$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.

9 Responses to “$10 Lowes Pano head rig”

  1. 1 tom
    May 4, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    I saw the mansion pix in the paper & thought that Steve Rotch had shot it….it was up on a story board & I don’t remember the story (who does) but I remembered the pix. I love it. I will have to make me one. Great photo..s

  2. 2 tom
    May 4, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    What lens did you use?

  3. May 4, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    Thanks, I just saw the article online tonight. They didn’t credit any of the photos in the exhibit, but I shot all the ones in the mansion. Some of those were HDR shots, I should post one here.

    The panorama was with a 14mm/2.8 Sigma.

  4. May 22, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    That panorama is really nice. Did you stitch it with some sort of software or just do it in Photoshop?

    • 5 realitytourist
      May 23, 2009 at 8:51 am

      Thanks. I stitched it using the Realviz software. There’s a 34″ print on the wall in the Mansion designers exhibit, but I plan to reprint it at 42″ now that we have wider paper. Without using the rig, I had real obvious stitching errors in the tile floor, totally unfixable.

  5. July 30, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Mike- that is so beautiful, thanks for the detailed information, I am dying to try something like that too!

  6. 7 tom
    April 13, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    i have a d-90 nikon with a 10 – 24 lens, will this work with this pano head shot? i am not sure with the dx lenses to work here?

    • 8 realitytourist
      April 13, 2012 at 3:09 pm

      It should. The DX body doesn’t really have anything to do with it, you just need to find that rotation point on your lens, and adjust the thing so that the lens stays over top of the tripod as it’s rotated around. You may have to adjust for the physically smaller camera by moving the plates closer together, or drilling a hole to assemble the brackets closer together. IT’s really eyeball engineering, but the point is to get the camera off the tripod and rotating around the lens, not the lens rotating around the body as it typically does when mounted on a tripod.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

"The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own." - Susan Sontag, On Photography
View Michael Keller's profile on LinkedIn
Follow The Reality Tourist on WordPress.com

Follow me on Twitter

Follow me on Twitter

%d bloggers like this: