If you could trace the journey of a photographer from their initial point-and-shoot setup to their sessions over time you would quickly see a common theme: Photographers never stop learning. Once you have mastered the basics (e.g. exposure triangle, lighting patterns and rules of composition), it is time to start exploring. They continue to search for new creative opportunities after mastering the fundamentals. It is worth the effort to discover new techniques and endure the creative ruts along the way. I was inspired by a particular technique for panoramic stitching that is unique to the Brenizer Method.
Ryan Brenizer’s use of panoramic photos to create couple portraits was a great idea for me as a portrait and wedding photographer. You’ll feel the same after you experience what this simple technique can do. You can use my guide to help you get started on the next leg of the journey. I’ll show you how to use panoramic stitching using the Brenizer Method to create epic portraits.
What is the Brenizer Method?
The Brenizer Method, a composite technique, captures images at wide apertures and includes panoramic stitching to create wide angle imagery with a very shallow depth of field. Ryan Brenizer, a portrait and wedding photographer, popularized this method by creating dramatic and dramatic environment portraits of couples at engagement and wedding ceremonies.
The Brenizer Method, like other panoramic photography methods, uses multi-row panoramic stitches to create an image that has a wider field than can be achieved in one shot. Brenizer isn’t the first photographer to use panoramic stitching, but his method uses people as subjects and large apertures to create surreal portraits.
Brenizer Method Tip #1. Pre-Visualize your Final Panoramic Picture
Normaly, when we take a picture, what we see in our viewfinder is what we get for framing the shot. The Brenizer Method is used to create a panoramic image. However, multiple frames are captured and stitched together using the Brenizer Method. We need to visualize our shot before we start stitching. Ryan Brenizer compares panoramic stitching to solving a puzzle. Your editing software might not be able automatically to stitch the panoramic images together if you don’t include all the pieces.
Pre-visualization is not necessary if your goal is to create an artistic final photo that doesn’t conform to the standard rectangular shape of a portrait. Pre-visualization is a great way to achieve your panoramic stitching goals.
2. RAW Image Files
Most digital cameras have options to capture images in RAW, JPEG or both formats. To give you more control in post-production, I recommend shooting RAW files. Panorama stitching images are more large than normal. However, RAW files allow for greater editing options. You lose some creativity and your ability to retrieve details from a JPEG file that is already compressed. Raw files on the other side retain tonal data and color data. This allows for consistent edits with a wider dynamic range.
3. Keep it Level
We need to be extra careful when using the Brenizer Method to ensure that our camera is level. Use a tripod if you have one. Make sure it is level. However, a tripod is not necessary for this type of photography. A tripod is not necessary for this method of photography. However, it can help you to avoid any missing shots and cover the entire frame cleanly for the final stitched image.
4. Begin with the intended focal point
When you are creating a panoramic stitched image, I recommend following a method. You should start with a clear focal point (e.g. your subject) in the first frames. Then, build from there. We are panning side-to-side and leaving our subject in a very shallow focus plane. To lock focus for the first frame, we must focus on our subject and then switch to manual focus.
After taking my first shot, I generally start in the middle and move slightly to the left for three more shots. Then I do the same, moving from the left to the center. Next, take a frame that is higher than your starting point. Then continue the same process. Next, take a second frame from the middle, just below your original starting point. Then, repeat the process. Some photographers begin in the upper left corner, work their way across the scene, before moving to the next row. This system will ensure you have enough images to cover the scene.
5. Overlap Each Image
Take photos by panning across the scene and making sure that each image is overlapped by between 30-50%. David Bergman demonstrates how to rotate your camera cleanly without using a tripod in the video.
Brenizer Method Tip #6. Zoom In
Do we need a wide-angle lens to capture a wide angle shot? Actually, no. Although it might seem counterintuitive that a telephoto lens is used to capture wide angle shots, the truth is that panoramic stitching with telephoto lenses is easier because of the flatter images they capture. Longer focal lengths (between 70 and 200mm) allow for more prominent bokeh. However, wide angle lenses are more likely create optical vignetting or distort the edges. This is particularly true when wide angle lenses are used while closer to the subjects. Although we can fix the vignetting in post, the distorted edges make it difficult to stitch the individual photos together.
7. Choose Portrait/Vertical orientation
It’s better to position the camera vertically or portrait-oriented than to hold it on your side. Why? You will need to take more photos to cover a larger scene. However, this creates a final image that is more detailed and has a higher resolution. The Brenizer Method is based on the number of photos you take, not the focal length. This determines how large or small the field of view should appear.
Brenizer Method Tip #8. Use a wide aperture
The Brenizer Method is a method for creating panoramic portraits that separate the subject from the background. It uses a very shallow depth of field. Brenizer Method portraits are always a hit because they offer both a wide frame and shallow depth of field. Wide angle portraits can be difficult to capture. These portraits combine the best of both worlds. You can enhance the look by setting your aperture between f/1.2 to f/2. To achieve the same effect, you won’t need to open your telephoto lens as much if it has a narrower aperture.
9. Pay attention to Moving Objects
This tip is simple but crucial. Be aware of the objects moving in your scene to avoid duplicates. Worse, sometimes a person’s movements are so subtle that they appear awkwardly distorted in your final image. This can be corrected with manual stitching, spot healing or clone stamp. It is more difficult to fix the image in post. It is easier to do it in-camera.
Bonus: If you want to achieve that look, moving elements such as water can be great in long-exposure panoramic stitch photos.
10. Use a “Big Picture” approach to Post
While they may start their journey as individuals but the panoramic portraits we create must be created together. Panoramic stitching is all about consistency. You can edit one frame, then make the same adjustments for all the others. After each shot has been edited, you can use Photoshop to stitch them together or Lightroom’s “Photo Merge” tool.
These are my suggestions for settings when using Photo Merge
- Project – Start with Spherical. If there is too much distortion/warping, select Cylindrical. NOTE: Sometimes, the image may not merge with certain Projection-types. Select a different Projection if this happens.
- BoundaryWarp – Adjusts the edges of an image.
- Fill Edges/Auto Crop– Fill Edges will fill in the empty spaces around the frame’s edges. Auto Crop will however automatically remove the empty space. Select either.
- Auto Setting – This will allow you to set up auto settings to process the image. This setting should not be used. We recommend that you wait until the image has been merged before processing it.
- Create Stack – Stacks the merged images with other images in the selected. If you don’t like stacking, leave it unchecked.
Finalize your edit in Lightroom using dodge & burn. You can also find other stitching software alternatives if you don’t have Photoshop or Lightroom.
These 10 Brenizer Method tips on panoramic stitching I hope have been helpful. You can learn this technique quickly and impress your clients with stunning imagery by practicing it. This video by Adorama TV’s Doug Mckinlay shows panoramic stitching in action. Doug Mckinlay touches on the above concepts and gives great examples of real-world panoramic stitching.