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Photographing Panoramas for Large Prints

Lesson 3 of 30

Selecting Gear for Great Panormas

Mike Hagen

Photographing Panoramas for Large Prints

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

3. Selecting Gear for Great Panormas
The smaller accessories are often just as important when stitching multiple images together for those wide views. Hagen walks you through what tripods to use, along with time-saving accessories like a bowl head.

Lesson Info

Selecting Gear for Great Panormas

Alright well talk next about choosing your equipment. Here what I want to talk about is tripods and pano-gimbal heads and ball heads and all that good stuff. So this is important as well. So let's go ahead and watch. Alright so gear's a big part of panorama photography. We like to buy nice tripods and we like to have good equipment and it's true that all of that matters when you're taking panoramas. Sometimes you can get away with not having a whole lot, like not much more than just your camera and your body for creating your panoramas. Other times you need just nicer equipment. Let's say that you're a hiker for example or a mountaineer, you're going into the mountains to create your panoramas. Well your gear choice for that is going to be quite a bit different than your gear choice for maybe a place like this, like a city park where I can literally take everything I have with me. So when I go into the mountains I like bringing a smaller tripod. I really like the carbon fiber tripods. ...

They're lightweight, they're really durable, they're really weather resistant so it can be rainy, sleety, windy, all that good stuff and my tripod's gonna hold up for that whole adventure and for years into the future. At a facility like this or a place like this out in the city I like to bring big stuff. Bigger is better. It's sturdier, you get less vibration, a little bit more control. So just think through that as you travel. What gear do I need and how important is the final panorama? If you think that you can hand hold your stuff fairly well, there's gonna be a lot of light, maybe you don't need a big heavy tripod. On the other hand, maybe you're going out for some sunset photography and you know you're gonna have longer shutter speeds, then you'll need a nice sturdy tripod. Well let's talk about this tripod here. And we'll cover a little bit about the systems on the tripod. What I like to use is a nice sturdy tripod like this. This is made by a company called Really Right Stuff. I think their gear is top-notch. Some of the best on the planet. Make sure your tripod has a spirit level here. So you can see, if we tilt this forward a little bit, the spirit level helps me keep the head level, the rotation plate level. I'm gonna show you how we actually level the tripod on a slope in just a second. The next thing I like using is a ball head. A ball head lets me orient the camera very easily and very quickly like this. So I put the camera on the plate here and then the ball head just very rapidly lets me level the camera in all three axes. Okay. So let me bring this over here to the slope area. I wanna show you how to level a tripod on a slope for panoramas. So walk with me. Okay so, what I'm gonna do here, this tripod is actually a pretty special tripod from the standpoint that I don't have to have this part or the top plate of the tripod level in order to get the rotation plane level. So you don't have to worry so much in a tripod like this to get everything perfect. On the other hand, some of you have tripods where you don't have this center adjustment or this bowl, it's called a video head bowl. And so if you don't have that option, then you're going to have to use the legs and move the legs in and out, up and down so that the spirit level is actually centered here. So we'll just pretend for this example that I can't adjust the top. So I'm just gonna move the legs up and down. So there I've actually got the spirit level centered. Now if you're really into panorama photography, this is your thing and you wanna get the best gear, then I highly recommend getting a video bowl, B-O-W-L, like this. And that allows you to move the whole head mechanism, the entire head mechanism. And it doesn't then matter how your legs are. I mean your legs can be way off like this and you can still get the head level. Which is pretty cool. So these aren't cheap. They're multiple hundreds of dollars for this upgrade. But it's worth it if panoramas are important to you. So I'm gonna use that right now. I'm gonna center the spirit level. Great. The next thing is, is when you put your camera onto the ball head, that process is fairly straight forward. But you want to if you can, you want the camera actually to be perfectly level in all axes. So level horizontally, level vertically, all of that. So the way that you do that is on the top of high end ball heads there's another spirit level right here. And so I've got the rotation plate level but I also want the top mounting plate to be level. So I'm gonna do that right here as well. So I didn't even have to have the camera on to do that. Excellent. So now this is level, this is level, and when I put the camera on there in the vertical orientation or the horizontal orientation, I'm good to go. Just like that. And now when I rotate I rotate the ball head itself. You see the ball head is actually what's spinning around. And now when I do that the camera won't be tilting as I'm panning from left to right when I shoot the photo. Well let me talk a little bit about those tripods in a little more detail. In a few more videos I'm gonna talk about the pano-gimbal head. And I know some questions are already coming in about finding the nodal point or the no parallax point. So we're gonna talk about that in a little bit. When I travel, when I climb, I'm a climber, mountaineer guy, and so when I go up into the mountains I always like to have a tripod and I bring something small like this. This is a little carbon fiber tripod. But anytime I'm doing serious panorama work I like a have a super steady tripod. So I really wanna send a shout-out to Really Right Stuff. They supplied us with a bunch of gear for this workshop. I think Really Right Stuff is some of the best tripod equipment in the world really. So we've got a really sturdy base down here. This is the series 34 base. I've got the, right here, this is the video bowl. And it allows me to level the rotation plane. And when I say rotation plane I mean what are we gonna rotate the camera around? You want that plane to be level. Because if it's not level, what ends up happening is, is as you pan your camera, you know your camera goes like that. I'm obviously exaggerating but that's a really funky panorama. Now when you print it out on your paper, you're gonna have this skewed horizon line. So take the time, be diligent about making sure everything is super level as you pan from left to right. In fact, here's the crazy thing, is even after I spend all this time getting my bubble level leveled or centered, and I get my camera mounted on there, even after I've done all that and I've leveled my camera, a lot of times now when I do my panorama sweep from left to right, what I find is, is that I can tell that the horizon's level but maybe the lake, like the shore line of the lake, maybe the perspective makes it look like the lake is actually tilting in my panorama. So you might even have to account for that when you do your panorama sweep and re-level it and make it unlevel. Really it's about perception. If your perception of the horizon is level, then you're good to go. So all this gear helps, but sometimes at the end of the day you just have to end up and do your panorama sweep before you start taking pictures and make sure everything is level. But here I have what's called my nodal plate or my nodal slide here. And I use this to slide the camera forward and backward as necessary as I do my panorama. So I go through my what's called my no parallax point. In other words, I don't have any parallax error as I go from left to right and I will explain in more detail about parallax in just a few minutes. So let's see what else do I need to say about the gear? The ball head is a Really Right Stuff BAH55. It's their top of the line ball head. It's one of the best in the world. It works in ice, rain, sleet, snow, sunshine, sand, bad weather. It just works. And it's just gorgeous. They're tough. I'm a mechanical engineer by training. Oh my gosh, I love their gear. I love to touch it, it's nice. (laughs) Alright, question. Yeah just a couple. A couple people are asking about maybe the lower end tripods. Photo Maker says if someone doesn't have a high-end tripod with a bubble level on the head, can we use the little bubble level on the hot shoe as well? Absolutely, yes. Let me answer that question in more detail. So he's talking about getting a little spirit level and putting it here on the top of the camera. Okay? So let's say that you did that. And let's say your tripod, you've got a little tripod, and I'm exaggerating again here. But let's say you did this. So I'm gonna mount my camera like that. And I got a little ball head on there, cool. So now I'm like spirit bubble level, and I get it all level like that. Alright, cool. Good, it's level. Now watch what happens when I do my panorama sweep. Okay. So that's gonna be a problem. The most important thing is that your rotation plane is level. It's less important actually that your camera's level. Because even if your camera goes like this, but the pan is level, you're still gonna be able to probably salvage a panorama by cropping out the top portions of that. So the most important thing is this part right here has to be level on the tripod. So yes you can use a spirit level but you gotta be careful because it's really just measuring the camera's orientation, not the tripod's orientation. If you have problems, and we're gonna talk about this later also, but sometimes a tripod just isn't convenient for where you're at for a variety of reasons. Maybe you're in a museum and you wanna do a panorama and they won't let you take tripods in there. In that case you're gonna hand hold it. And so to his question, the bubble level can actually help you when you hand hold. You can kinda watch the bubble level, the spirit level here, as you hand hold and do your pan from left to right. So, hopefully that answers his question.

