The National Park Service recreates stunning panoramas 80 years later


posted Tuesday, January 28, 2014 at 3:30 PM EDT


In the early days of the 1930s, the US Forest Service and Parks Service set up a series of panoramas from lookout points in order to set up maps for watching for fires. Over the course of a few years, 200 lookout locations across the country were photographed this way, providing an invaluable resource to gauge distances to wildfires in the parks. Now, some 80 years later, they've returned to those same locations to take the same photographs, and see the way the landscape has changed.

The modern photos were taken from 2007 to 2009, and rather than rely on the monochromatic film of the originals, the Park Service instead used infrared film. Why infrared? According to them

"The crew used infrared film primarily in an effort to cut through any haze that was in the atmosphere. This produced a higher contrast image of the ‘background’ which was the primary focus of the images taken."

Unfortunately, it wasn't always as simple as just going to the same spot and snapping the same photo. Lester Moe, the original photographer took his photos from the top of a number of lookout towers which no longer exist, making them impossible to perfectly recreate. But there are still a number of images where you can overlay the two perfectly, and see how the landscape has altered in the intervening decades.

Thanks to the infrared film the bright red of healthy trees stands out dramatically compared to the black and white versions of the shots. But if you look closely, you can still make out where roads have been built, where foliage has regrown or receded, or even the legacy of fires that were new when the originals were taken in the 1930s.

What's sad about this is that it's extremely unlikely that there will be another round of photographs like this. It's doubtful that 80 years from now, someone will be willing to use an Osborne camera to take the shots, and even more unlikely that they'd track down the color infrared film that was used in the 21st century shots: Kodak stopped making it in 2007, and it's extremely hard to come by even now.

(via DPReview)