How to use a gimbal head for panoramic photos?

Panoramas are interesting images as they show an ultrawide view of a landscape. It is done by stitching multiple photos together to make it look like it is taken with one shot. One thing that photographers use to achieve this is by using a gimbal head or a panorama tripod head.

Using a gimbal head such as the ProMediaGear Katana Pro makes it easier to shoot panoramas by providing a more consistent shot all throughout. But that is not the only equipment you need. You also need a nodal rail.

So how do you use a gimbal head for shooting panoramas?

 Stonehenge panorama

What is the nodal point?

To shoot a panorama with a gimbal head and nodal rail, you need to understand the concept behind finding the nodal point first.

The nodal point or the no-parallax point is the ideal rotation point of your camera. This in turn provides perfect stitches. It prevents distortions in your images.

The parallax point is essential when you are shooting with ultrawide lenses that include the foreground because the foreground moves as you turn your camera.

This creates defects in stitching and you will have broken lines in your photograph which is very noticeable in the foreground.

Basically, the nodal point is the optical center of the lens. This also means that it changes for every lens and focal length that you use.

PXC1 Nodal Rail

How to find the nodal point?

The nodal rail and the gimbal head are not always used together. They are ideal partners but you may use a nodal rail with other tripod heads.

You may check the lens body to see if the nodal point is marked. But if it is not, do not worry as there is a method to determine the nodal point.

Finding the nodal point is easy. You only need your tripod, gimbal head, and your nodal rail. If you have a leveling base, then it is good as you will have a perfectly level camera.

  • Find a place where there are a lot of vertical lines such as cityscapes.
  • Put a vertical object in front of you such as a light stand and line it up with all the buildings in the background.
  • Attach your camera to your tripod and set it to live view.
  • Start with the camera on the center of the tripod and the lens sticking out forward.
  • Pan from left to right and see if the light stand or the vertical object is moving to the left or to the right of the building.
  • The goal is to prevent the light stand from moving to the left or to the right. It must stay in the same position while panning.
  • To do this, you need to slide your nodal rail back and forth to find the correct location on your nodal rail. This will take a lot of trial and error. If it still moves to the left or right, move the nodal rail backward until the light stand and the building are in line all throughout.
  • If it is difficult to see, you may zoom in using the live view of your camera to make sure that it is all set.
  • Once set, take note of the markings on your nodal rail and your tripod as it will serve as a guide next time you shoot.
Additional information
  • You will need to repeat these steps for every focal length that you intend to use.
  • If you have a 10-24mm lens, you will have to do these for 10mm, 12mm, 14mm, etc. depending on your most used focal length.
  • Prime lenses are great for this as you only need to set the nodal point once.
  • If you do not have a place where there are a lot of vertical objects such as a cityscape, you may place two vertical objects in front of you. Place them apart at around 2 meters from each other. Do the same steps as above, the closer object should be aligned with the object at the back. If it moves to the left or right, adjust the nodal rail accordingly.

May be an image of camera and outdoors

How to use a gimbal head for panoramas

Now that you know how to find the nodal point, it is time to shoot some panoramas with your gimbal head.

The good thing about gimbal heads is they are smooth to use. You may pan without a problem and shooting would be a breeze. Gimbal heads are stable too so shaky images will not be a problem.

That being said, here are the steps to shoot great panoramas with your gimbal head.

  • Go to your location and set up your gimbal head and camera.
    • This is also a good time to test if you have placed your camera on the nodal point.
    • Compose your image and visualize the final output that you want.
  • Shoot and have fun.
    • Shoot from left to right or right to left with a 25% overlap. This means that 25% of the first image should still be seen on the next shot.
    • Lastly, try to take a photo of your hand, phone, or even white paper, after your last shot. This will serve as a marker on when the panorama starts and ends making it easier when selecting photos for stitching later on.
  • Stitch and edit your photos on your computer
    • There are multiple software that you can use to combine your photos. You may use the following depending on your preference:
      • Panorama Studio
      • Autostitch
      • Panoweaver 10
      • PTGui
      • Hugin
    • These applications are easy to use. Most of the time you only have to select the images and it will combine them for you.
    • Process your image the way you want o.
    • After stitching your photo. You may then proceed to Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop to edit your photo.

Aerial view of Port Jackson Panorama

When should you use the nodal point?

Shooting along the nodal point is not always the case. Some simple panoramas are doable without it. However, if you are shooting large images for print, a 60x40 image perhaps, the nodal point is a must.

In the end, it is up to you if you want to make your life easier when it comes to editing. If you are a landscape photographer, then having a nodal rail and a gimbal head is a must.

For the occasional shooters, you may delay the purchase. Fixing the distortions in post is also a great learning experience.

April 06, 2022

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