CANADIAN PHOTOGRAPHIC ARTIST OF THE YEAR, 2009
Nature Photography Central

Your Perfect Pano head, or panoramic photography tripod head

Why you should use a pano head for shooting panoramic photos.

pano-head-nodal-ninjaPanoramic photography or simply “panoramas” have built-in complexities that make creating a seamless panorama photo a time consuming endeavour.

Over the years, I’ve learned, often through painful experienced (!) that the right tools are a must, and that some things just can’t be cobbled together or done via a DIY appraoch. One of these realizations was that to make stunning and QUICK panoramics, I needed a panoramic tripod head or pano head.

Yes, I know we can use software to stitch the control points together, and that there are a few good handheld panorama photography techniques on the Internet , but if I’m on an assignment or even just on vacation I sure don’t want to spend hours stitching panoramic images. And as much as I love playing around in Photoshop, the tedium of stitching is NOT my idea of fun or learning. Yawn!!!
So after about 8 months of manually shooting and stitching my panoramic photos, I began to research easier ways.

One tool you can’t do without tool is a super wide angle lens such as the Nikon 10.5mm lens (if you’re a Nikon shooter). You can make a full 360 degree panorama photo with only 6 shots. This saves a ton of shooting time, and give you more opportunities to create more panoramic photos, since you don’t have to spend so much time setting up your panorama shot. This is also critical if you are shooting panoramics where there are a lot of people, in a popular national park for example, or an interior space, because you really don’t want to be hanging around with all your gear having people watch, chat, ask questions, wanting to chimp with you etc.

How pano heads work

my nodal ninja panohead set opBut the most critical piece of equipment for quick high quality and painless panoramic photos is a specially designed pano head.

How these panoramic photography tripod heads work is that they bolt on to your tripod, replacing the ball head or sometimes working in tandem with it. But the main feature is that the pano head takes care of all the work for you.

You see, a good pano head will support your camera at exactly the right angle to shoot a perfect panorama photo, for your camera and lens combination.

Your pano head should have a click-stop system so that as you turn your camera around on the head to make your series of shots, it will “click” at exactly the right location so you get the precise amount of overlap between shots to make stitching your images a push-button process.

A good pano head will ensure that the camera and lens rotate around the magical nodal point (NPP)of the lens – this is the place at which parallax is pretty much eliminated. This is one of the most impossible things to do in a handheld panoramic shot, because you just can turn your body with that amount of precision. Parallax is what makes stitching such a pain because each image has a slightly different “perspective” than the previous and next shots.

For us nature photographers, a good pano head needs to be super lightweight so you can carry it with you everywhere because you never know when an awesome panoramic scene will present itself. Think about how the light changes so dramatically on the landscape, and you’ll understand that some shots are more than fleeting – these are often the most eye-popping panoramic subjects.

And of course you don’t want your pano head to cost a bundle!

My panoramic photography tripod head of choice is a Nodal Ninja 3 pano head. I like it because it’s super small – so it’s lightweight especially for a wimp like me (!). And it is so accurate that I can stitch images with my favorite panorama stitching software (PTGui Pro) in seconds. Really!

Even in close quarters, my images just “work!” I can make the 360 QTVR movies in less that 46 seconds, and I know you know how popular these are and how much clients will pay for these for their websites!!! Cha-chng!

I would say that if you are serious about photography and want to really excel at panoramic photography, there is no software in the world that will take the pain out of stitching panorama shots if your shots are not precisely aligned, with minimal parallax. A good pano head is definitely the foundation of your success.

Nodal Ninja in Action: Move your mouse around the image to see it spin!

More Panoramics Tutorials

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