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The Brenizer Method Explained With Directions

A Few Things To Know About This Post

  • Ryan Brenizer did not initially call this technique “The Brenizer Method”, that’s what many other people have called it and it stuck. In many of his earlier posts, he refers to this technique as panoramic stitching.
  • When I wrote that “Ryan Brenizer invented” this technique, I now realize that invent was the wrong word to use. He no more invented this technique than Columbus discovered America. Rather I should have said he developed another use of panoramic stitching.
  • Ryan’s way of doing the panoramic stitching is slightly different than how I document it below. This was never meant to be, in any shape or form, the official way to do the Brenizer Method. This was just how I found it worked most successful for me.
  • I have nothing but huge and deep respect for Ryan and his amazing wedding photography work and his work is truly an inspiration to me.
  • You can see many more of his panoramic stitching on his blog here.

See the video from B&H Photo Video with Ryan Brenizer explaining the panoramic stitching technique, otherwise known as the Brenizer Method:

Wedding photographer extraordinaire Ryan Brenizer invented this really cool technique while on his honeymoon which is dubbed “The Brenizer Method”. For those who may or may not have heard of it and are not sure of what this technique is exactly, it’s essentially using a telephoto lens to create a very shallow depth of field as if shot with a wider angle lens. This technique makes a dSLR image look like it was shot by medium format.

Despite the directions Ryan posted here, followed by a very informative Facebook video and here’s a behind-the-scenes video also, there is still confusion amongst some people of how to do it and what you are achieving. Well, done correctly, you get this (photo copyrighted by Ryan Brenizer):

© Ryan Brenizer

//

This is a result that can’t be achieved with a wide angle lens no matter how fast of an aperture. You can see more of the Brenizer Method here and by others on Flickr here.

So what is The Brenizer Method?

Essentially it is the same concept used by landscape photographers known as panorama stitching except instead of stitching a bunch of horizontal shots together to form a wide image, the images are horizontally and vertically stitched to create a wide and tall image not unlike a square. And because you are stitching together many files, you are creating a very high resolution image that can hold up to very large print sizes without loss in quality. By shooting at a very shallow depth-of-field (DOF) and then stitching the shots together, you’re exaggerating the shallow DOF.

In the image above, created from 47 images, Ryan used a Nikon AF 85mm f/1.4D shot at f/1.4. If you were to take the same image with the same 85mm at the distance he was standing, you would probably only get a half body shot of the couple with a background that looks like a wash of colors; which is fine if that is the look you are trying to achieve. If you stood back far enough to get the same framing as the image above, the people would appear very small in relation to their environment thus losing the intimate feel of the image above. That is one of the major drawbacks of a telephoto lens have more of a voyeuristic feel. That is one of the primary reasons photojournalists use a wide angle, to capture a sense of intimacy. If you used a wide angle lens to capture the same framing, you would achieve the intimacy, but lose the focus on the couple as the background would not exhibit the same bokeh as telephoto lens can.

Here is a sample of a shot I did. One shot, taken with the 85mm at f/1.2:

Bui Photography Brenzier Method Sample Photo with Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

It’s a nice shot, but a bit distant and detached. But what if we used the Brenzier Method? Here’s another sample picture with the same pose and distance with the same lens at the same aperture, but with 50 images stitched together:

My Experience and How I Do It

In my experience, the results are best achieved by using a medium-telephoto lens (i.e. 85mm) with a very large aperture (i.e. f/1.4 or larger), of course that doesn’t mean you can’t use a wide angle (i.e. 16-35mm) or a zoom telephoto (i.e. 70-200mm) with an aperture of f/2.8. When I use The Brenizer Method, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM is what I reach for. You also have to use the lens at the widest aperture as you are trying to take full advantage of shallow DOF, so I would have my aperture set to f/1.2 or f/1.4. Bare in mind, that your results may vary depending on whether you use a full-frame or a crop factor sensor.

