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Panorama Tutorial: Shooting Panoramas with Tripod, Pano Head and Fisheye Lens

If you come from Part 2 of this tutorial, you have learned about the parallax issues and you have seen panoramas made of a ton of images. We all start this way, but if you want to take your panorama shooting to the next (more enjoyable) level, you might end up investing in a tripod and a wide lens.

Personally, I now own a Canon 550D with a Samyang 8 mm fisheye lens, and a Canon 6D with a Samyang 14 mm wide-angle lens. Depending on the situation I can use one camera or the other. For example, the 6D behaves better in low light or at night. But most of the time it is fine to use either one.

Using a Tripod and Panorama Head

What’s the benefit of using a tripod? Well, just like for normal photography, the tripod offers a steady base for your camera and it is often compulsory in low light or at night.

For shooting panoramas, a tripod alone is not very helpful, it should have a panorama head mounted on it. A panoramic head is designed to keep your camera in a vertical position in order to shoot portrait images. More importantly, with a tripod and a pano head, you are assured to keep a precise no-parallax point to shoot all your pictures. That’s a game-changer.

My panorama head is from Nodal Ninja – they are the leaders. You can check their website to see all the models they have. They offer quite fancy stuff but in my opinion, any basic panorama head is fine, what matters is eliminating the parallax errors. Some people have even built their own pano head!

When you mount your panoramic head on your tripod, you need to adapt it to the camera and lens you are using. It is a simple procedure that is explained very well on the Nodal Ninja website – You can click here to see it.

Last word about tripods – Try to choose one that is heavy and sturdy enough to stay in place no matter what. Remember, you are shooting a panorama and all the pictures need to be shot from a specific precise point. If your tripod is too light and moves slightly between pictures, it’s almost as good as using no tripod at all!

Fisheye and Wide Angle Lenses

Now that you have your tripod and panoramic head ready, it’s time to choose a great lens for your camera. You can either choose a fisheye lens or a normal wide-angle lens. Fisheye lenses, at 8-10 mm, are the widest, which means fewer pictures to cover the whole sphere of the panorama. Fisheye lenses produce specifically distorted images, but you should not worry about it because the panorama software perfectly knows how to handle this.

“Normal” wide-angle lenses are also good, and maybe even better if you consider the fact that you can use them in a whole range of situations outside of panoramas.

Autofocus fisheye and wide-angle lenses are very expensive. If you can afford them, that’s awesome! If you can’t, all is not lost. You can go for manual focus lenses, as I did. I am a big fan of the Samyang lenses and I own two. They are of very good quality and are very affordable compared to autofocus lenses from the “big brands”.

Shooting With A Fisheye / Wide Angle Lens

With a fisheye lens, you don’t need to use any “column technique” like the one I was mentioning in Part 2. The lens is wide enough to shoot a single row of images all around you, plus one for the zenith (the sky) and one for the nadir (the ground). It’s a little like shooting a cylindrical panorama and just adding zenith and nadir. Of course, you will adapt this according to how wide your lens is.

Here is an example of what it would be like:

shot with fisheye

Do I Always Need To Carry Around My Heavy Tripod To Shoot Panos?

I understand it can be annoying to carry around big and heavy equipment when you just want to enjoy the place and shoot a few panos.

I don’t always take my tripod and panorama head with me and still shoot panoramas most of the time. There is a simple rule to follow, to know if it’s better to use the tripod and panorama head, or if you can just take handheld photos.

Generally, just remember that long distances are more forgiving than close-up objects. What do I mean? If you are for example in the middle of a vast landscape or with objects located reasonably far from you, you can shoot a good panorama without a panoramic head. The objects are far enough for the software to stitch them properly even if they are not exactly aligned in the first place. Of course, still, try your best to respect the no-parallax point at all times!

Where I would be warier is when objects are located very close to you. It can be ok if it’s something simple without much details like a plain wall, but if it’s delicate things like railings or a fence, it will be a nightmare to stitch them without a pano head. Many times, you won’t even be able to get an acceptable result and will have to give up your panorama.

To illustrate this point, take a look at the picture below.

With no tripod

This is a spherical panorama shot over the jungle of Borneo. Here you can notice how the far objects (the jungle) are perfectly joined together, but the railings all around very close to me, are completely messed up. If this was shot with a tripod and a pano head, both the forest and the railings would have been perfectly aligned.

Now that we have seen all the ways to take photos for a panorama, it’s time to stitch them! Click on the link below to continue.

→ Next: Image Stitching Steps