A Panoramic Challenge

by Tim Grey | October 22, 2012

© Tim GreyPicture a panoramic image in your mind. It’s horizontal, isn’t it? Of course it is, because a horizontal panoramic image is just the most logical result of panoramic photography. But every now and then, you may want to create a vertical panorama, and that can present some challenges.

The following question was presented by a reader of my free Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, and it is indicative of the challenges photographers often face when they initially start to take their panoramic images from horizontal to vertical:

What is the best way to get vertical panoramas with a ball head? Since there is no stable platform to keep the camera position vertical for vertical pans I am having difficulty keeping my shots aligned as I pan from top to bottom.

The inherent problem here is that most photographers who own a tripod (which is hopefully all photographers) are readily equipped to create horizontal panoramas. Provided their setup includes the ability to pan horizontally separate of the omnidirectional motion enabled by the ball head itself, horizontal panning is a breeze. For most basic tripod setups, however, vertical panning can’t be done with precision.

There are, of course, a variety of ways you could approach this challenge. The first is to keep doing what you’re doing in terms of panning vertically without a proper vertical panning configuration, but to shoot with a shorter focal length. This will provide you with a wider field of view, so that you have a little more leeway when it comes to aligning and cropping the image. As a result, you can compensate for the lack of perfect alignment, at least to some degree.

You can also utilize extreme caution when panning vertically. In many cases this can be a challenge because there may not be clear vertical references. There are many tricks you can use to aid your work, such as utilizing a bubble level (or the level built into your camera) to help ensure you’re panning level, if not in a perfect vertical line. But this is again just a way to mitigate the problem rather then solve it.

As I concluded in my answer to the reader’s question:

…to me the very best solution is to utilize equipment specifically designed for the task.

Of course, buying more equipment is always the easy answer to offer. But in this case, the right equipment can make a huge difference in your panoramic photography. For horizontal panoramas it is often quite easy to get by without a proper panning mechanism. In fact, it is quite possible to capture great horizontal panoramas without even making use of a tripod (not that I would strongly recommend that approach). With a bit of care and a clear horizon as your reference, the challenge isn’t all that great.

Switch to a vertical panorama and things can be quite a bit more tricky. Up in the sky, for example, there probably isn’t a vertical object to reference. And I assure you clouds can be very deceptive when it comes to aligning your shots.

If you only capture vertical panoramas on rare occasions, it might not make sense to invest in yet more gear. Simply shoot a little wider, overlap your shots more, and take
some extra time and care. But if you will be capturing vertical panoramas with any degree of regularity, do yourself a favor and invest in a tool that will enable precise vertical panning. My personal favorite is the Ultimate-Pro Omni-Pivot Package from Really Right Stuff (, but there are many of other solutions out there. The key is to find a solution that meets your needs, that aids your photography, and that you will actually put to use.

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Vertical panorama © Tim Grey

About the Author

Tim Grey is an educator in digital photography and imaging, offering clear guidance on complex subjects through his writing and speaking.

Tim has written more than a dozen books on digital imaging for photographers, has published dozens of video training courses, has had hundreds of articles published in magazines such as Digital Photo Pro and Outdoor Photographer, among others. For more than a dozen years he has been publishing the daily Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, answering questions from photographers, and produces the related Ask Tim Grey Podcast. He also publishes the monthly Pixology electronic magazine, and publishes video training courses through Tim teaches through workshops, seminars, and appearances at major events around the country and around the world.

Tim can be reached via email at

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