Learning the Brenizer method

A while ago I came across this inter­est­ing pho­to­graph­ic tech­nique when I was explor­ing panoram­ic pho­tog­ra­phy. The Breniz­er method is basi­cal­ly a com­bi­na­tion of two con­cepts into a method for pro­duc­ing a spe­cif­ic visu­al style:

  • Cre­at­ing a shal­low Depth of Field (DoF) with a wide open Aper­ture and a tele­pho­to lens
  • Shoot­ing mul­ti­ple images of that shal­low DoF focus plane to cre­ate a wider field of view (mul­ti-row panorama)

The com­bi­na­tion of these two results in an unusu­al visu­al style, as you have a panoram­ic-style shot, but keep shal­low DoF.

Pho­to by Vik­tor For­gacs on Unsplash

Ryan Breniz­er made this tech­nique pop­u­lar for his appli­ca­tion in wed­ding pho­tog­ra­phy. Flickr users then even­tu­al­ly brand­ed the method with his name: “Breniz­er Method”. This Face­book post of Ryan is clear­ing up how the name and the method came into exis­tence. Thanks, Ryan, for being open about your process!

Oth­er names for the tech­nique give you a hint at how it works: Bokehra­ma or Bokeh Panora­ma. Bokeh for the shal­low DoF, (Pano)rama for the stitched rows of mul­ti­ple shots.

Here is an exam­ple I cre­at­ed from 20 sep­a­rate shots (4 rows of 5 images). The first image illus­trates the shal­low depth of field I could achieve with the macro shot. But you can’t see much of the sur­round­ing space.

Image of close-up Chess piece
the cen­tre image as it was shot as a sin­gle image
Chessboard with pieces and shallow depth of field
all 20 images stitched togeth­er (4 rows of 5 images each)

With all 20 images stitched togeth­er, you keep the shal­low depth of field (I shot each image with the same set­tings, f/2.8 60mm on a Micro four thirds cam­era, that is equiv­a­lent to f/4 and 120mm on a full frame cam­era). But you have a much wider field of view.

Peo­ple most­ly use the tech­nique for large for­mat envi­ron­men­tal por­traits, allow­ing to include more of the sur­round­ing area with­out being dis­trac­tive. But you can use it in dif­fer­ent oth­er sce­nar­ios, e.g.

  • Wide field of view macro shots (as per my exam­ple above)
  • ‘Por­traits’ of things (as per my exam­ple above)

The first one would give you an uncom­mon wider field of view — shal­low DoF is the ‘nor­mal’ way we get macro shots pre­sent­ed. The sec­ond would be an unusu­al­ly shal­low DoF in a wide-angle shot (but not a por­trait), leav­ing only a thin focus plane sharp.

How does it work?

There are sev­er­al good videos about the method in cir­cu­la­tion, but I’ll give you a quick overview. A bit of warn­ing before we dive into it: this is an advanced tech­nique, you need to oper­ate your cam­era in com­plete man­u­al mode, and you need to use panora­ma soft­ware to cre­ate a mul­ti-row panora­ma. The steps list­ed below do not describe exact­ly the Breniz­er Method, but the prin­ci­ples for a shal­low DoF mul­ti-row panorama.

What you need:

