360º pole panoramas: Gearing up for a bird’s eye view

This bird’s eye view of my backyard was shot at a camera height of 10 feet. The elevated perspective is a lot of fun — especially when you look straight down!

I’ve recently been experimenting with shooting 360º panoramas with the camera mounted on a 9 foot Nodal Ninja carbon fiber pole. I already had a Nodal Ninja R1 panohead and D4 rotator. I mounted the R1 on top of the pole with an adapter, and screwed the D4 rotator into the bottom. A footplate was mounted under the rotator for stability, and a bubble level was clamped mid-way up the pole to keep things level.

The entire pole setup weighs under 3 pounds, and collapses down to 3 feet for traveling. Everything works quite smoothly — my only nitpick is that the footplate must be removed to put the pole in the case. The pole came with a wireless remote to fire the camera, but at 9 feet, a standard cable release dangles down to a convenient height to fire manually.

Once I got the pole and accessories assembled, I needed to get the lens and panohead settings dialed in. I’ve been shooting panos with my backup Canon EOS 60D camera. I mounted the Canon 8-15mm f/4L fisheye lens, and spent some time experimenting with the optimum focus settings using live view at 10x magnification. Once the depth of field was optimized at f/8, I taped the focus ring down, and mounted the Nodal Ninja lens ring. Next I experimented with shooting at different tilt settings on the R1 head:

  • Tilting 7.5º down covered the ground, but left too big of a gap in the sky. And I’d still need a 5th shot to remove myself from the photo. I could restrict the pano viewer from showing the gap in the sky, but I prefer to have a full 360 degree sphere in case there are interesting clouds up there!
  • Shooting at 2.5º down or 0 degrees left a small hole in the sky and the ground. This setup would either mean patching both the zenith and nadir, or using an adapter and raising/lowering the pole 2 extra times to cover these areas. No thanks.
  • I finally settled on shooting at 5º upward tilt on the R1 — after a lot of experimenting, an 18mm rail setting gave me the best results. Shooting 4 around with an APS-C camera and an 8mm fisheye means you don’t need a zenith shot. Fast moving clouds or changing light are not a problem! To patch the hole in the ground (nadir) and get rid of my shadow, I stepped back a few feet, and took an offset 5th shot to cover the ground. This got stitched in using viewpoint correction in PTGui Pro. This works surprisingly well, and saves a lot of time — especially if the ground is too complex for content aware fill.

The resulting panorama is 10,700 x 5350 pixels, which is a nice balance between resolution and ease of shooting/stitching. I got some great tips on shooting pole panos from Wim Koornneef, and adapted the technique for removing the nadir shadow from Dennis Stover. Shooting 360 panoramas can be complex — I’m really thankful there are some expert panorama photographers out there who are willing to share their techniques. I hope these pole panorama experiments are helpful for anyone who wants to give pole panos a try. I’m looking forward to using this setup at some more scintillating locations!

4 thoughts on “360º pole panoramas: Gearing up for a bird’s eye view”

  1. Glad to see you do this Joe. We experimented with pole shooting at Bodie one year and when the wind started we had to quit. I think you are going to come up with some very cool stuff within your travels. Look forward to seeing more from your pole Joe!

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