If you’ve ever visited the National Air and Space Museum on a spring afternoon, one of the things you’re likely to remember is the crowds: visitors snapping photos of the Spirit of St. Louis, families learning about aerodynamics from one of our How Things Fly Explainers, school groups gathered around to touch a real piece of the Moon. As the most visited museum in the United States, it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to walk through our exhibitions and be the only one around. Now, thanks to the incredible work of volunteer and photographer Jim Walker, you can have the Museum all to yourself (from the comfort of your own home!) with these stunning panorama images of our National Mall building.
These incredibly detailed photos were taken by Walker in the morning before the Museum opened to visitors. For 19 days, from when the lights went on at 6 am until the first visitors entered the Museum at 10 am, Walker explored the galleries with his camera in tow. His objective was to capture the Museum the way that a visitor sees it, with no extra lighting or special editing.
Because Walker only shoots with ambient light, it meant he had to take a huge number of photographs for each panorama tour—495 in total—to compensate for the natural light and shadows in the galleries. Walker used a special robot, with a mount that let the camera swing up and down and rotate along an axis, to take photos around each exhibition. Then, Walker ran those hundreds of images through a computer program that let him stitch them all together into a panorama.
With the many challenging hours of work (and the many early mornings!) required, this became a passion project for Walker—a way for him to explore a new angle on his photography hobby and see the history of American aviation up-close. “I learn things every day at the Museum that just make me smile,” he said. “It just gives me life.”