Advanced Photography Technique: Brenizer Method Panorama

A while ago, I posted an article asking for your feedback. We were all very thrilled to see so many of you comment (even though I didn’t get to answer all of the comments, we already have a list of things we will be working very hard on during the coming months). One suggestion, made by Marcin (thank you!), was of particular interest to me. “What inspires us?”, he asked. Let me rephrase that – who inspires us?

Learning something new is vital for any aspiring photographer, not to mention how interesting it can often be. But then there is a question – whom to learn from? There are a lot of photography forums and blogs around, both with good and not-so-good content, and it can take quite some time for one to differentiate them accordingly. Luckily, just when I was starting my wedding photography business about two years ago, I came across Ryan Brenizer’s blog, and from him I learned one of the best techniques I’ve seen around – the Brenizer method panorama.

Panoramas have been around since film days, and there were actually cameras specifically designed to take such images by using a longer portion of film than conventional 35mm or medium format cameras. Today, most point-and-shoot cameras, as well as some mirrorless and DSLR cameras, are capable of taking panorama images automatically, and, frankly, the result can often be spectacular. So what is so special about this so-called Brenizer method panorama? Well, take a look at the following image.

Brenizer Method Panorama

I took this photograph using my Nikon D700 camera and a 20mm lens set at f/0.5, and gave the full 80 megapixel image to my clients in case they wanted to print large, for those of you curious enough to ask. It was a very fine day and an amazing wedding. No one truly cared about the oncoming rain, least of all the gorgeous bride with her makeup and hairdo. As I was…

Hold on. A 20mm f/0.5 lens? This can’t be right… Can it?

1) Meet the Author

For those of you who still don’t know, Ryan is a professional wedding photographer based in New York City, and he’s done well over 200 weddings by now. I’d go on about saying how he was an independent (and very successful) photo journalist before he found his passion for weddings, but I fear I would never be able to put those words better than he has (a quote from his website):

Photography has filled me with purpose and joy, and taken me places I never thought I’d go. I have covered three U.S. presidents, been blessed by the Pope, and been stared down by Muhammad Ali. I’ve shared a laugh with Smokey Robinson, and had a picture I took of him used when he received a lifetime achievement award. I’ve photographed a 110-year-old woman as she told me what it was like to climb onto the torch of the Statue of Liberty. I was chosen as the only independent photographer allowed near Obama and McCain in their last meeting before the 2008 election. I’m the only photographer in the world to have been officially represented by the three largest photographic retailers in the Western hemisphere. Heck, I’ve even had a photographic technique named after me (which is crazy).

But I have never felt so blessed by photography as when I am photographing a wedding. At weddings, we are most visibly ourselves — the walls we walk around with come tumbling down under the forces of joy, anxiety (and sometimes a bit of alcohol). To document that experience, the relationship of friends, families, and a couple launching a new stage in their life, is an incredible feeling. When a client says “This is the first picture I’ve seen of my parents that actually looks like them!” I feel like I’ve done something with lasting value. After years of shooting and more than 225 weddings under my belt, I still find each one to be more exciting than the last, and try to make each one the best one that I’ve ever photographed.

While, in all honesty, I can’t say if there was anyone before Ryan who tried the mentioned panorama technique, he did have it named after him with good reason. Thanks to Ryan and his continued use of Brenizer method, many professional photographers have learned it and, by doing so, found a way to experiment and try something completely new with an immense amount of different possibilities. For all I know, he is the sole founder of this technique, and for that many photographers, myself included, are deeply grateful. How’s that for sharing tricks?

2) What’s a Brenizer Method Panorama?

I keep talking about it, but what really is a Brenizer panorama and how is it different from those great conventional panoramas we are all familiar with? Well, it’s first of all – surprise surprise – a panorama, and so, just like with any other panorama, you photograph and then merge several images to achieve a wider angle of view and/or higher resolution image. But this is where the similarities end.

