Much of the visual appeal of a panorama derives from the carefully crafted environment that interacts with the structural landscape. This section outlines some of Berann’s preferred special effects and graphical flourishes.


Berann loved color and used it abundantly and with casual confidence. In 1991, Berann spoke about his work at the “Mapping for Parklands” symposium sponsored by the NPS. To paraphrase him: “I make a beautiful panorama by adding a little bit of color here, another bit of color there...dah-da, dah-da, dah-da.” That easy. Surprisingly, he relied heavily on saturated primary colors. Fiery oranges illuminate mountain peaks, cliff faces glow in shocking pink, and deep blue shadows etch the slopes, occasionally accented with bright red (Wood, 2000). Amazingly, they all come together to form a harmonious natural landscape. The key to Berann’s success, of course, is his use of complementary colors, applied with small loose brush strokes, sometimes pointillistically in forested areas.

Two standardized color palettes were used, one for winter scenes and the other for summer. The winter palette relied on a limited range of colors—the grays, whites, blues, and deep forest greens that characterize high mountain areas worldwide. Berann used it mostly to paint winter sports areas. He used the richer and more vital summer palette for the NPS panoramas—except for the high-elevation areas of Denali, which exhibit the winter palette. Within the summer palette, color would be selected according to real-world conditions and to achieve graphical effect. For example, the highest peaks within a scene were generally the lightest, often because of snow, and were highlighted with reds and oranges reminiscent of alpenglow. By contrast, the lowlands, which are warmer climatically, were dominated by forests depicted in dark greens, a visually recessive color. Depth within a scene was enhanced by using cool blues to portray background terrain and warmer hues for foreground features (Garfield, 1992). This is another example of the aerial perspective effect, applied to the horizontal plane, which mimics the view one sees from a high peak, in which blue haze veils distant features and more saturated hues gradually become evident in the foreground.

The summer palette did not always work successfully. Berann developed it for portraying the well-watered and manicured landscapes of his native Alps in early summer. It translates poorly to semi-arid environments, such as Yellowstone. The garish yellow-green Berann used for the meadows, while perhaps characteristic of the Alps, is incongruous in the Yellowstone region. Berann’s earliest panoramas made abundant use of yellow-green for depicting meadows (a color choice that was hampered by the poor color reproduction technology of the day, a situation that often frustrated Berann), but it is less apparent on his later work and does not appear at all on Denali, even though vast tracts of grassy tundra spread before the mountain.


Panorama illumination differs from the conventions used for cartographic relief shading. In cartography, the preferred light source usually originates in the northwest or upper left when the map is north oriented. This selection helps to minimize relief inversion, an optical illusion that causes mountains to look like valleys and vice versa. However, when upper-left illumination is used on a panorama, the slopes facing the viewer are cloaked by shadows obscuring foreground detail.

Illumination from the front left or right usually works best for panoramas. Front-left illumination more closely approximates cartographic conventions and, therefore, would seem to be the preferred illumination source for panoramas. Berann’s NPS panoramas generally support this idea, except that Yosemite is illuminated from the front right. Berann’s preference for front-left illumination is not as evident in his non NPS work, however, which seems just as apt to use illumination coming from the front and right. Front-right illumination is especially prevalent in small-scale continental panoramas and ocean bottom maps, the most map-like work of all Berann’s productions. Curiously, these maps look splendid and do not suffer from relief inversion despite the use of illumination that usually dooms 2D shaded relief. Apparently 3D landscape maps are more tolerant of variable illumination sources than conventional 2D relief maps—a subject deserving more attention from cartographic researchers.

To select the illumination direction, Berann would consider several factors and judge their interaction with the topographic characteristics of a panorama. His foremost consideration was to position the light source as perpendicular as possible to major trends in the topography because this would emphasize the contrast between illuminated and shadowed slopes, thus enhancing three dimensionality. He would also study slope and aspect for the purpose of bathing gentle slopes in illumination and limiting dark shadows to abrupt slopes with limited area. These effects maximized legibility throughout the panorama. For panoramas containing a sizable water body, Berann preferred that the light originate from the direction of the sea (Garfield, 1970). Pragmatism may have also influenced how Berann chose the illumination direction. For example, reconnaissance flights are usually scheduled for cloud-free mornings when light originates from the southeast, so it was much easier for Berann to use the southeast illumination imbedded in the aerial photographs, if these were his references, than to recalculate illumination from another direction. Also, illumination within a panorama is not rigidly constant. Sometimes it appears that Berann uses secondary illumination sources to give local units of terrain better definition, or perhaps he was accounting for reflections from adjacent slopes or ambient light. In general, the lighting within his scenes suggests sun elevations typically encountered during early to midmorning or mid- to late-afternoon.

Berann’s penchant for selecting an illumination source based primarily on graphical considerations sometimes resulted in lighting seldom if ever encountered in the natural world. For example, some of his panoramas of the Alps look from northwest to southeast and use illumination coming from the front and left. This azimuth places the midmorning sun in the northeast quadrant of the sky—a geographic impossibility even during the summer solstice. Moreover, some of his panoramas contain morning sun (judging by the light direction) that casts golden illumination across the landscape while convective cumulus clouds form on the horizon, creating an ambience more typical of late afternoon lighting. Nevertheless, these panoramas look convincingly normal, and few viewers would notice or even care about the meteorological discrepancies.