Class Description


  • Shoot a variety of 360 degree panoramas (skylines, landscapes, vertical and horizontal) with the final print in mind
  • Stitch your images together to create a panorama with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom
  • Print large images to sell or display in your home


From the skylines of New York and Los Angeles to Switzerland's mountainous backdrop, some scenes are just too spectacular to fit inside a 3:2 frame. Being surrounded by and immersed in a beautiful vista is part of the joy of being a photographer -- but how do you capture what it feels like to stand there in person inside a single image? Panoramas capture that feeling of wonder and squeeze it into the limited form of a two-dimensional print.

Take the experience of seeing a magnificent vista or panoramic view home with you. Join Mike Hagen, director of the Nikonians Academy, and learn his techniques for mastering the art of the panorama, without a dedicated panoramic camera. In this class, he will teach you:

Learn everything you need to make a breathtaking panorama from capturing that spectacular view to hanging the panorama above your couch. Shoot dynamic panoramas in the field that fit together easily when stitched in post-processing. Stitch them together with an eye for printing. Get your color toning right to minimize your reprints, and learn how printing can help you notice things that you may miss when the image is in digital format.


Adventure, travel and landscape photographers looking to improve their final product, make it print-worthy and potentially sell their work.

Adobe Lightroom Classic CC 2016, Adobe Photoshop CC 2015.5


Join photographer, author, and educator Mike Hagen on the journey to perfect the panorama. Hagen has taught hundreds of workshops spanning topics from landscapes to using flash, all while running Visual Adventures and working with the Nikonians Academy. The USA-based photographer has led destination workshops from America-based destinations to bucket-list international locations like Iceland, the Galapagos, and Italy. Hagen is known for his humorous teaching style while presenting complex topics in an easy-to-grasp lesson.


Fred Morton

Get it, get it and get it. I bought Mike's Speedlight course and this is on the list after watching it on line. The course design by Mike with the Creative Live staff is a successful blend of content and presentation. I absolutely loved how Mike took us on location for several shoots, where we could see the setup and problems that he had to resolve. This is a must have course for photographers interested in landscape work. Another powerful part of this class is Mike's willingness to demonstrate and show us what didn't work. The practical experience in his course was just like being in the field with Mike.

user a5f3c6

Mike combines two characteristics of a great teacher: he's obviously knowledgable and competent about his subject matter and he's relaxed and confident in how he presents his ideas. This class covers everything I need to know about photographing and printing panoramas. But, it is much more. It is a class that shows the essential skills involved in shooting, post-processing, and printing photographs and how to apply them to a specific application: panoramas. I learned a lot! Thanks, Mike.

Sue Sirius

This workshop was terrific! I learned so much about taking, processing and printing panoramas (and photos in general). I found the presentation very easy to follow with great examples and instructions. Highly recommend this!