Brenizer Method Panorama

With conventional panoramas, photographers tend to shoot mostly landscapes and cityscapes, or interiors, and, as you turn you camera shot after shot, most of the time you photograph horizontally (or vertically, or a little bit of both). Brenizer method panoramas, however, are most popular with (though not exclusive to) portraits, where you shoot around your subject as much as itself. But, most importantly, Brenizer method puts an emphasis on the amount of background blur (bokeh) and depth of field at a given field of view. Best way to achieve that is to stand relatively (or very) close to your subject and photograph it with as fast a lens as possible wide-open (or close to wide-open). In my practice, 50mm f/1.4 (for wider angle of view) and 85mm f/1.4 (even more emphasis on background blur) class lenses work very well for this, but you can, of course, use other fast lenses (the 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.8, 85mm f/1.8, 135mm f/2 and so on) with great results.

The first panorama example I used at the very beginning of this article was taken with the lovely AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Nikkor lens at f/1.4 – I had to merge around 30 images to achieve the end result, but it was well worth it. Here is one of the images used:

Brenizer Method Panorama Fragment

Notice how close I was standing, and yet the resulting image is a wide-angle shot with tiny depth of field, something unachievable with existing lenses! Had I stood even closer or used a longer lens, like the great 85mm f/1.4D Nikkor I own, the image would’ve been even more surrealistic, but I found my lovely 50mm lens was best at that particular moment. Do you own an entry-level DSLR and want that shallow-depth-of-field of larger sensor cameras? Try this method, it will also make those images less grainy when shot at high ISO values if you choose to downsize.

(A side note: I mentioned that I used a 20mm f/0.5 lens for the first panorama, and it wasn’t a simple guess. I used Brett’s calculator (a special Brenizer method calc created by Michigan wedding photographer Brett Maxwell, a fan of the Brenizer method) to find out exactly what lens I had on my D700 when I took that photograph. So nice to know what gear I have in my camera bag… Thanks, Brett!)

3) How To Do It?

While it’s a relatively simple process for anyone who’s tried panoraming before, there are several rules of thumb to keep in mind while you’re at it. Here are the steps I usually take:

  • Pre-visualize – it is of utmost importance for you to imagine your final image and composition so that you know what to cover and when to stop. Do know that some of the image will get cropped out eventually, and thus you should photograph a little more than you think you will need. If you plan for the image to be vertical, you may find that taking vertical fragments is easier, or if you want a horizontal panorama, horizontal fragments will be easier to keep track of. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you don’t leave any gaps, or they will turn into blank spaces once you stitch that panorama, forcing you to crop severely or trash it completely.
  • Lock your settings – once you’ve focused, set your shutter speed, aperture and (if you prefer JPG) white balance, make sure to lock all those setting. Switching to manual focus and M exposure mode works best for me. Some might prefer using AE-L/AF-L button on the back of their camera, or focusing with AF button instead of shutter release button while in M mode to keep exposure and focus from changing as you move across your frame.
  • Overlay – to make it easier for your software to stitch panorama correctly, you need to make sure you overlay the images by about 30-50%, but no more than that. Having too many images will result in more stitches, which can result in more faults you will need to find a way to fix eventually. If you find that stitching hasn’t worked, try removing unnecessary images.
  • Start with your subject – when photographing people, make sure you cover them first, and then move around them systematically while, at the same time, keeping in mind which areas you’ve already covered. Making sure you’ve captured your subjects first will make the process easier for them, as it’s hard not to move for a longer period of time.
  • Remove vignetting – photographing with lenses wide-open can result in some serious vignetting, which can ruin your final panorama. I usually process my images separately in Lightroom 4 and remove the vignetting using Lens Correction Tab before stitching the final panorama. I’ve found that Photoshop does a poor job of removing vignetting with its Photomerge function, cutting off my highlights and making them look lifeless and gray.
  • Brenizer Method Panorama
  • Keep it simple – don’t start with 50+ image panoramas! Stitching them can take a lot of time depending on how powerful your computer is. Panoramas made out of 10, 6 or even 4 images can look astonishing, and are best when you just want to learn this new technique and all its quirks. Also, straight lines are often hard to handle due to parallax, so keep that in mind while you practice. Removing lens distortion in Lens Correction Tab can help keep those lines straight. If you plan to take group portraits using this technique, note that your resulting image will likely have a significant field-of-focus curvature, so it’s best if you keep your distance and use a longer lens, which will result in less camera movement.
  • Experiment – while Brenizer method does wonders with portraits, it can be used in numerous other situations whenever you feel like you need wide angle of view and shallow depth of field. As always – try to experiment and find new ways of making it work for you. You are different from every other photographer out there, it only makes sense if you use the technique differently, too!
  • In the end, it sounds much harder than it really is and all these steps will become natural once you’ve gotten used to them.