Before getting started, there are some important things to remember that Ryan points out in his Facebook video for the Brenizer Method:

  • You must separate auto-focusing from your shutter button so that when pressed it is only locking exposure. The auto-focusing is then delegated to another button, usually the * button on the back of the camera. With newer bodies, they have a dedicated AF-On button that you can use. Nikon users will find they have a AE-L/AF-L (auto-exposure lock/auto-focus lock) button which you should use.
  • You must set a white balance. If you don’t, you’ll have a lot of pictures with varying white balances which will make the final image not look right. You can either do a custom white balance of the scene (easy, quick, and accurate), shoot in RAW & fix it later (a pain in the ass), or select a preset white balance (easy and quick, but not always accurate).
  • It does not matter if you shoot in RAW or JPEG, just keep in mind that if you shoot in RAW, it just means more processing time and larger files to deal with. I generally shoot in JPEG cause there is no major added advantage to shooting RAW for this technique.
  • If you choose to shoot JPEG, make sure you set the quality of your JPEG to the smallest setting. You’re not taking a single picture, but rather 20 or more and stitching them together so you don’t need to worry about quality on each of the shot as the final output will be a very high quality image. You could shoot at Large, but keep in mind that will exponentially increase processing time.

The steps to doing The Brenizer Method is rather simple once you get the hang of it, but it takes a bit of practice. This is what I commonly do, but YMMV:

  1. I determine the background I want to use and how I want to pose my subject. I make sure that my subject(s) are in a comfortable pose that they can hold for at least 30-seconds without moving; quite important as you do not want motion blur in your shot.
  2. I start by taking a reference shot to get an idea of how the shot roughly looks. This also lets me know if I need to stand back more or not by visualizing how much I want of the background.
  3. Right before I begin getting my shots, I generally take a random shot of something like the ground, my shoe, or anything just so you know where the beginning of your stitching images should take place. You’ll find this is very helpful when you extract your images. After I’m done, I usually take another one of these shots so I know where it stops.
  4. I then set my focus to the eyes (since I want the eyes in focus, you can set your focus to anything else), auto focus and begin snapping pictures of the entire subject(s) first making sure I get a lot of overlap. It is very important that you do not move where you are at or you will shift focus. It is also very important that you do not refocus as the focus is set to be on the eyes. After I’ve taken a number of overlapping pics of the subject(s), I begin getting shots of the background. Why we do the subject first is to ensure that we don’t get any motion blur as it can be difficult for the subject to hold the pose for too long. I’ve included a sample pic so you can get the idea:
  5. The arrows are just for directional purposes. You’ll notice that I did not include any indication of when to take a shot because that is a personal preference, but you should overlap a lot and it’s always better to take more images than less. Hopefully the picture will give you a very good idea of how I do it.
  6. After I get back to the office, I extract all my images, except the ones for stitching, into Lightroom2. Rather, I download the images for stitching to my desktop into a folder I create to easy organize all the images.
  7. 2010-09-08 UPDATE: So in my experience, I’ve found out a few things. You do not need to go overboard and do 100 images to get a cool effect. Having more helps make the effect look amazing, but it also is more prone to failure and heavy computer crunching. Just cause you shot 30 images for the Brenizer Method does not mean you have to use them all. This is where it’s a bit important to overlap your shots. For example, say you’re doing the Brenizer Method, you’re 90% done and someone walks into your shot. You can either pause, but hold your position until the person has left the shot and take a few more shots to compensate, otherwise, you’ll have to skip including that one JPEG because you’ll find “ghosts” in the final merge. If you find your final product has some weird anomalies, I would recommended finding the JPEG that is the issue and not including it in the Photomerge.
  8. I then launch Adobe Photoshop CS3, I go to File > Automate > Photomerge…
  9. A new window should open, under Layout: Auto, Source Files Use: Files and make sure Blend images together is checked.
  10. Click Browse and select the first 25% of the images you took, select Open, and click OK. A mew window will open and start the merging process.
    • Note: you can try and select all the images, but unless you have a super powerful computer, Adobe Photoshop will crash. I’ve had this happen multiple times and finally figured out that if I split up the merges, it works quicker and without crashes.
    • You should try not to do anything else on the computer while the merging is taking place or it can crash the merge or you’ll find your computer running extremely slow.
  11. Once the merge completes, you should see a somewhat incomplete shot (that’s normal because you are only merging 25% of the total images at a time), save it as a PSD file and close it.
  12. Repeat Step 8 & 9 until all the images are complete and you have four PSD files (you might have more or less depending on how many batch of images you are merging at a time).
  13. Repeat Step 6 & 7, and click on Browse and select only the PSD files and click OK.
  14. Once that finishes, you should have a complete looking image. Crop as necessary and make any exposure corrections as needed.

So the final image size is quite large and capable of being cropped very liberally. Good luck and happy shooting!

2009-11-28 UPDATE: Here’s another really good tutorial by daifuku on how to do the Brenizer Method.

2010-07-16 UPDATE: Photojojo has had this up for awhile, another simple explanation of how to do the Brenizer Method. I’ve been meaning to link it for some time now.

