division lines, like the skyline. Especially images 2-4. Bruce’s paintings have more of a shape, a development or story to them, which I find very satisfying. Waterpocket Fold I and Mira Bay Hill even have evident chapters. My vertical does have more of a storyline, though I can’t decide whether it runs up or down.

Which direction seems more natural to you? In the case of the horizontal panoramics, do you read left-to-right, right-to-left, or start at some eye-catching point in the middle and work both ways? How about the vertical?