Archive for April, 2009


$10 Lowes Pano head rig

So I’ve been trying to shoot some stitched panoramics and having uneven success. With distant subjects, you don’t need anything fancy, just put the camera in vertical orientation on a tripod (or not, if you can hold the camera fairly steady and level, you can get something that can be cropped) and swivel around and make sure your shots have plenty of overlap.

But when you have closeup subject matter, or objects in the foreground, or you’re shooting in a room, you need more accurate equipment.

You can Google and find out the particulars of how this all works, but basically you want to swivel your camera on the nodal point of the lens. When you have your camera on a tripod in horizontal format, it’s swiveling on the center of the film plane (over the tripod hole in the base of the camera). When you are shooting verticals, it’s worse, because the camera is flipped up on its side and the body isn’t even swiveling on the center of the tripod, it’s off to the side.

Proper heads like the Nodal Ninja and the Kaidan adjust to precisely put the nodal point of your lens, no matter the focal length, over the center of the tripod. However, these cost real money. The Panosaurus is affordable but seems to have restrictions. There are also instructions online for building a panoramic head, but I wanted something quick and dirty.

I went to Lowe’s bough two different L brackets (I had no measurements nor a camera with me), two different flat mending plates, and several 1/4×20 screws, wingnuts, thumbscrews and washers. I took it home and screwed around until I came out with what’s below.

The L bracket and the mending plate already have holes in them. The holes are offset, so I put the bracket together to compensate. As you can see, the straight plate is angled slightly, with the camera (a D2x) on the bracket, the tripod plate will be aligned with the center of the lens.


See the thumbscrew in the bracket? That was intended to be my mounting screw for the camera to the bracket. Two issues: the screw was too long, and the bracket really needs some kind of non-skid stuff to keep the camera from rotating . In the end I used a 1/4×20 bolt into a tripod mounting plate from a Bogen ball head, one of the rectangular plates from which the screw can be removed. A couple of washers set the screw threads at the right depth to safely attach the camera, and I use a small wrench to snug it. I need to go back and buy a new thumbscrew.



The camera mounted. My pal Doug mentioned that the gold ring is supposed to indicate the nodal point, so you can see how close the 14mm is to the right spot. It’s close but no cigar, but miles better than what I was using.



Yes, the camera is drooping a little in that shot. 🙂 Not to mention the ugly wall behind, with many years’ of nail holes.


These views show how I angled the bottom plate to compensate for off-center alignment of my plates and their existing holes. Properly, you would have blank metal and drill holes in the right spots. This is the lazy man’s edition.


Here is your most valuable tool: a level. I can’t emphasize enough that you will be leveling your tripod, then leveling the head as you pan it around, and then using the level the get the camera straight up and down.


But the results can be worth it. The first time I shot this, using just the tripod with no bracket, I had massive stitching errors. Click the image below to see the full panoramic.


Visit the Panotools Wiki for links to store-bought and home-made panoramic heads.



The hand-dyed muslin background in action.






And Lauren wanted one at the bar without the background.


I think the blue came out too intense. So much for the naysayers that complain the RIT dye isn’t strong enough.


rainbow over clay center

Rainbow over the Clay Center

Rainbow over the Clay Center



West Virginia State University Jazz Ensemble




Marble shooters




These guys are taking it seriously!


Dye your own muslin background

I have a project coming up, and need a full-length muslin background, something dancers can stand on. Checking online, these can be a bit pricey, and you don’t know what’s good without either a recommendation or laying your money down and waiting for it to arrive. (there are horror stories online about buying cheap stuff off Ebay) I decided you ought to be able to do this yourself, and Googled.

The most-referenced site is Cheap DIY (Homemade) Muslin Photography Background. This is a good resource, but he went for a tie-dye effect, and I wanted a soft, mottled background.  But I went out and bought the materials and waited for a nice day (today) to be able to work outside.

I went with my wife to JoAnn Fabrics with one of her Wonderful Coupons, and sure enough, they have 108″ wide unbleached cotton muslin. I was only going to buy enough to make one background, but with her coupon the whole bolt (15 yards long) was $45, so I said “buy it all.” So I have enough fabric for three 9’x15′ backgrounds.

