The Masonic Temple On-Line
How We Acquired the new 360-Degree BeHere™ Images
360-degree images are offered as an additional way to "tour" the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania from the comfort of your own web-browser. This unique feature is a combination of clever hardware and software combined to give you an opportunity to feel what it is like to "be there!" In fact, a process known as BeHere™ Images allows you to stand in the Lodge rooms and other locations familiar to Pennsylvania Masons and feel as if you are in the middle of them.
This unusual process came about purely by accident- a vacation inquiry by a member of the Grand Lodge Committee on Internet Services came across an unusual 360-degree image of a water-slide park. As it is easy to do, a quick e-mail to Ava McKittrick of Netlisters, Inc, the host company for the Grand Lodge's website, included a simple question-"This is cool! How can we do this for our on-line tour?" Within the hour, Ava found the details available from the company web site, and pricing for rental of the equipment was discovered. After initial "sticker-shock" over the rental fee for the camera, lenses and necessary software, the decision was made that we just had to do it, and an October 1999 shooting week was established.

As is sometimes the case, "somebody" at the rental company botched the order, and the staff was in Philadelphia for two days, waiting for the equipment that never arrived. A cordial but concerned phone call to the rental company elicited profound apologies, and even better, an offer to send the equipment AT NO COST, when it was next available in December 1999-a $1200 savings to the website budget!

With some extra time to plan, the equipment was used in Philadelphia AND Elizabethtown for interior and exterior photographs at the Masonic Temple, the Masonic Village, and the Masonic Conference Center-Patton Campus.

Expecting a special mechanized camera-mount to spin around and take a 360-degree image, and a difficult learning curve, the surprising process turned out to be quite clever, and simple. A standard 35mm Nikon camera body was used with a short-focus lens to which was attached the key components-- special mirrors. Mounted over the camera was a conical shaped parabolic mirror that captured a 360-degree reflection of the surrounding space and reflected it onto a donut-shaped mirror a little smaller than an old 45 rpm record that was mounted on a small post in the middle of the camera lens, about 8-inches directly above the top of the mirror.

The camera recorded a photograph of the doughnut-shaped reflection onto regular 35mm film that was sent to a photo lab for developing, printing, and scanning to digital images. The only way to take the photos was with a timer, or by crawling under the tripod, directly beneath the camera and out of range of the parabolic mirror. To be sure that we had the best exposure, we bracketed 5 different shots with a fixed f-11 aperture and indoor shutter speeds of 2, 1, 1/2, 1/4, and 1/8 of a second. Outdoor shutter speeds of 1/60 and 1/125 were used to freeze motion.
These digital doughnuts were then processed with specially designed software that decoded the parabolic distortion, and allowed for the creation of a straight image of the 360-degree area. Using additional software, these long clear images were loaded into a window in which you now click your mouse to move left, right, up or down, and even allows you a most zoom in for closer detail.
The "Digital Donut" After software conversion As viewed in applet
But the technological adventure was not quite finished. While shooting in the Masonic Temple, Bro. Thomas R. Labagh, Chairman of the Committee on Internet Services jokingly remarked to one of the "blue-shirt" maintenance staff members, Bro. Curt Gensemer, that "Gee, too bad we don't have a 40-foot tripod to shoot up there," while pointing to the ceiling area of Corinthian and Renaissance Halls. After a radio request for permission from Masonic Temple Superintendent Bro. Daniel J. Hinds to erect the extension-lift, there was no turning back.
Ava politely declined the opportunity to ride in the bucket, and Tom was left with no choice. Many of the close-up stills planned for the self-guided on-line tour, and several BeHere™ Images are a result of that "uplifting" experience. Many of the stills of Tom (which Ava took from the safety of floor level) show evidence of his white-knuckled grip on the bucket-railing.
Check out this sample image -- we had some fun doing this one!


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