  • You need a cam­era with a suit­able lens. Suit­able in the sense that it can pro­duce a dis­tinct shal­low DoF. That could be a tele­pho­to lens, or a macro lens, or a nifty-fifty stan­dard focal length lens with a good max­i­mum aper­ture (like f/1.4). It depends on your sub­ject and dis­tance from your sub­ject. These are the fac­tors to get a shal­low DoF:
    * Aper­ture: wide open
    * large mag­ni­fi­ca­tion (either through being close or by using a tele­pho­to lens)
    Ryan’s lens choice in one video I watched was a 85mm‑f/1.4 lens on a full frame cam­era body.
    And I don’t want to say this aloud, and I am hid­ing the fol­low­ing sen­tences deep down in this arti­cle: This is the first occa­sion where I wish I had a full frame cam­era with a very fast lens. There you have it. I nor­mal­ly shoot with a Micro Four Thirds (m43) cam­era. For the Breniz­er Method to work, you have to work hard­er to get to a shal­low depth of field. That was also the rea­son I used a macro lens for the exam­ple, as I could not real­ly achieve a decent result with my por­trait lens on my m43 cam­era. I just don’t have the mon­ey to buy some­thing like that: Pana­son­ic Leica DG Noc­ti­cron 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH. POWER O.I.S. Lens — that would give me a 85mm f/2.4 full frame equiv­a­lent, which would still have less DoF that what Ryan uses (85mm f/1.4 on full frame).
  • Shoot in man­u­al mode. That is always impor­tant when shoot­ing mul­ti­ple images, which lat­er get stitched togeth­er. You want as few as pos­si­ble auto­mat­ic ‘cor­rec­tions’ from your cam­era between the images. That includes focus and white bal­ance. Full man­u­al, basically.
  • Soft­ware to stitch togeth­er mul­ti­ple shots for a panora­ma, see sec­tion below. Most of the time you have not only one row of images, but two or three or even more.
  • A plan

I can help you with the plan.

The Plan

  1. Pre-visu­al­iza­tion — you need to imag­ine how the result should look like. If you know the cor­ners of your imag­i­nary frame, then it is eas­i­er to do the the mul­ti­ple rows of images and mak­ing sure you miss noth­ing while shooting.
  2. If you have a sub­ject which can move (e.g. peo­ple), start with the sub­ject and get one frame with the whole sub­ject in it, if pos­si­ble. That makes sure that when you stitch the images togeth­er lat­er, you can always blend in from this frame to over­lay stitch­ing errors. You don’t want to have the stitch­ing errors in your pri­ma­ry subject.
  3. Then fol­low a pat­tern for the remain­ing images you need. Make sure you select a shoot­ing pat­tern your soft­ware sup­ports. That could be a left-to right/­top-to-bot­tom pat­tern, or a snake­like pattern.
image of chessboard and shooting pattern superimposed
sug­gest­ed shoot­ing pat­tern for panorama 

4. Post-pro­cess­ing soft­ware can best han­dle sub­se­quent images with a 20–30% overlap.

5. If you have many images you can do a test run with export­ed small­er res­o­lu­tion .jpg files, as that would speed up the panora­ma stitch­ing a lot. Once you know that works as imag­ined, then do the full res­o­lu­tion images. Takes a loooooong time to process.

The result­ing images get enor­mous, so you should also have a com­put­er which could han­dle gigan­tic images. The process will test your patience and the com­put­er hard­ware. But on the flip side you have an image which you could print 2x3m with­out get­ting into qual­i­ty issues. Just saying.

The software

You can use any panora­ma soft­ware capa­ble of mul­ti-row panora­ma images. More recent ver­sions of Adobe Light­room and Pho­to­shop can do it.

Light­room had no prob­lems with my images
panorama in photoshop with merging issues
Pho­to­shop had some issues with rec­og­niz­ing over­lap­ping images

Affin­i­ty Pho­to can do it.

panorama in Affinity Photo Software

If you have a Win­dows oper­at­ing sys­tem, you can try the free soft­ware from Micrososoft, called “ICE” (Image com­pos­ite edi­tor). I was impressed with this free piece of software:

panorama in ICE photo editor

You can also try “PTGui” which is avail­able for Win­dows and macOS. It is paid soft­ware, but still main­tained and the de-fac­to stan­dard for panora­ma soft­ware. A tri­al ver­sion is avail­able for testing.

Cre­at­ing panora­mas is a top­ic of its own, I’ll cov­er that in one of my next articles.

Global Photo Club

Have fun recre­at­ing Breniz­er method-like mul­ti-row panora­mas with shal­low DoF. That is quite a mouth full. Well, have fun with it anyway!

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