Panorama Tips and Must-Have Tripod Features with Levi Sim

Panorama Tips and Must-Have Tripod Features with Levi Sim

July 31, 2014

Nikon D7100, 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens @28mm, F/16, 1/13s, ISO 160, five frame panorama.

It’s simple to make several pictures into one panorama, and I really think you should try it. Panoramas are usually wider than your average picture, and this is good because our daily view of the world is also very wide (just stretch your arms out to the sides and compare where you can see them compared to above and below your face). Photoshop makes it easy to stitch pictures together, and there are many other excellent applications that do it, too; but I’ve got Photoshop handy, so that’s what I use.

No matter the software you choose, you’ve got to give the software some help by overlapping the pictures by at least 20%, though I favor something more like 30% (even more if I’m using a wider lens). How do you know how much is 20%? Fortunately, your camera’s viewfinder can help. You may have grid lines in your viewfinder that are either quarters or thirds, or you have focus point options. Frame your first picture, notice which tree or object is on the right side of the frame at the grid line or focus point and pan your camera to the right until that object is now at the grid line on the other side of the frame. That’s how easy it is to overlap your pictures.

Overlap your frames by at least 20%. The first frame on the left has the tree on the right side, and the second has the same tree on the left side. Use an object to mark how far each pan should be.

Photoshop is powerful enough that it can work with your images even if you were hand holding the panorama. However, you’ll get the best results by using a tripod, and I have a tip that helps me get perfect overlaps every time, but it requires the right features on your tripod.

Let me make a simple statement, and don’t hate me for it: your pictures will be better if you use a tripod. I’m not just talking about landscapes, either: I mean every picture you make from portraits to street photography. I know you’re thinking, “A tripod is too slow for what I do,” or “I have a tripod, but I just don’t like it,” and I used to feel the same way before, but when I found the right features and practiced using them as much as I do with my lenses and lights, the tripod really freed me to be more creative, work faster, and have fewer garbage pictures at the end of the day.

Be sure to buy a ball head with a knob dedicated to panning, and make sure it has tick marks.

The most important feature on a tripod that makes it a powerful tool is the head. If you’re buying a tripod, make sure to get one that has a removable head or even purchase the head and sticks (legs) separately. Make sure that you get a ball head–I know some people swear by their three-way pan heads, but they don’t need these tips. Get a ball head. Make sure that the ball head has one knob for moving the camera around on top and a separate knob for panning the camera. Panning means swiveling horizontally without adjusting the camera’s position otherwise. Also, make sure there are tick marks to measure the pan.

These tick marks make it even easier to get the perfect overlap in panoramas. Look in the viewfinder, line up an object on your grid line, look at the tick mark on your tripod, pan the camera to the other grid line, and look at the tick mark again. However many ticks the camera moved is how far it has to move for each frame. This is great! I shot a ten frame pano the other day and I didn’t have to keep my head bent over looking in the viewfinder for each shot–I just moved it two ticks, fired, moved it two more ticks and fired again.

So, get out there and start shooting some panos, overlapping at least 20%. And trust me that the right features in a tripod will revolutionize your photography and free your creativity.


Levi Sim is a Vanguard Professional whose tips and tutorials, including this one, you may find originally posted here on Photofocus. Follow him on Twitter, his website, or on Google+.