The Brenizer method is a clever camera technique, one that’s designed to capture unique photos with minimal equipment – but how does it work? And how can you pull it off?
In this article, I explain a simple, step-by-step workflow for achieving the Brenizer effect. I also explain when you might want to use the Brenizer method in your own photography (and when you may prefer to avoid it).
By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll know how to use the Brenizer method like a pro.
Let’s get started!
What is the Brenizer method?
The Brenizer method combines multiple files to achieve a shallow depth of field effect in a wide-angle image.
In other words, the technique allows you to capture a shallow depth of field photo that also features a wide field of view.
The concept is relatively simple:
You shoot a series of shallow depth of field images with a telephoto lens. With each shot, you move the lens slightly. Then you stitch the images together for a beautiful result:
As you’re likely aware, creating a shallow depth of field effect with a wide-angle lens is nearly impossible. The wider your focal length, the greater your depth of field – so if you try to capture a shallow depth of field photo at 24mm, you’ll need to get extremely close to your subject (ruining the wide-angle look), or you’ll need to work at a ridiculously wide aperture (such as f/0.4, which isn’t offered by modern lenses!).
But with the Brenizer method, you can have the best of both worlds.
Note that the Brenizer method is named after a wedding photographer, Ryan Brenizer, who invented and popularized the effect. But the basic idea comes straight out of a landscape photographer’s playbook: You simply create a panorama while using a telephoto lens. Then you combine the resulting images in post-processing software. Make sense?
Pros and cons of the Brenizer method
The Brenizer method offers plenty of benefits. For instance, it can:
- Create a gorgeous, unique effect
- Offer portrait subjects a high-resolution file to print large
- Help your portfolio stand out from the crowd
And you can do it with any camera and a telephoto lens, so it’s certainly not gear intensive. (I do recommend you use a tripod, but it’s not a requirement.)
But the Brenizer method does come with some drawbacks. For one, depending on the number of shots you use, it may take several minutes to “capture” a single image. And you’ll then need to spend some time editing and blending the files together in Photoshop.
Also, while you photograph your Brenizer shots, the light can change – forcing you to start over or to commit to lots of post-processing.
So before you decide to use the Brenizer effect in a shooting situation, ask yourself:
Do I have the time for this? And is the light consistent enough to allow for a good result?
If the answer is “Yes,” then go for it! Otherwise, consider leaving the Brenizer method for another day.
How to use the Brenizer method: the step-by-step process
Now that you’re familiar with the benefits and drawbacks of the Brenizer method, let’s look at how you can pull it off (both in the field and in Photoshop).
Step 1: Find a good photo opportunity
Technically, you can use the Brenizer method on any subject. But each Brenizer photo takes a long time to create, so I recommend you choose your subject and composition carefully.
Look for layers that will create a beautiful effect when combined with a shallow depth of field. And if you are shooting a portrait, make sure your subject chooses a stable, comfortable pose they can hold for up to 30 seconds.
Also, pay attention to the light. If you shoot at sunrise or sunset, you’ll need to work fast. (When starting out, you may prefer to attempt the technique on a cloudy day, when there’s no real risk of lighting issues.)
Step 2: Prepare your settings
Once you’ve identified your composition, you’ll want to mount your camera on a tripod. (Again, this isn’t required, but it’s very helpful!) Get close to your subject to maximize the shallow depth of field effect.
Then set your camera to Manual mode (not Aperture Priority!) and dial in the following settings:
Aperture: Shoot as wide as your lens can go. It might be f/1.2, it might be f/4, or it might be f/5.6. The wider you can go, the more impressive the resulting effect.
ISO and shutter speed: Dial in an ISO and shutter speed value that will give you a good exposure (while keeping the image sharp). I like to set my ISO to its base value when the light is good then choose a shutter speed based purely on exposure considerations. But if the light is weak, I’ll bump up my ISO for a brighter exposure (and a faster shutter speed).
White balance: Select any option other than Auto. You want the white balance to remain consistent as you shoot, but Auto White Balance may cause your camera to adjust the WB during your series of photos. I like to manually set the Kelvin temperature, but you can always choose a white balance preset and move on.
Focal Length: A longer focal length will enhance the depth of field effect, but it’ll also require more photos. So choose carefully! (100mm is a good starting point.) Regardless, your focal length needs to remain identical from shot to shot. If you work with a prime lens, this will be easy – but if you’re using a zoom, make sure to hold your lens carefully. You don’t want to accidentally adjust the focal length midway through the series!
Focus: Set your focus on your subject, then switch it over to Manual. Don’t touch it again until you’re done shooting your series!
Step 3: Shoot your images in an organized layout
Once you’ve set your exposure and focus, it’s time to begin shooting.
I highly recommend working the way you might read a book, starting in the upper-left corner and moving down to the bottom right:
The number of images you take will depend on your composition and focal length, so don’t feel you need to shoot 32 images – but when in doubt, shoot more, not less! Most people use between 20-50 files, but as you gain experience with the Brenizer method, the number of shots you take will likely decrease.
Make sure to overlap each shot by at least a third. That way, the software can see where each image belongs when it begins stitching.
Also, whatever you do, don’t break the order! When you first try the Brenizer method, you might be tempted to randomly shoot around the frame in an attempt to fill in any holes or gaps. But this will only increase the chances of a messy result, and you’ll end up with holes and weird edges:
And by the way, before you start shooting, think about your final image. Will it look best as a vertical file, a horizontal file, a square file, or a panorama? Make sure to capture enough shots that you’re able to create a final result in your preferred orientation!
Step 4: Batch-edit the images and export
Once you’ve captured your files and headed home, load them into some form of batch-editing software (like Lightroom).
Edit the first image – do your standard white balance, exposure, contrast, and saturation adjustments – then sync the entire batch of images so the exact same editing is applied to each file. (Note that you don’t need to apply complex edits, like color grading or dodging and burning. These can be added to the final photo.)
Once your images are edited, you’ll need to export them to your stitching program. Photoshop does a great job, but other programs can work, as well – it’s really just about personal preference.
I’d recommend exporting your photos as JPEGs, with the long edge between 700-1000 pixels depending on how many images you plan to merge. (Since you’ll be merging so many shots, there’s no reason to export as high-resolution files!)
Step 5: Merge the images
At this point, you simply need to stitch your photos together, panorama-style.
If you use Photoshop, here’s how to proceed:
Go to File>Automate>Photomerge. When the Photomerge window opens, check the Blend Images Together option and select the Auto Layout option.
Browse for your images, then hit OK.
At this point, it’s just a waiting game. Depending on your file sizes and the number of images you’re working with, the actual stitching process could take a couple of minutes – or it could take half an hour.
Finally, Photoshop will present you with a merged image. If you shot in an organized layout, your software will likely have done a nice job, and all that’ll be left to do is crop your image to the orientation you were hoping to use and save as a JPEG!
A guide to the Brenizer method: final words
Well, there you have it:
A simple, step-by-step process to rock the Brenizer method.
It’s a great technique and it’s not too hard to do, though it does require some patience and perseverance.
So go have fun! Take some Brenizer images! Then share them in the comments below.