WHAT IS THE BRENIZER METHOD?
The Brenizer Method is a photographic technique popularized by photographer Ryan Brenizer. Ryan is a professional wedding photographer based in New York City, and he’s done well over 200 weddings by now.
The Brenizer Method is characterized by the creation of a digital image exhibiting a shallow depth of field in tandem with a wide angle of view by use of panoramic stitching techniques applied to portraiture. The combination of these characteristics enables a photographer to mimic the look of large format film photography with a digital camera. However, Photoshop, Lightroom and other similar softwares have now made this method extremely simple for you.
Large format cameras use a negative that is at least 4 x 5 inches (102 x 127 mm) and are known for their very shallow depth of field when using a wide aperture and their unique high level of clarity, contrast and control. Image sensor formats of common digital cameras, in comparison, are much smaller, ranging down to the tiny sensors in camera phones. The Brenizer method increases the effective sensor size of the camera, simulating the characteristics of large format photography.
Ryan Brenizer refers to the technique as panoramic stitching that originated with panoramic film cameras. Its first known appearance was documented in an 1843 patent by Joseph Puchberger. With the development of digital cameras and photo manipulation software, panoramic stitching has become more popular with its inclusion as a preset tool into popular photo editing software packages like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Elements. Shallow depth of field panoramic stitching photographs are sometimes referred to as the “Brenizer Method” as he’s popularized it in recent years through his work, with an image produced by this method sometimes referred to as “Bokeh Panorama” or the portmanteau “Bokehrama”.
Few years back, Ryan held a Brenizer Method Panorama Contest. All of those photographs are quite something to behold. Visit Ryan’s blog if you want more – apart from being the creator of this technique, he is also a hugely talented wedding photographer. Or is it the other way around?
ADVANTAGES OF USING THE BRENIZER METHOD
- It allows for the cheap and relatively easy creation of aesthetics usually only available through the use of expensive, complicated and bulky equipment.
- It provides a way of imitating a generally traditional film-based process with digital equipment.
- Very high resolution.
- Very shallow depth of field (it equates to using a lens that has an f-stop less than 1).
- Great bokeh.
PREPARING FOR THE SHOT
The process requires the taking of multiple shots of a scene in a manner that allows for later image stitching using a fast lens, generally of a focal length of 50mm or longer. It is also beneficial to use manual focus, manual white balance and manual shutter and aperture controls to maintain a uniform exposure across the entire set of images.
Once you’ve decided you want to try the Brenizer Method, you will need to decide where and what to photograph. Look for layers that will be interesting with a shallow depth of field. It is of utmost importance for you to imagine your final image and composition so that you know what to cover and when to stop. Do know that some of the image will get cropped out eventually, and thus you should photograph a little more than you think you will need. If you plan for the image to be vertical, you may find that taking vertical fragments is easier, or if you want a horizontal panorama, horizontal fragments will be easier to keep track of. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you don’t leave any gaps, or they will turn into blank spaces once you stitch that panorama, forcing you to crop severely or trash it completely. If you are shooting a subject, make sure the subject chooses a comfortable pose they can hold for up to 30 seconds.
Step – 1: Prepare Your Settings
Aperture – Shoot as wide as your aperture will allow. For some lenses that might be f/1.2 for others it may be f/3.5, and for the rest, it will probably be somewhere in between. The wider you can go, the more amazing effect you will achieve.
White Balance – You will want to choose any white balance other than auto. As you position your camera, auto white balance might change the color temperature as you move from shade to a brighter area or vice versa. Manually setting the Kelvin temperature is preferred method.
Focal Length – As you take these shots, you want your focal length to stay exactly the same. Shooting with a prime lens makes this easy, otherwise make sure to hold your lens carefully if it tends to zoom in and out easily.
Focus – Once you’ve set your focus on your subject, change it to manual and don’t touch it again until you’re done shooting your series.
Step – 2: Shoot Your Images Using an Organized Layout
Shooting your series of images in an organized layout will help the images stitch together better in your editing software. When you first try this method, you might be tempted go out of order and continue adding as many images as you think you might need. When you do that, Photoshop might give you an image with some holes and extra pieces at the bottom of your picture. Before you start shooting, think about your final image. Will it look best as a vertical, horizontal, square, or a panorama? Make sure to shoot enough shots to be able to crop it in your preferred orientation.
Step – 3: Overlap Your Shots
While you are shooting your series of images, make sure to overlap each shot by at least 1/3. That will give the software enough information to see where each image belongs when it does the stitching. Most people take between 20-50 shots in their series that will be compiled into one final image. Take as many as you need and overlap by more than 1/3 if you feel more comfortable with that. As you gain experience with the Brenizer method, you will probably find a way to get the same result with less shots. Having too many images will result in more stitches, which can result in more faults you will need to find a way to fix eventually. If you find that stitching hasn’t worked, try removing unnecessary images.
Step – 4: Batch Edit All the Images
When you are ready to process the images, load them into a batch editing software, like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw or Microsoft Image Composite Editor. Edit the first image (exposure, contrast, saturation, etc.), then sync the entire batch of images so the exact same editing has been applied to each image in the series.
Next, you are ready to export your images. Since you’re going to be merging so many images together, there is no reason to export these as high resolution files. Doing so, would only slow down the process in Photoshop or Lightroom. Export your images as JPGs, with the long edge between 700-1000 pixels, depending on how many images you’re going to be merging.
Step – 5: Merge the Images
Finally, open Photoshop. Go to File > Automate > Photomerge. When the window pops up, keep the default settings of “Layout: Auto and Blend Images Together” checked. Browse for your images and hit “OK”. Then it’s a waiting game. Depending on your file sizes and the number of images your computer is processing, this could take 1-10 minutes.
Note: Similar results can be created using other software. To save time, I’m just mentioning the process to use with Photoshop.
If you shot your series in an organized layout, your software should have been able to piece your image together well. All that’s left to do is crop your image to the orientation you were hoping to use (vertical, horizontal, square, or panorama) and save it as a JPG. Voila!
In the end, it sounds much harder than it really is and all these steps will become natural once you’ve gotten used to them.
Remove Vignetting – photographing with lenses wide-open can result in some serious vignetting, which can ruin your final panorama. Usually process the images separately in Lightroom and remove the vignetting using Lens Correction Tab before stitching the final panorama. Photoshop does a poor job of removing vignetting with its Photomerge function, cutting off highlights and making them look lifeless and gray.
Keep It Simple – don’t start with 50+ image panoramas! Stitching them can take a lot of time depending on how powerful your computer is. Panoramas made out of 10, 6 or even 4 images can look astonishing, and are best when you just want to learn this new technique and all its quirks. Also, straight lines are often hard to handle due to parallax, so keep that in mind while you practice. Removing lens distortion in Lens Correction Tab can help keep those lines straight. If you plan to take group portraits using this technique, note that your resulting image will likely have a significant field-of-focus curvature, so it’s best if you keep your distance and use a longer lens, which will result in less camera movement.
Experiment – while Brenizer method does wonders with portraits, it can be used in numerous other situations whenever you feel like you need wide angle of view and shallow depth of field. As always, try to experiment and find new ways of making it work for you.
You are different from every other photographer out there, it only makes sense if you use the technique differently, too!
Have you tried creating an image using the Brenizer Method? What was your experience? Do you have any additional tips that would help those getting started? Let us know in the comments. Also, feel free to share your Brenizer Method images as well. We’d love to see what you create!