Cyclorama, Gettysburg National Military Park

As part of my epic trek from Newport News, Virginia to Acadia National Park, Maine, I stopped over in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I’d been to Washington, D.C. twice before, but had never made the drive up to Gettysburg. And oh, what a wealth of history I’d missed! I studied history in college, with an emphasis on the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and World War II. How could a history nut whose favorite periods encompassed these activities not enjoy Gettysburg?!

I stayed at the Gettysburg Hotel, which happens to be a historical building itself, and dined at Dobbin House. Both were great. Dobbin House was the absolute catch… I was in Gettysburg by myself after spending the morning at Easter services and brunch with family friends (brunch was in the officer’s club at Quantico MCB–not shabby for a non-military brat!). I was still dolled up in my Sunday best and had made reservations weeks before. The food was fantastic! I’m pretty sure I was the only person dining alone as you don’t often see someone in a fine dining establishment by their lonesome, let alone on Easter Sunday. But I’m a confident sort so I went armed with a good book and enjoyed myself immensely.

Gettysburg CycloramaGettysburg CycloramaBright and early Monday morning, I checked out of the hotel, loaded up my rental car and set out for the military park with my trusty camera in hand. Someday I’ll show you the photos of the park itself. However, one aspect most people know nothing about is the Gettysburg Cyclorama. It’s 360 degrees of canvas depicting the Battle at Gettysburg. It’s been fully restored and is viewed from a pedestal-like platform that rests in the center of the painting. A dramatic reading of sorts is presented as you view it. It’s also backlit so that you are given the feeling of sunrise, explosions, sunset, and night.

Gettysburg CycloramaGettysburg CycloramaFlash photography is strictly prohibited! As such, I had to rest my camera on the iron railing and take very long time exposures. No skin off my teeth! The result of this was nothing short of fantastic. The 6-8 seconds of time exposure brought about the most incredible color saturation I’ve ever encountered. And folks, we’re just getting started…

Gettysburg CycloramaGettysburg CycloramaIt actually proved far easier to photograph than one would think for a low-lit room with no flash photography allowed. The railing had a flat surface that was approximately four inches wide. One can easily balance a camera on that surface. The trick, however, is to make sure you aren’t getting a viewfinder full of railing as you shoot off to the side. Because the painting is 360 degrees, it’s a bit odd to shoot, to be honest.

Gettysburg CycloramaGettysburg CycloramaThe most difficult shots were the vertical… not the horizontal (think “horizon” and you’ll never get them confused). Why? Because the hand grip areas on a single lens reflex (SLR) aren’t exactly known for having flat surfaces. But if you’re steady and patient, the railing in the Cyclorama Building is your friend. It’s more than possible to capture a vertical image whilst holding the camera completely still for 6-8 seconds. And it’s worth it!

The second shot here is one of my favorites as you can see the “explosions” from the backlit canvas. The effect works very well. And since my photos were all time exposures, the lights were able to fade in and fade out creating an even more convincing image as you don’t make out the sharp contours of the flood light behind the canvas.

Gettysburg CycloramaGettysburg CycloramaA lot of these things I discovered after I got my photos uploaded onto Sean, my trusty MacBook, later that evening. After all, the screen on the back of a camera is only so big. I couldn’t be certain if images were clear or blurry and had to just trust my instincts. I loved the detail I discovered when I was able to enlarge the images on Sean. Yes, these were run through Adobe PhotoShop, but not for the purpose of tricking out the photos. Nope, for the simple reason that each of my lenses has a piece of lint on the interior and I have to remove it from every single photo I shoot. Joy is mine. It’s tedious, but completely worth it!

Gettysburg CycloramaGettysburg CycloramaGettysburg CycloramaHere I have the same shot in various lighting as it shifted. Sometimes I moved. Sometimes I shot the same photo over and over again as the back lighting or front lighting altered. The third photo is probably my most favorite. Blue is my favorite color and to see that brilliant royal blue shift to reds with every imaginable color in between is incredible. This shot is matted and framed… with a mat that’s violet in color. It absolutely pops and everyone has to stop and take a closer look.

Gettysburg CycloramaPlease meet the other matted and framed photo in the Cyclorama repertoire.

I realize this is a photo-intensive post. And to be honest, these itty-bitty little thumbnails are pretty worthless. I do hope you click on the first photo and just follow them through. They details of the painting are visible once you get to a larger image. I kept the resolution very high when I posted these so that hopefully you’d be able to see what I saw. I also recommend this stop whenever you visit Gettysburg. It is, quite simply, fantastic. No filters required, just patience and a good camera!

Gettysburg CycloramaGettysburg CycloramaWhen I arrive home from any of my big trips, I put my graphic design training to good work and create hardbound coffee table books that I have professionally printed. I first did this when my brother Ethan, his wife Adriana, my sister Julie, our friend Katie, and I had the chance to visit Washington, D.C. in 2008. The big deal was that we got to tour the West Wing of the White House (I’ve been in the Oval Office from the neck up). When a group of us went to the Vancouver Olympics, they offered to pay me to make a book commemorating our trip. I would’ve made one for myself anyway, so that worked perfectly. Books for my 2010 trip to Europe and my 2012 East Coast swing were natural follow ups. These two pages, along with my peacocks, were my favorites of the book. And the Cyclorama pages sit opposite each other in my book just as you see here. Someone did ask me how I captured such rich hues when they turned to this page… um, I aimed my camera, held it still, and pushed the button. (Very technical, I know.)

Awash in: Color

Awash in: The Hue of You

14 thoughts on “Cyclorama, Gettysburg National Military Park

    • I think a lot of people bypass it, thinking, “Oh, it’s just a military park. It’s probably boring!” I found it fascinating… between the driving tour, the Cyclorama, and Eisenhower’s place, I loved it! I need to post the photos from the driving tour and my tour of Eisenhower’s farm… note to self. 😉

      • Someone recommended that we hire a tour guide for our car and we did. Best thing ever! She was so good and history came alive. It also helps to read up on it before going. I love history and the people who lived are the ones who make it fascinating.

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