Went to Michaels crafts store to buy RIT dye. (you’d think the fabric store would have it, but it had only a small selection) The box powder was $2 and dyes 1 pound, the liquid dyes 2 pounds and cost about $3.50, so I bought an assortment of colors in whatever it came in. Sandi cut the first 14′ off the bolt and we weighed it on a postal scale, it was about 2.5 pounds so we were safe on the dye weight.

Today before proceeding Sandi did some more research and came across a great site for exactly what I wanted to accomplish. (natch it wasn’t in the photo searches, it was in the fabric and quilting searches!) Hand dyed fabric is a great blog post with info that pretty much made me feel comfortable about just crushing the material into the container and letting it sit, and that’s what we did. (check that link for other great ideas)

So after Sandi hemmed the cut edges of the material, I threw it in the washer with a small amount of detergent and washed it. In the meantime, I drew on my homebrewing gear to pull out my enameled canning pot to use to boil the dye. I filled it about 3/4 full of hot tap water, added the 1 cup of salt and put it on the stove with the lid on to bring it to a boil. When the material was through washing, I just tossed it wet into the dyeing tub (a Rubbermaid container) outside and put the lid on to keep it damp while I waited for my dye to be ready. I loosely “crushed” the material into the tub, with no strings to tie it.

On left is the Rubbermaid container, on right my enamled canner bought long ago for homebrewing at a REAL hardware store.

On left is the Rubbermaid container, on right my enameled canner bought long ago for homebrewing at a REAL hardware store.

When the water came to a boil, I turned off the heat, shook up the bottle of dye (thanks for reminding me, Sandi) and poured it in, and used another homebrewing utensil, a large stainless steel spoon, to stir it well. I put the lid on the pot and carried it outside (with potholders, of course), and poured it carefully into the tub on top of the material. It puddled in places, and we used a cut off golf club (from another, failed project) to poke the material down in places just to make sure it all got some dye on it. But the idea is not to evenly dye, but to unevenly dye it.

The material in the tub with dye. There's steam coming off the hot liquid. The golf club is propped in the corner of the tub at the moment.

The material in the tub with dye. There's steam coming off the hot liquid. The golf club is propped in the corner of the tub at the moment. This is how we left it to dye.

We put the lid on the tub and left it to cook for an hour. In the meantime, I walked to Dollar General and bought a clothesline (for my neighbor’s poles, since we have none), some rubber gloves and some Wrinkle Release for future use.

When it was ready, we opened the tub (the liquid was still hot!), donned the gloves and poured the dye off the material into the enamel pot (in case we needed it again). We pulled the material out for a look, and it looked pretty good, so I dragged over the garden hose and just filled the tub with cold water. I put the hose in the corner to fill the tub without spraying the material. Sandi had some Retayne Fixative and added a couple of capfuls to the rinse water; we let it soak and then dumped it into the gravel driveway, since we didn’t know what that stuff might do to the lawn. Then we took the tub to the laundry room and ran the material through a cold rinse cycle in the washer.

Used RIT Royal Blue liquid for this test.

Used RIT Royal Blue liquid for this test.

The Retayne Fixative

The Retayne Fixative

Filling the tub from the hose, with the saved dye on standby. Yes, I need to fix my walk.

Filling the tub from the hose, with the saved dye on standby. Yes, I need to fix my walk.

While the material was rinsing, I strung the clothesline, which later turned into a clown act as Sandi, Hilary and I tried to drape the wet material over it and tighten it up at the same time. Anyway, eventually the material got onto the line.

Sunny, breezy day, the background dried in 30 minutes.

Sunny, breezy day, the background dried in 30 minutes.

It dried fast, and here’s a quick shot using on-camera flash (into a bounce card) of the material hung from my french doors.

The material hanging

The material hanging

When I get a chance to shoot something in the studio, which may not be until I actually shoot the project, I’ll post it. Sandi is going to hem the other two sides, and I plan to use spring clips to hang it from a cross pole.

One site warned about using material that said Permanent Press, as it has been treated with something that prevents the dye from taking well, but I think you can see that’s not such an issue. It looks like I got pretty close to the dye color in the darker areas, so by using less dye (box instead of bottle, or 1/2 bottle) or by dyeing a shorter time, you could get lighter effects from the same dye. In the future I plan to try the two-color effects mentioned in Hand dyed fabric post (above). I’ll let you know how that turns out. If you do a background, drop me a note and let me (and others) know how it went.


"The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own." - Susan Sontag, On Photography
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