A few years ago I came across an interesting method of portraiture that wedding photographer Ryan Brenizer was playing with — and gaining a lot of attention from. Basically, it is a hyper-real looking photography method of manipulating the depth of field. It made regular digital cameras appear to have the shallow depth of field of medium or large format cameras. The method is simple, but the results are awesome! Many people call this the “Brenizer Method,” others call it a “Bokeh Panorama.”
Panorama with an 85mm f/1.2 wide open
Let’s start with bokeh. This is the quality of the light that is thrown out of focus at shallow depths of field. At f/2.8 you can get a very nice blur to your portrait backgrounds. At f/1.4 you get even more blur. The quality of this blur — often recognized by the kinds of circular shapes you see — is the bokeh.
Generally, the bokeh gets better the higher the quality of your lens, but it has much to do with your taste and can vary from one lens copy to another. So, if your lens has nice bokeh, and you like it at f/1.4, do you wonder what it would look like at f/1? Or f/0.75? You can find out with the bokeh panorama.
Another 85mm f/1.2
Here are the steps you need to give this a shot:
- Use a prime lens. It is possible to try this with a zoom, but the results will not be as pronounced. The results also tend to be better with a longer lens, like a 50mm or 85mm or longer, because the depth of field is shallower than a fast wide-angle lens and because there will be less warping of your image when you finish the merge.
- Set your camera to manual. Calculate your exposure by metering on the subject. Set the aperture as wide as possible, while maintaining a shutter speed fast enough to hand hold the camera. It is important that your exposure doesn’t change from one frame to the next, otherwise blending the photos together will be difficult.
- Find your focus. You can autofocus on the subject, but then turn off the autofocus and don’t touch the focus ring from here on out. You must keep the autofocus off or you will prevent your shot from having that incredible depth of field that we are trying to achieve.
- Snap a series of photos. Shoot left to right and up and down, capturing a panorama. Try to overlap the edges of each photo by about a third. Shoot more photos than you need around the edges because you need some extra room for cropping.
- Open Photoshop. Go to File -> Automate -> Photomerge. Select all the photos from your panorama, select “Auto,” then hit OK. Your photos should then automatically merge into one giant photo.
Did it work? There is an element of trial and error to figuring out how to make this work out well.
Sometimes a background will be too complex for Photoshop to figure out. Sometimes you will have to merge the images in sections. Sometimes shooting toward a light source can cause problems when you go to merge the photos because of flares. One of the exciting things about this method is that I’m never quite sure if it will work the way I imagine — which also means I can be pleasantly surprised with the results.
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A complicated background, but Photoshop could handle it! 85mm at f/1.2
Like just about everything else I do with my camera, I like to shoot these in RAW. Then I take them into Lightroom and adjust one of the images, usually the one that is mostly the subject(s). Then I apply the settings to all of the other images. You don’t want to have different adjustments to each of the images (just like you want the same exposures for each image) so that the merging process is seamless.