Q) What is your recommendation for panorama equipment? I see a number of companies that offer accessories that fit on a tripod for very precise positioning of the camera for each image in the panorama.
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A) For some kinds of very precise panoramas, such as VRs for architecture and real estate sales, you might want to investigate accessories like the Manfrotto 303 Pan Head. These can cost in the neighborhood of $300. But for nature photography, these complicated tools are not really necessary. Use a level tripod. There are several inexpensive accessories that make leveling its base quick and easy. My two favorites are Manfrotto’s (www.Manfrotto.com) Leveling Center Column (554-556) and Manfrotto’s Ball Camera Leveler (3502). Level the camera with a simple two-axis bubble level like the one available from Manfrotto (Hot Shoe Two-Axis Bubble Level No. 337). You’ll use these tools for all kinds of photography, not just panoramas.
When determining the area of each capture in a horizontal panorama, work from left to right. Identify an object on the right side of the first frame as an anchor, and in the subsequent capture, bring that object to the left side, overlapping 20% for normal to telephoto lenses and 50% for wide-angle lenses. Repeat this process for each image in the sequence.
For vertical panoramas, there is another accessory from Really Right Stuff (www.ReallyRightStuff.com) that is extremely helpful to keep your vertical alignment straight (Ultimate Omni-Pivot Package).
For all panoramas, be sure to turn off your auto exposure and automatic white balance. It’s also possible to take handheld panoramas when the proper equipment is not available or feasible. Be sure to rotate the camera around the middle of the lens in a tight arc, rather than rotating in a large arc by just turning your body. Work quickly, and be aware that you will need to crop your panorama after it is assembled because the segments will not be perfectly aligned.
This four-image panorama of Mount McKinley, Alaska, was achieved without any accessories other than a leveled tripod and a bubble level on the camera. Canon EOS-1Ds and 28-135mm lens set to 135mm, 1/45 sec. exposure at f/11, ISO 100.