About Don Bain's Virtual Guidebooks Website

This website contains a collection of VR panoramas - special images that allow you to look all the way around, 360 degrees. They are presented here in an effort to document the landscapes of the western half of the North American continent.


Here is an example of a VR panorama. Don't just watch it rotate- use your mouse to spin it around!

You can see exactly what it was like that evening on the cliff top at Salt Point State Park on the California coast. You can look north and south along the coastline, down at the wind-combed grass, or up at the wisps of fog scudding past. Or load the high resolution version, then zoom in to find the tiny flowers or study the lichen on the rocks.

A VR panorama is the next best thing to being there.


Who is Don Bain and Why Has He Created This Site?

G. Donald Bain is a geographer, photographer, teacher, and environmentalist. For many years his work has focused on documenting landscapes, first with Kodachrome slides, then with digital images on the web, and since 1995 with VR panoramas.

From 1986 to 2008 Don was the Director of the Geography Computing Facility at the University of California at Berkeley. He taught computer cartography and various other technical subjects, also the Geography Field Class, and pursued projects advancing the use of digital imagery in geography. He created The Geo-Images Project and published it on the world wide web in 1994, one of the first websites to feature color photographs.

When Apple introduced QuickTime VR Don recognized it as the next evolutionary step in portraying landscapes, already his specialty. He immediately acquired the necessary equipment and expertise and created his first VR panorama in September 1995 (and it is still on-line).

At first Don's VR panoramas were presented as part of The Geo-Images Project. Over the course of four years he produced more than a thousand of these images, using home-made equipment and shooting negative film. Gradually the project expanded into an effort to provide a comprehensive documentation of western landscapes using VR panoramas.

In January of the year 2000, the new millenium, Don moved his archive of images off the university server and network and made it exclusively his own project. The name Virtual Guidebooks stemmed from a relatively brief period of interest from venture capitalists. In April of 2000 he made a rapid transition from film to digital photography, resulting in better quality and vastly greater efficiency.

This personal goal of comprehensive geographic documentation became Don's obsession (his wife's word for it) and occupied all his free time. The number of panoramas increased steadily to over 10,000 and the gaps in his coverage map were gradually filled in. Eventually most of the older film-based panos were retired or replaced, bringing the total presented on the site to about 8000 by the end of 2010.

In 2006 Don reduced his time at the university to 80%, mostly to gain an extra day per week for travel and work on his panoramas. In April 2008 changes in department management convinced him it was time to move on and he opted for early retirement. This allowed him to increase the length and frequency of his panorama trips and to undertake several large site-improvement projects.

Don's self-appointed mission has taken him north to the Arctic shore three times, south to the tip of Baja California twice, and he has made four trips to Hawaii specifically for panoramas. He has criss-crossed his half of a continent, shooting in 18 states plus Canada and Mexico. He is getting close to his goal of documenting all the western units of the National Park system. Originally he limited his coverage to west of the 100th Meridian, but in 2008 he followed the Oregon Trail all the way to Missouri.

In addition to building his own site, Don has worked to promote the VR field and the people involved in it. In March 2004 he co-founded The World Wide Panorama with Landis Bennett (also a Berkeley geographer). The WWP sponsors quarterly events when participants shoot on a theme and the results are added to the site, now boasting over 6600 panoramas by 1100 photographers from around the world. To safeguard the WWP website after he left the university Don set up the World Wide Panorama Foundation.

Don also served as a director of the International VR Photography Association from 2006 to 2008, and as its Vice President since 2009. In June 2007 Bain and Bennett organized the International VR Photography Conference in Berkeley, and in April 2010 Don partnered with Christian Fleury to put on Tucson 2010, the International Panoramic Photography Conference.

In 2011, at the invitation of Carlos Chegado of the IVRPA, Don produced two exhibitions of printed panoramas for Palmela 2011, the International Panoramic Photography Festival in Portugal. One of these, the Masters of Contemporary Panoramic Photography, features the work of many leaders in the field, and the other, Panorama Borealis, consists of an entire gallery of prints from Don's seven-week 2010 Alaska trip.

What is a Virtual Guidebook?

A virtual guidebook is a collection of VR panoramas chosen to characterize a region, a composite view that will give you an idea of what the area is like. Each guidebook includes panoramas of characteristic landscapes, interesting and significant sites, and seeks to portray the particular beauty of the place.

There are over 8000 panoramas currently available on this site, all taken by Don Bain. They span western North America from the Arctic coast in Alaska and Canada, to Baja California in Mexico, from the islands of Hawaii east to the Missouri River. New images are constantly being prepared - for news of new additions see the Virtual Guidebooks Blog at the bottom of the home page or the Blog Archive.

The panoramas are arranged geographically. Using the maps, lists, and navigation buttons you can explore until you find the area you are interested in. Or better yet, use the Previous and Next buttons to move methodically from state to state, guidebook to guidebook, or through all the localities within a guidebook. For more information on the organization of this site, refer to the Help page.

There are also thematic lists if you are interested in seeing, for example, all the panoramas of lighthouses, or waterfalls (actually, most of the thematic lists are being revised at the moment). Special lists have been prepared for national parks, California state parks, and the California Missions. Many more thematic lists are planned, with topics ranging from the Oregon Trail to famous trees.

There are lists of recommended books, maps, and movies for each geographic area, and special lists of atlases, guidebooks, and works by major Western authors. The posters section lists inexpensive posters and prints from AllPosters and Art.com, geographically grouped.


More Information:

About the Virtual Guidebooks site
Help seeing the panoramas and navigating the Virtual Guidebooks web site
Copyright Statement and Licensing Information
Linking to the Panoramas on Virtual Guidebooks
The Virtual Guidebooks Blog, periodic updates on various topics relating to this site
How are the panoramas made?
Cameras and lenses I use to make VR panoramas
Tripods and VR mounts I use to make panoramas
Software I use to make VR panoramas
Printing panoramas
Original fine art prints of the panoramas on this site
Books, maps and movies - special lists and geographic collections
Posters from AllPosters.com and Art.com
Thematic lists of the subjects represented on Virtual Guidebooks
Geographic lists of the contents of Virtual Guidebooks

Contact Don Bain: dbain@virtualguidebooks.com


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The Forgotten Peninsula
by Joseph Wood Krutch
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Waterfall Lovers Guide
Pacific Northwest
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Waterfall Lovers Guide
Northern California
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Farewell My Lovely
by Raymond Chandler