2010-09-08 UPDATE: I know the shot of Anna (model above) isn’t the most terribly interesting use of the Brenizer Method, and in an effort to showcase more of it (and my improvement with it), I’m including other Brenizer Method shots I’ve done recently:

Brenizer Method, 7 photos merged. Shot with 85mm f/1.2L at f/1.2.

Nigh time engagement shoot in front of Hard Rock Cafe using Brenizer Method

Attempt at nighttime Brenizer Method. 43 images. Shot with 50mm f/1.2.

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55 Comments

  1. Hi Sandra: Are you using CS4/5? It happens with using CS 4/5. You can just crop those images out. Apparently when CS 4/5 doesn't know what to do with an image or how it quite fits in to the bigger picture, it drops it underneath. The only other thing I can think of is that you're not overlapping enough.

    Are you viewing them at 100%? Cause at any zoom other than 100% it has that effect. If you zoom into 100%, you'll notice the "rips" are gone.

  2. Zookk: Thanks so much!

    Johann Hepner: I think my 85L was a bit prone to front focusing…either that or I missed the focus on the shot. Can't quite remember. But that's quite awesome to have the master himself photograph your wedding! I'm sure they pics are amazing and certainly cherished for a lifetime!

  3. I think it would have been easier to see the difference the method made if there were also a single wide-angle image to compare to the 'shopped one. Also the composite image looks more washed out than the single one above it.

  4. I've been doing this technique without realizing it was named after someone…

    Don't you get parralax error if you don't use a tripod with adjusted nodal point? Ofcourse, you can mask in a single shot of the person if this were the case, but that wasn't mentioned in the tutorial.

    • Sorry for the delayed reply. I've never really noticed any issues with parallax, but one thing to be careful of is accidentally changing the distance of the camera to subject as you'll end up with the subject out of focus.

  5. By far the best explanation I've found online – I've seen tens so far. Thank you very much.

    I don't own an FX body – I own a DX body with two primes – 35mm f/1.8 and 85mm f/1.8. Two quick questions:

    1. What effect would DX body have on 85mm lens v. FX in terms of final result?
    2. What would be the difference in results using 35mm f/1.8 v. 85mm f/1.8?

    Thanks in advance,
    Mark

    • Mark: Thank you! As far as your questions:

      1) Nothing major except for bokeh. It's a long complicated explanation, but the concept is the same as the crop vs. full-frame argument.

      2) Using telephoto lenses such an 85mm produces a different feel. It compresses the background and also creates a very flattering look for human subjects. With the Brenizer Method and a telephoto, you will get more bokeh than using a wide angle.

  6. This is one of the most helpful tutorial about brenizer method, thx :D

    But i got some trouble when applying this method. I got very bad distortion on the edge of the stitched image. Is it because my lense (im using 50mm f1.4) ? my un-steady hand while taking the photo ? or the program i use (im using AutoStitch).

    Thx :D

    • First, let me say this is my opinion. I think it's a combination of many things like standing in one spot but shooting "around" might create lens distortion when stitching the images together. It also depends on how close you are to the subject. I think if you use a little long of a zoom, you won't see it as bad.

  7. I don't know if you can say he "invented" the technique, I've been doing this for years (since at least 2004, and probably earlier), I can't say I invented it either, at the time I thought I was the only one doing it (since I came up with it on my own, and hadn't seen anyone else do it) but I'm sure someone before me probably thought of it too. Maybe, brilliant minds think alike? :-)

  8. Hi Richard,

    Thanks for the detailed explanation – really helps. One question about the exposure – do you lock the exposure down as well. For example, in the first frame where you focus only once, if the exposure for that frame is say for example 1/400 at f1.4, do you keep that constant through all of the other frames as well, or do you just shoot on aperature priority mode?

    Thanks again.

  9. David, yes, you have to keep the exposure the same or you'll have a very frustrating time when merging and having exposure variation. The best way to think of it is that you are taking a very large image in pieces so your focus, white balance, and exposure needs to all be locked. Shoot in manual, less headache.

  10. @Todd: yes, for the most part. But there is a trick. The way I do it is first tell them to get into a comfortable pose they can hold, I lock focus on them and take like about 5 shots of just them before I start doing the background last, that way if they move, I have many photos to select from. They key thing is that you can always pause too. Sometimes people walk into your shot, you just stop and don't move and wait until they leave before you continue shooting again. The key thing is getting comfortable and building up your speed and accuracy.