    4) What About the Software?

    Photoshop CS5 does the job pretty well, although it also takes quite a bit of time. Occasional mistakes happen, but most of them are due to my lack of skill – after all, this technique does need to be properly mastered, and that is why I never use it for any critical shots without backing them up with regular captures. Usually, I use Auto setting in Photomerge within CS5, but sometimes it gets it all wrong, then I need to spend some more time experimenting with other choices. Also, for all you D800 owners, downsize before stitching! In most cases, you are very unlikely to ever need a 200 megapixel image even if your computer does eventually manage to finalize that panorama.

    There are a lot of panorama-stitch specific software, but I haven’t tried any yet. I expect them to work faster, and maybe even better, than Photomerge in Photoshop CS5. I certainly hope to test some, and once I do, I will make sure to share my findings.

    5) More Examples

    The following photograph was taken with a Nikkor AF-S 36mm f/0.6G lens. It’s a very sharp and fast lens, and somehow makes that 12 megapixel sensor of my D700 suddenly gain another 70 or 80 megapixels, which I don’t mind. It’s a miracle, that lens, and I don’t believe anyone else has one of these in their bags. :)

    Brenizer Method Panorama

    According to Brett’s calculator, this next photograph was taken using a 30mm f/0.5 lens. Quite something, isn’t it?

    Brenizer Method Panorama

    Ryan recently held a Brenizer method panorama contest. You can see some of the entries here and here, and here you will find the winners. All of those photographs are quite something to behold. Visit Ryan’s blog if you want more – apart from being the creator of this technique, he is also a hugely talented wedding photographer. Or is it the other way around?

    6) Share!

    If you have any great Brenizer method panoramas, you are very much welcome to share them in the comments section below. Try it, with enough practice it can be very fun and inspiring!

    Does that at least partly answer your question, Marcin? :)

    Comments

    1. 1
      ) Collins
      September 11, 2012 at 5:51 pm

      What a great article ^__^

      One quick question

      for this kind of panorama i’m guessing you to rotate the camera around a single point.
      (say a ball head on a tripod)

      Basically in terms of camera technique. It is just like a normal landscape Panorama just with a wide open aperture?

      – Collins

      • October 31, 2012 at 6:57 am

        Pretty much! I didn’t even know there was a name for the technique… But I wasn’t really applying it to portraits anyway since that’s not what I usually shoot.

    2. 2
      ) Randall
      September 11, 2012 at 8:18 pm

      Roman,

      Great article. I have been seeing images on flickr with amazing bokeh that say “53 image panorama” and it was confusing me. Now it makes perfect sense. Great timing on this article as I think this will become even more popular as word spreads.

      – Randall

      • 3
        ) Randall
        September 11, 2012 at 8:19 pm

        P.S. Your photos are amazing also. :)

    3. 4
      ) Matt
      September 11, 2012 at 9:47 pm

      I’ve been an admirer of Mr. Brenizer’s work for some time. I first found out about him due to his excellent reviews of Nikon equipment, and then I fell in love with his wedding photography. Next, I was blown away by his use of panorama techniques to achieve shallow DOF as described in this article. I always imagined him using a tripod to do this, until the day I actually saw him on a photo shoot in Brooklyn, spraying the scene with shots that I knew he’d be combining later. He was rock steady, going back and forth like a lawn sprinkler. It was really something to see! The funny thing is that I had JUST been talking about him at lunch, a few minutes before running into him. I’d also like to add that he was extremely gracious when I interrupted what was obviously a paying gig so that I could introduce myself and gush like a little schoolgirl about how much I admired his work :-)

    4. 5
      ) John Richardson
      September 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm

      Thanks Roman! This is a great article!!

