Thomas K Sharpless
PHILADELPHIA’S OLDEST LIVING SPHERICAL PANOGRAPHER
I am a tinkerer and self taught engineer. I’ve been messing with computers for as long as there have been computers — In 1945 I briefly operated the very first one. Despite a PhD in biochemistry from Princeton, I’ve worked mainly as a software engineer in medical instrumentation, with stints in commercial data processing in the late 1960s and very large scale integrated circuit design in the late 1990s.
I discovered 360 degree photography in 2004, by hacking a desktop document scanner into a rotating slit camera, and it has been my passion ever since. I soon joined the international community of programmers developing Hugin, the open source panorama stitcher based on Dersch’s PanoTools library. Working with Bruno Postle (who had the geometrical insights) I was able to mechanize a trick used by 18th century painters to create very wide views in what looks like normal perspective. What we called the Panini Projection has become a popular way to condense wide views in games and architectural rendering as well as photography.
In 2011 I had the very good luck to be cold-called by Sam Rohn, who ordered me to join the International Virtual Reality Photography Association. That year’s IVRPA conference was a life-changing experience. I met masters of spherical photography, saw masterworks, and began learning how to do it right. By now I’d have to admit I’m getting pretty good at it.
Since 2016 I have mostly made stereoscopic spherical panoramas. When viewed in a virtual reality headset, these give a compelling sense of presence. But static stereo is far from the last word in VR photography. Now I’m hard at work on software to create “3D bubble” panoramas, that show realistic perspective shifts when you move your head. And fervently hoping to see true VR cinema before I die.