  11. @Todd: yes, for the most part. But there is a trick. The way I do it is first tell them to get into a comfortable pose they can hold, I lock focus on them and take like about 5 shots of just them before I start doing the background last, that way if they move, I have many photos to select from. They key thing is that you can always pause too. Sometimes people walk into your shot, you just stop and don't move and wait until they leave before you continue shooting again. The key thing is getting comfortable and building up your speed and accuracy.

  12. Wow, up to 50 images at a time? Crazy. I've done a similar scenario where I took 4 quarters of a scene using a 50mm f1.8 lens and later stitched them together…but nothing of this scale. I'll have to try it!

  13. SHAWNM: The more images you stitch, the more pronounce the effect is. By no means do you need a lot of shots to create the effect. The more shots you do, the harder your computer has to work and it's more prone to errors in my experience.

    Bill: Thanks! Definitely a credit to Ryan for developing this!

    Ernie: I certainly agree, thanks to Ryan!

  14. Im trying to master the Brenizer method, but when I load the images and merge them….some of the images don't merge and I end up with sort of a collage image.

    Also when some of the images merge, I can see where they have merged, looks as if some one tore the picture apart and put it back together…do you know how I get rid of this line?

    Please help~

  15. Hi Sandra: Are you using CS4/5? It happens with using CS 4/5. You can just crop those images out. Apparently when CS 4/5 doesn't know what to do with an image or how it quite fits in to the bigger picture, it drops it underneath. The only other thing I can think of is that you're not overlapping enough.

    Are you viewing them at 100%? Cause at any zoom other than 100% it has that effect. If you zoom into 100%, you'll notice the "rips" are gone.

  16. Ryan Brenizer is certainly not the first person to use stitching to achieve a better bokeh. I heard wedding photographers were arrogant… but really? "The Brenizer Method"?

    • I have followed Ryan for months and it became named after him, so he popularized it he never said "I am the first in the world to have used this method." He's a pretty laid back, non-arrogant guy so maybe research a bit first.

  17. Hi Joe: He didn't name it that, other people just attributed it to him by using his name. Perhaps invent is too strong of a word and I should reword to say he was the first(?) to use this technique for portraits and wedding photography.

  18. heard of this method many times, but never wanted to spend the time with trial and error to figure it out. Half stumbled onto your page from POTN today. I have a place I want to this out at tonight, can't wait. Great/clear instructions and visual aids.

  19. Just wondering. Did you purposefully focus in front of the model or is your lens a little front focus heavy?
    Likewise, I like this write up of the brenizer method. It's a fantastic method. As a photo dork, I had Ryan photograph my wedding, as expected, fantastic job with the technique!

  20. Zookk: Thanks so much!

    Johann Hepner: I think my 85L was a bit prone to front focusing…either that or I missed the focus on the shot. Can't quite remember. But that's quite awesome to have the master himself photograph your wedding! I'm sure they pics are amazing and certainly cherished for a lifetime!

  21. i do what you have done in taking the photo's but i dont use photoshop cs3 i find it doesnt do the job properly. i have now got a program called autopano and i use that and i tell you what they come out brilliant. the best use if a program for stitching ever. it even corrects the colours and lighting as well. 99% of the time they come out perfect. i am on flickr and picasa so look me up and see my pano photo's there

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  23. you never make it clear if you just rotate your camera and point at the different spots or if you're actually moving the camera. if you keep the camera plane consistent and actually move the camera around, you lose the distortion you're adding to the camera by rotating it to get different shots.

    you also say you "need overlap" but realistically you need 3 photos total to overlap enough to convert a typical dslr aspect ratio to a square aspect ratio.

    I don't understand the BS about how this you a different depth of field, it only does that via stacking (used in macro photography) and changing the angle of the depth of field. this adds an obvious distortion that i see in basically every example of this "method."

  24. thank you for sharing and great explanation. a specially merging part. i always crushed my computer at that point, no when i do step by step it works. Thank you again!

  25. I've just started experimenting with this technique which I only learned about last weekend. Thank you for putting this together.

  26. What a lot of work to get a MF DOF look when you could just shoot MF in the first place. Sure MF digital is expensive compared to say a D800 but for those few shots why not just shoot a MF camera with Film? or for that matter a LF camera with film?

  27. Do you think auto white balance affects the stitching even if you match it in post later? Ive heard if you have a different initial WB settings it means a different colourspace is captured and even though you match in post its never a true match?