      I followed the links back to his site and watched the small video that was posted with B&H in his blog http://www.ryanbrenizer.com/2011/05/brenizer-method-instructions/. WOW very cool, this will be fun to try today! I will try with and without a tripod. Funny thing is was just thinking of getting a Sunwayfoto Pano-1 but I see that for this method hand held works great.

      • Profile photo of Romanas Naryškin
        13
        ) Romanas Naryškin
        September 13, 2012 at 11:25 am

        Hello, Richard, thank you for reading!

        I’ve seen that video quite some time ago and was planning on publishing it very very soon in a separate, short article. Even so, thank you for the heads up ;)

    5. 6
      ) Matt Wendzina
      September 12, 2012 at 3:31 am

      Hi Roman,

      Interesting article. Thanks. Getting confused by the lenses you’re talking about- How have you got a lens with f/0.5 and f/0.6?!

      Thanks.

      • 7
        ) John Richardson
        September 12, 2012 at 3:53 am

        Look at the end of 2) there is a side note that has a cool link it’s called Brett’s calculator.

        • 8
          ) Matt Wendzina
          September 12, 2012 at 8:07 am

          Ah! I get it! Thanks =)

    6. 9
      ) Marcin
      September 12, 2012 at 10:58 am

      Hi Roman,
      First of all thank you very much for taking on my idea into consideration. I really appreciate it. To answer your question: In my opinion you are way too humble :). Of course you answer my question and in great style too! You actually take the initial question to the next level not only by presenting an inspiring person, but you show your own results based on the inspiration. Really, this is something to admire.

      Keep up the excellent work!

      Cheers,
      Marcin

    7. September 12, 2012 at 8:08 pm

      I’ve often done this to get a medium or large format look, even if I never intended on printing it larger than an 8×10 or web display. I didn’t know there was an actual name for the technique though. Thanks for sharing! :-)

    8. 11
      ) Graham
      September 13, 2012 at 3:26 am

      If it’s of interest, I have been really impressed with PTGui for Mac, to make stunning dawn panoramas in the West of Ireland. Offering intuitive, full controls without mathematical hassle, the Pro version also allows exposure compensation & a full choice of which alignment points to accept or erase.

      • September 13, 2012 at 5:54 am

        I agree Graham! I use a PC, but PTGui Pro is my favorite program for panoramas and things like this article. Much better than Photoshop for control and alignment. However, I still do most of my blending in Photoshop. I have found though that for really large panoramas like gigapixel size, I prefer the blending in Autopano Giga (they get too large for Photoshop to blend).

    9. 14
      ) Paul
      September 17, 2012 at 5:53 am

      Great article and a very interesting concept, not something I’ve seen any where else before? Thanks for sharing this.

    10. 15
      ) Lilah
      September 19, 2012 at 6:45 pm

      These are absolutely stunning photos! Well done.
      http://lauragaylorphotography.com

    11. 16
      ) campa
      September 28, 2012 at 6:07 am

      i suggest microsoft ice, really fast and works good
      http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/groups/ivm/ice/

    12. October 4, 2012 at 9:06 pm

      I try to use this method at least once per photoshoot. When done correctly in the right setting, this shot can really impress your clients. Take a look at a few I did…http://jaycassariophoto.com/bokah-panoramas/

    13. 18
      ) Fraidy
      October 5, 2012 at 11:46 am

      hi Roman..

      i faces some problem when do this method.. I put toy cars on the table, then I began to shoot that car with Brenizer method.. I did it with tripod and handled…
      the problem is my pic was look like bending… especially the side of the table.. its bending..

      did i do it correct or not.. still confusing…

      thanks..

    14. 19
      ) Beyti
      October 22, 2012 at 9:42 pm

      I got a chance to experiment Brenizer method this weekend :) Could you tell me Mansurov, how is it looking?

      http://500px.com/photo/16507149

    15. 22
      ) Love2Eat
      October 31, 2012 at 4:55 am

      Hello everyone,

      I’m sure this has been asked before, but other than Adobe Photoshop is there any other free or budget software tool that does the “Photo Merge” trick to achieve these amazing shots?
      I, much like many hobbyists out there, feel that I won’t get any ROI in Photoshop as I don’t make a living with Photography and I am against the use of illegal copies for the sake of having the software on your computer. I do use Lightroom 3 and I’d like to know if there are any other cost-effective alternatives (even with an acceptable level of loss of IQ).
      Many thanks.

