Verent (an RRS engineer) and I recently visited Kennan and Karen Ward (kennanward.com). On the way home we took the scenic route down iconic Highway 1 through Big Sur. We both love landscape photography, so sweet vistas of ocean and cliffs filled the horizon and our CF cards as we made our way down the coast.
I had our PG-02 Pro Omni-Pivot Package with me (see previous page) and wanted to experiment shooting a variety of panos, from single row to multi-row and multi-row HDR panos. I immediately became aware that as the pano grew more complex, the time required to formulate the shot exponentially grew. At one point, I was still in the middle of composing a 3 x 3 multi-row HDR pano when I noticed that Verent had already packed up and was heading back to the car. I finally had to just fire away and hope I got something in order to avoid being impolite to my companion. In fact, there were several instances where I had to scrap a shot mid setup because it was taking too long, and I'm not a novice at setting up panos. There were other instances where I missed capturing the entire sequence because the subject changed/moved before I could finish. What was the biggest hang-up? Figuring out how many degrees to pan between shots, and how many degrees to tilt from row to row. I was using a Canon 5D Mk II with 24-105mm f/4 lens, and each focal length required a different amount of pan/tilt. I usually just eyeball the overlap, but this isn't very convenient when I'm in a situation that doesn't allow me to look through the viewfinder/LCD screen throughout the pano. This occurs whenever I'm shooting with the tripod taller than I am or very close to the ground.
I decided it would be very helpful to have a simple table which would allow me to quickly reference my No-Parallax Points, focal lengths, and degrees to pan & tilt. I already had the No-Parallax Points for my lenses (see our website for more information about how to determine the NPP), so I only needed to determine the amount of pan/tilt at each focal length. To do this, I set up my pano gear and figured out approximately how many degrees I had to pan to achieve about 30% overlap. Then, since RRS pano gear is laser engraved every 2.5°, I made it easier for myself and rounded down to the closest 5° mark. I did the same thing for tilt, and then repeated at the common focal lengths. My sample table is below as Pano Cheat Sheet One. My RRS colleague Mark has the Nikon D7000 with a Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8 lens, so we repeated the exercise with his gear.
One of the best ways to speed up your performance is to practice the mechanics, so let's break it down:
Get Level: If you're using RRS pano gear, lock the ball when the panning clamp is level. Perform this step with the nodal slide installed in the panning clamp; this allows you to use the larger (and easier to see) spirit level on the nodal slide.
No-Parallax Point: Determine if you need to worry about parallax (see page 72 to help you decide). If you do, then position your nodal slide at the No-Parallax Point. The known NPPs listed here apply only when you use the Really Right Stuff MPR-CL II; position the MPR-CL II at the millimeter setting indicated.
Find the beginning and end of your pano sequence: Always include a bit more image along the edges of your pano; you'll be glad you did when it comes time to crop the final image. Also, one useful tip that I heard from Scott Kelby is to shoot a pre shot with one finger in the frame (to let you know the pano sequence started) and then a post shot after the pano with two fingers in the frame to let you know that the series has ended. If you're shooting multi-row, the fastest method is to shoot the first row from left to right, tilt down, then sweep from right to left.
Pano Cheat Sheet One
Reference table for Canon EOS-5D Mark II with 24-105mm f/4 lens; NPP measurements indicate where to position the Really Right Stuff MPR-CL II nodal slide.