Cast shadows

Cast shadows—the shadows thrown by high topographic features across lower areas—are steadfastly avoided in 2D shaded relief to avoid confusion in narrow valleys (Imhof, 1982). Otherwise, the shadows project onto illuminated slopes and make the drainage lines appear out of register with the shaded relief. Once again, however, the rules of conventional cartography do not apply to panoramas. Berann used cast shadows liberally to enhance natural realism, with minimal detrimental effect, although some detail is sacrificed.

To place cast shadows Berann had to calculate how irregular shadow profiles would project on irregular adjacent slopes. This is an amazing visualization feat. Some cast shadows are shown with crisp edges while others merge diffusely with their surroundings to create a somber mood. The shadows typically result from a relatively low-altitude illumination source to heighten the overall dramatic effect. As with illumination, Berann varied slightly the placement, length, orientation, and intensity of cast shadows within a panorama, depending on the presentation requirements of localized terrain. (Figure 12) Despite the small variations, all cast shadows appear natural and consistent within the scene, probably because complex terrain makes light and shadow patterns difficult to gauge. Berann painted the cast shadows with dense neutral or cool colors that serve to balance the warm colors on illuminated slopes.

Water surfaces

Shimmering water bodies are a hallmark of Berann’s panoramas. Believing that water bodies are a significant component of the landscape, he typically exaggerated their size (Wood, 2000). The appearance of water surfaces is determined by sun elevation and azimuth, clouds, wind gusts, adjacent terrain, and depths. Berann’s water surfaces are always tranquil, interrupted occasionally by rippling zephyrs and the wakes from boats (Troyer, 2000). Colors range from dark blues in narrow mountain surrounded bays to light blues in open water. On top of the blue Berann airbrushed white sun glints, in places with an intensity that suggests radiating energy. The effect is to highlight selected lakes, bays, and other water surfaces in a highly individualistic fashion. (Oblique satellite images and aerial photographs show sun reflections to be much more uniform.) In general, his depiction of water surfaces tends to minimize the influence of surrounding terrain. Cast shadows rarely mar the water surface, even within fiord-like embayments, and reflected mountain sides appear only as subtle hints. Rivers are depicted in dark blue, while rapids and waterfalls are shown in bluish white.

Atmosphere and clouds

Clouds distinguish Berann’s panoramas from all imitators. Paradoxically, they add natural realism to scenes, yet from nowhere on Earth do clouds appear quite as they do in Berann’s work. Their ethereal perfectionism almost certainly derives from his background as a painter of religious art. According to Berann, the sky gives a panorama its “voice.” (Stern, 1987). Berann also found inspiration for cloud depictions in his everyday observations of nature. When traveling with Herwig Schutzler, he would occasionally stop, point at the sky, and exclaim: “there are Berann clouds” (Schutzler, 1999).

Although related stylistically, Berann’s cloudscapes all appear different from one another. (Figure 13) Yellowstone features backlit storm clouds emerging through the western haze. Yosemite shows a tempest clinging to its northern peaks and high altitude cirrus clouds converging toward an unseen vanishing point, suggesting motion. Because clouds occupy the most distant areas, cloud shadows tend to interact only with landforms near the horizon. Sky and clouds occupy the top one-third of Berann’s panoramas, which conforms to the sky-to-land ratio of classic European landscape photography and is commonly used for postcards and calendars. Within a panorama, however, this is a generous allocation of space devoted to a feature whose primary function is ornamental. To place greater emphasis on the landscape itself, the sky in the printed NPS panoramas has been cropped so that it occupies 20 to 25 percent of their total visible area.

The shades of blue in the sky determine the color of background haze, which in turn determines the depth of a scene. Extra haze sometimes fills the deepest valleys, enhancing the aerial-perspective effect. On the North Cascades panorama, the discerning viewer will notice an unusual atmospheric phenomena, similar to a rainbow, where the sun strikes morning valley haze over Lake Chelan (see Appendix A for illustration). Berann used greater amounts of mist and haze in middleground areas on his panoramas of the Alps, a humid environment, compared to his NPS pieces of the drier western United States. His panorama of Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomites of Italy shows a towering thunderstorm with an anvil-shaped crown, arguably the most distinctive and imposing of all cloud types, but one seldom depicted by Berann (see Berann and Graefe, 1966, for example). Moreover, the fluffy cumulus clouds so typical of summer skies are conspicuously absent from Berann’s panoramas, perhaps because their languid appearance would contribute minimal dynamic energy to a scene.

Berann’s most memorable panoramic sky was painted for the Valais Water Authority, a region in Switzerland including the Matterhorn. On this project Berann was free for once from the dictates of the tourist industry, which invariably insisted on showing sunny skies to attract visitors. Left to his own devices, he painted a melancholy sky with ragged dark clouds and thunderbolts, giving the scene a sense of apocalyptic foreboding (see Garfield, 1992, cover illustration, for example)

Within a typical Berann panorama the color of the sky varies in value from top (darker) to bottom (lighter) and from left to right depending on the illumination source. Clouds are absent or rare on snow-covered winter panoramas to minimize the dominance of white. The Denali panorama shows this preference, although a careful inspection will reveal a few wispy clouds emerging from behind the flanks of Mt. McKinley. On most panoramas, clouds are placed at varying altitudes, ranging from fogs, mists, and storm clouds that brush the Earth’s surface to streaks of cirrus high overhead. With theatrical drama, Berann typically placed roiling storm clouds along the margins, where they appear to be moving away from the center of the panorama. The effect is to reveal a landscape to the audience the way opening curtains reveal a stage. (Figure 14)

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