      • October 31, 2012 at 6:59 am

        There were a few other programs mentioned in the comments above, my favorite being PTGui.

      • 25
        ) Benjamin Kirsch
        November 8, 2012 at 5:26 am

        Hugin is a free open source panorama stitching tool. http://hugin.sourceforge.net/

    16. 26
      ) Zach
      November 18, 2012 at 7:08 pm

      I’m sorry, I’m new, but I just don’t get how this is a panorama. Isn’t a panorama used to view wide angles of view?

      To me, it just seems like a normal photograph.

      • Profile photo of Romanas Naryškin
        27
        ) Romanas Naryškin
        November 18, 2012 at 10:05 pm

        Hello, Zach!
        A panorama is an image made of several photographs. It doesn’t matter if it’s horizontal or vertical, or both. It also doesn’t matter if it’s a wide-angle shot in the end or not. Read about it in section ” 2) What’s a Brenizer Method Panorama?” where I explain what this is all about and mention differences with conventional panoramas.

        • 28
          ) Zach
          November 19, 2012 at 11:04 am

          OK that makes more sense.

          Thanks for the explanation. Great article, by the way.

          Zach

    17. 29
      ) Erik Sawaya
      November 26, 2012 at 9:04 am

      I gave it a go in paris this weekend. The only thing is I went about it with a fujifilm X100 and a teleconverter… Check it out and read the full post here: http://www.eriksawaya.com/brenizer_method_in_paris/

      • Profile photo of Romanas Naryškin
        32
        ) Romanas Naryškin
        December 4, 2012 at 2:50 pm

        Erik,

        wonderful image, I’m glad you enjoyed the process! Too bad there’s only one, though.

        Good luck!

    18. 30
      ) sanam chitrakar
      December 2, 2012 at 2:30 am

      Hi Roman

      thanks for in details about Brenizer method. You said you have to be closer with subject to achieve bokeh but how to take full lenght protrait pictures. Do you only move your camera standing still or have to move behind from the subject?

      • Profile photo of Romanas Naryškin
        31
        ) Romanas Naryškin
        December 4, 2012 at 2:50 pm

        I only move my camera, Sanam :)

    19. February 5, 2013 at 7:50 pm

      Thank you. I reshared it on G+.

    20. 36
      ) Sergio
      March 20, 2013 at 8:13 am

      So if I understand this correctly, you take the shots in manual focus, starting with the person if doing a portrait. And you don’t change the focus. So it’s not really bokeh as much as it is deliberately taking pictures out of focus around the subject and then stitching them with the in-focus subject, right?

      • 37
        ) Sergio
        March 20, 2013 at 9:37 am

        as a follow-up to my own question (to which I’m 99% sure the answer is yes), I found a great way to set up a camera for this technique. On the D4, I assign AF-AE lock to the Pv button and I set the release mode dial to CL, then in the shooting menu in setting d2 specify a shooting speed for CL of 3 or 2 fps. Then focus on the subject using AF if you want, press the Pv button to lock focus and exposure and start shooting in a panning motion both left to right and up and down.

      • March 20, 2013 at 2:28 pm

        Sergio,

        I use the AF-ON button for autofocus and decouple it from the shutter button, so I autofocus with my thumb. The advantages are:

        1. I can leave the camera on continuous auto-focus (if I don’t need the AF assist from the flash in the dark), and when I want to track a subject I just keep my thumb pressed. Easy to switch from a stationary subject to a moving one.
        2. I can easily recompose without needing to change focus points and therefore ensure a stationary subject stays in focus even if the focus point sits between two people in a group photo as I recompose. This makes things like panoramas and the “Brenizer method” of portraits very easy to shoot.
        3. My meter is decoupled from my focus point. If I want to also hold my meter I can do that by holding down the shutter button half way and not letting up as I take a panorama (usually I’m in manual exposure anyway though).
        4. If I’m tracking a moving subject with my thumb held down on the AF-ON and something momentarily interrupts (say the subject goes behind a tree for a moment), all I have to do is let up with my thumb and re-engage a few moments later without losing my focus.
        5. VR only gets engaged when the shutter is half pressed, not the AF-ON. This can save a lot of battery life if you are doing a lot of continuous focusing but not taking a lot of photos, just waiting for the right moment.

