How to Build a Panoramic Tripod Head

There’s some amazing software out there for panoramic photography. Various software packages warp, stitch and blend sequences of photos so that they (ideally) look like one big, high-resolution, panoramic shot. However, getting these shots to turn out perfectly isn’t easy when hand-holding your camera or using a normal tripod, especially when some parts of the image are fairly close to the lens. Panoramic tripods can cost hundreds of dollars, but making your own isn't that hard. Even better, it's dirt cheap.


  1. Image titled Build a Panoramic Tripod Head Step 1
    Find the rotation/pivot point by doing the test described in the External Link below.
  2. Image titled Build a Panoramic Tripod Head Step 2
    Cut a piece of wood for the base. Use a piece of very flat, thick (5/8” or so) oak plywood or a plank of hardwood. Make it about 5” by 4” (12 cm x 10 cm).
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    Cut the side. To make sure the camera has enough clearance when you swing it down, make the tripod a little over five inches tall. The width would be the same four inches as the base.
  4. Image titled Build a Panoramic Tripod Head Step 4
    Line up the two four inch edges so that the side is sitting on top of the base to form an “L” (see the picture above). Drill holes up through the bottom of the base into the side and screw the two together. A little glue and maybe some bracing might help – the less flex the better.
  5. Image titled Build a Panoramic Tripod Head Step 5
    Drill a hole near the center of the base. The exact distance from the side is critical as it will need to run through the center of the lens. So place your camera on a table and measure the height from the table to the center of the lens. This is the distance the hole in the base needs to be from the side. If you’re not using a swivel under the base, you’ll need a fairly large hole here, as you’ll need to install a socket (or “insert nut”) so the tripod can screw into the tripod head. The dimensions of that socket will depend on your tripod – if you’re planning to mount this to the screw that normally attaches to the camera, you want a “1/4-20” socket.
  6. Image titled Build a Panoramic Tripod Head Step 6
    Make the hole in the side about 4 1/2 to 5 inches above the base – your camera will need room to swing downwards when you’re shooting a picture of the sky. It also needs to be in the same plane as the hole in the base. In other words, if you’re looking at the unit from the side, the side hole will appear directly above the base hole.
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    Cut the arm. To figure the length, start with that previously measured distance between the entrance pupil and the screw socket determined in step 1 – this distance is shown in green (it will be different for every camera). Add between a half inch and an inch on either side. The width need only be a couple inches.
  8. Image titled Build a Panoramic Tripod Head Step 8
    Drill a hole at one end for the arm to attach to the side piece where it will pivot. Drill another hole 4 1/8 inches (or whatever your measurement is) down the arm towards its other end. This last hole is where the camera attaches, so it needs to be 1/4" wide. Insert a 1/4-20 thumbscrew through this hole (1/4-20 means 1/4” wide, with a thread pitch of 20, which is the most common pitch).
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    Attach the arm to the side by using a flathead machine screw . You may have to gouge out a bit of the hole in the arm so the full head can sink into the arm and not hit your lens. Push the screw through the arm, then through the side, then use a washer and a wingnut to secure it.
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    (Optional) Cut a piece of wood about the size of the base for the swivel, preferably big enough so it sticks out a bit – that will allow you to put markings on it so you can see how many degrees you’ve swiveled. Drill a hole through the center of it, and push a flat head machine screw through it, then through the hole in the base. As with the hole in the arm, you will probably need to gouge out the hole in the swivel a bit so you can prevent the head from sticking out – that surface will need to be flush with the tripod. Secure the screw with washer and wingnut.
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    Install a socket or insert nut as described in Step 5 for the base section. Position it as near as possible to the center to maximize stability.
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    Sand all the parts. To finish things up, you can varnish, seal or paint, but don’t get any of it on the rotating surfaces – they’ll stick every time you adjust the arm or swivel. Attaching a small level is highly recommended.
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    Use your new panoramic tripod (and some software) to take gorgeous pictures.
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  • When using your new panoramic head, remember that it never pivots at the point where the camera is screwed into the arm – that joint stays put. Pivot at the arm and base as necessary, overlapping 20-50% between shots.
  • Building your own panoramic head for an SLR isn’t too hard or expensive. The parts for the design shown here cost about $10 USD. Every part here is available where lumber can be purchased.


  • The downside is that the mount is only useful for a specific camera/lens combo. On the other hand, you can’t mistakenly mess up one of the critical adjustments once you’ve built it, and the homemade mount is as light as a couple small pieces of wood.

Things You'll Need

  • Cut pieces of wood
  • A drill
  • A socket
  • Thumb screws
  • Flathead machine screws
  • Washers
  • Wingnuts
  • Insert nut,four pieces of wood, the base, side,arm and the swivel

Sources and Citations

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