Don Bain's 360° Panoramas


History of the project

I began shooting interactive 360° panoramas immediately after the technology was invented by Apple Computer. My first panoramas, beginning in August 1996, were shot on 35 mm negative film using an improvised camera mount, stitched together using a command line program, and presented in QuickTime VR format. They were published as part of The GeoImages Project website, University of California Berkeley, among the first VR panoramas on the web.

My privately published Virtual Guidebooks website appeared on-line January 1, 2000, coinciding with my shift from film to digital cameras. It grew gradually to 8000 panoramas. The panorama technology had to be converted from QTVR to Flash, and eventually converted again to html 5. It contained commercial links to Amazon and other vendors. 

In September 2011 I undertook a thorough revision of the site, starting with the name. The original 'Virtual Guidebooks' concept made sense early on, when I planned to develop detailed travel guides illustrated with VR panoramas. But this would have required either a staff of researchers and writers, or a partnership with an existing travel guide publisher. Neither of those worked out, and I eventually removed advertising links entirely. 

The new name, Don Bain's 360° Panoramas, better describes the website's contents and purpose. I continued to shoot and produce panoramas, publishing them as a non-profit venture.

In March 2004 I was one of the founders of The World Wide Panorama, a quarterly event promoting 360° panoramic photography that is still active. Over a thousand people have participated in this project over the last twenty years.

In June 2007 I helped produce The International VR Photography Conference, held on the University of California Berkeley campus, where I was employed as Director of the Geography Computing Facility. 

For several years I was vice-president ​of the International VR Photography Association. In April 2010 I organized the conference Tucson 2010 in Arizona, on behalf of the IVRPA. In June 2011 I curated two exhibits for the IVRPA's Palmela 2011 conference in Portugal. 

The once and future website you see here covers 33 states, provinces, and territories. When rebuilding concludes it will contain about 100 Regions, at least 2900 Localities, and more than 15,000 360° panoramas. It is entirely my own work, and represents more than a quarter century of effort.  I continued to create new 360 panoramas until 2020.

My self-assigned task has always been to comprehensively document western North America, exploring widely and photographing places I find interesting. I do not do commercial work.

I have traveled from the Arctic Ocean to the tip of Baja California, all over the western half of the US and Canada, and across the southern tier of states east to Florida, plus Hawaii. The geographic extremes encompassed by this website are Deadhorse in Alaska to the northwest, Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of Canada to the northeast, Cabo San Lucas in Baja California, Mexico, to the southwest, South Point on the Big Island of Hawai'i even further south, and Key West in Florida to the southeast. Plus a few places in French Polynesia and Scotland.

Despite the broad spread of my photographic documentation, more than half of the panoramas were taken in my home state of California. With a thousand miles of coastline,  ten national parks, the tallest trees, the biggest trees, the oldest trees, the highest point (excepting Alaska), the lowest point, and several large cities, it has provided ample subject matter. Plus, I live right in the middle of the state, the San Francisco Bay Area.

I prefer national parks and remote landscapes to cities, but have covered some urban places, notably San Francisco (where I was born) and New Orleans (where I lived for two years). Several series of photographs follow a historical theme such as the Oregon Trail, the Klondike Gold Rush, and the Spanish missions in the southwest and Mexico.

I have made a special effort to visit all the western national parks, as well as BC provincial parks and California state parks. A few special topics have engaged my interest – lighthouses, trains, bridges, Sequoia groves, ghost towns, hot springs, Polynesian religious sites, and more.

My preferred mode of travel is to drive and camp. My traveling equipage has evolved from an SUV and a tent, to a simple van with a plywood bed platform, to a pop-up camper on a four-wheel drive pickup truck, and finally to a comfortable camping van. 

I prefer simple campgrounds at national and state parks to RV parks, and frequently "boondock" – camp without a campground, usually in remote forest or desert areas of the west. In Hawaii I have most often rented a condo, but have also tent-camped out of a tiny rental car.

I have never totaled up all of my road-trips, but it may well be over a quarter million miles. My longest trips have been to Alaska and the Northwest Territories of Canada, to the southern tip of Baja California, and across the continent to Florida, always originating in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

My longest continuous solo drive was from Kamloops, BC, to Berkeley, California, just over 1000 miles, done in about 18 hours including brief rest stops, and going straight back to work. Most of my serious photography trips have been done solo, but my wife Nora has accompanied me on some, sometimes flying to meet me mid-trip, or to avoid a long drive home.

Ferryboats have frequently been a part of my travels in BC and Alaska, plus one trip to Alaska on a cruise ship with family. Only one short side-trip was done by air, from Juneau to Glacier Bay National Park.

A few panoramas were made on overnight backpack trips – the high Sierra and Lost Coast in California, and Mount Robson in the Canadian Rockies. I regret that my 360 photography did not overlap more with my backpacking and mountaineering years.

My only serious trouble on these trips was when my van broke down near the Arctic Circle in Alaska and had to be towed to Fairbanks. No problems with hostile people or wildlife, though I did have a close-up encounter with a grizzly bear – which I photographed from the safety of my van.

During the time I was taking 360 panoramas I made other trips, to England, Scotland, and Portugal, but did not shoot for my site. A trip to French Polynesia on university business resulted in a handful of panos. But those early days of VR photography were so demanding, and expensive, that I did not shoot on the rest of that epic South Pacific trip – Rarotonga, Atiu, Aitutaki, Fiji, and American Samoa. I regret that I never managed to get back to Dominica, a spectacular island in the West Indies where I did graduate research for almost a year.