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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
You can use any panorama software capable of multi-row panorama images. More recent versions of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop can do it.
Affinity Photo can do it.
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:
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.
Have fun recreating Brenizer method-like multi-row panoramas with shallow DoF. That is quite a mouth full. Well, have fun with it anyway!