        It takes a bit to get used to it. Don’t try it before a major shoot without plenty of practice, and don’t set it and forget about it only to wonder a month later why your camera won’t focus. :-P

        • 39
          ) Sergio
          March 20, 2013 at 5:42 pm

          Hi Aaron,
          actually I primarily shoot sports and I’ve been shooting with AF-ON for a couple of years now. I just got a Sigma 85 mm 1.4 lens today and I was practicing this panning technique and I think it’s definitely something I’m going to have to get into.
          For best results should you take a lot of shots or just a few (since Photoshop does all the heavy lifting it really doesn’t matter to me!)? Which one do you find gives you the best results?

          • Profile photo of Romanas Naryškin
            40
            ) Romanas Naryškin
            March 21, 2013 at 1:24 am

            Hello, Sergio. For the best results, less shots is better – Photoshop will do less stitching, which means less mistakes. Just try to overlap by about a third.

          • March 21, 2013 at 5:23 am

            It really depends on your technique and software. If you are very careful to swing about the no-parallax point of your lens and use software like PTGui or AutoPano you can get better results than Photoshop itself, although your time and monetary investment will be much greater. I also have both manual and motorized panning rigs which resolve most issues with stitching greatly out of focus shots and featureless skies, something Photoshop cannot do. But generally speaking, Romanas is right if you are going handheld and using Photoshop. Anything else takes more planning and equipment to achieve good results.

    21. 42
      ) umer babry
      June 27, 2013 at 5:38 am

      it is indeed a new concept. thanks for sharing.

    22. 43
      ) craig
      September 30, 2013 at 2:51 pm

      amazing technique, cant wait to try!

      • September 30, 2013 at 3:01 pm

        It is great, Craig. Virtually, you are enlarging the sensor of your camera. And it is not that difficult to do. Can be used even in tight spaces just for a wider angle of view. Works well for close-up portraits, too, where just 4 or 5 images are enough for a classic 4×5 aspect ratio and lots and very shallow depth-of-field for a given angle of view. Definitely try it. :)

    23. 45
      ) Nachiket Kulkarni
      June 6, 2014 at 1:11 pm

      I’ve a 5DMark3 and 50mm f/1.4
      At 1.4 I’ll get some vignetting on a full frame.
      So should I correct it in Lightroom first and then try stitching the panorama?
      I’ve an important shoot in a couple of days and want to try this method on a full frame.

      50mm f/1.8 did a terrible job at 1.8 as it had heavy vignetting.

    24. 46
      ) Ron
      July 22, 2014 at 12:14 pm

      Can this technique be used along with postprocessing to HDR? In other words, is there a way to do the edits and then have it process three different exposures with the same settings?

      • July 22, 2014 at 10:54 pm

        Ron, it’s not impossible, but very, very difficult. Two ways to do it – first is to process in HDR each fragment separately and then merge it into a panorama, in which case there can be potential inconsistency with the HDR treatment image to image. The second way would be to merge three panoramas and then merge them, in which case there is potential for stitching inconsistency between the three final panorama images.

        Not sure you’d want to go through all that.

    25. 48
      ) Sam
      July 27, 2014 at 9:09 pm

      Just had my first attempt during lunch at work (when I read this article) using my X-E1 and 27mm 2.8 pancake. Not a fast lens but the only one at hand right this instant. Didn’t turn out too bad and must admit I’m excited about the possibilities when I get home to my faster glass. :) thanks!

    Comment Policy: Although our team at Photography Life encourages all readers to actively participate in discussions, we reserve the right to delete / modify any content that does not comply with our Code of Conduct, or do not meet the high editorial standards of the published material.

    Leave a Comment