Stitching it Together: The Brenizer Method

A Brief Introduction:

Hello, photography enthusiasts! My name is Katie, and you've reached my tutorial on the Brenizer Method. I created this tutorial for intermediate photographers, a group of individuals I loosely classify as non-professionals who are nonetheless familiar with their DSLRs and photoshop. That said, I acknowledge that there are no strict and rigid categories that separate beginners, intermediates, and advanced photographers. Many photographers who cross experience level boundaries may benefit from this tutorial, but I will not be explaining basic camera or photoshop functions. I decided to include this tutorial on my website for not just other photographers, though. Hopefully, friends and clients will be able to get an insight into my photography process, even if they don't have photoshop or photography experience. 

You should know these terms: bokeh, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, as well as many others.

Brenizer Method Tutorial Index:

  • A Brief Introduction:

  • Background Information:

  • Required Materials:

  • A Preview of the Final Product:

  • The Shooting Stage:

  • The Stitching Stage:

Background Information:

Alright! Now that the technical introductions are settled, let's get some background on the Brenizer Method.

What exactly is the Brenizer Method?
The Brenizer Method is a method of constructive image portraiture popularized (though not created) by the photographer Ryan Brenizer. Similar to a panorama, Brenizer Method portraits consist of several photos stitched together to make one image. The objective of the Brenizer Method is to achieve a very shallow depth of field with a lot of background blur and bokeh. This shallow depth of field is only possible through layering images together along a certain plain.

What is the best use of the Brenizer Method?
There is no “best use” for this type of photography. While the Brenizer Method is most commonly used for portraiture, it can be used to capture any stationary subject, including but not limited to landscapes, food, architecture, and many others. I will be concentrating on portraits in this tutorial, but feel free to experiment and be creative! 

How long does it take to create a portrait using the Brenizer Method?
This is a complicated question. The answer? It depends. It varies wildly between shooting and stitching stages, with factors changing depending on computer speed, the length of your shoot, and how many images you plan to stitch together. However, I would estimate that the average image takes about two hours from shooting to stitching to editing. It may take longer if this is your first time.

Required Materials: 

1. A DSLR camera with manual settings. 
I use a Nikon d300s

2. A telephoto lens capable of achieving a very wide aperture. Somewhere in the range of f/1.4 - 2.5 is ideal.
I use a Nikkor 85mm f/1.8, though other lenses will certainly work. 

3. Adobe Photoshop
While this tutorial may work on other versions of photoshop (CS4, CS6, etc.), I can only attest to CS5. 

4. A friendly model capable of staying still.

5. Steady hands. A tripod is optional.

6. A still background without a lot of movement (pedestrians, cars, etc.).

First, A Preview of the Final Product:

Figure 1: *Image has been cropped and edited using curves/layers.

A review of the general idea:

Using the Brenizer Method, you will create one image made up of multiple photos stitched together in photoshop. This stitching process allows for the creation of a very shallow depth of field (a blurred background with bokeh). This shallow depth of field creates crisp, subject-centric images. It is an ideal effect for portraits.

To create this shallow depth of field, you will pan the camera around, starting by taking a picture of the focal point of your final image, then continuing to take pictures of your desired field with minimal overlap between areas. Typically, the model’s face and/or eyes are the focal point. Please refer to Figure 2 for an illustrated explanation of this process.

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Figure 2: an illustration of the shooting process. 

In figure 2 seen above, each red grid is an approximate full frame picture. I've numbered the order in which I took each picture from 1 to 15. The yellow line illustrates the direction in which I pivoted my camera, starting at the blue dot (picture 1 in figure 2) and ending at the red dot (picture 15 in figure 2). If it helps, you can visualize this process as a game of snake. 

The Shooting Stage:

1. Switch your camera to all manual settings. 

"Manual settings" means a manual white balance, shutter speed, aperture, ISO -- the whole gamut. Most importantly, though, your focus needs to be on manual. You will be stitching the images you take together in the photoshop stage of the tutorial, and it will be impossible to do so if the camera automatically changes the focus for each shot.

2. Find a space to shoot. 
3. Create a mental picture of your final image.
4. Position your friendly model accordingly.
Figure 3: Model in position. *Image taken using an iphone 4. 
5. Set your camera to a wide aperture and adjust the other settings for exposure.
I set my lens to f/2.2. However, you want to make sure that your model's facial features are in focus, the eyes in particular. If you are not getting a crisp enough image, go a stop up to a slightly smaller aperture.
6. Set your camera to .JPG.

I shoot in .JPG because the loss of image quality is not noticeable with this process, and RAW files are very large, which means they take longer to combine. 
7. Manually focus on the focal point of your portrait. Most commonly, this is the subject's face. Make sure this area is clearly in focus.
8. Take a picture, then check and double check that it is in focus. It stinks to get home and discover your model's hair is in focus but not her eyes or that you've caught her mid-blink or something else that would ruin the entire shot and all of your hard work.

Figure 4: This image is SOOC. 1/1000 sec, ISO 250, f/2.2 using a Nikon d300s and a Nikkor 85mm. Your camera settings will vary depending upon the available light in your shooting location.

9. Pan your camera. To do this, keep your feet firmly planted and your camera level. You are not moving the camera around with your arms, you are only tilting the lens, pivoting it like you would on a tripod.

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Figure 5: An image taken in the panning process.

10. Continue taking pictures while panning until you've covered the desired area of the mental picture you composed in step 3.

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Figure 6: Another image taken in the panning process.

If you need help in the panning process, please refer to figure 2 repeated below.

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Figure 2 repeated.

In total, I took (and later combined) 15 images. You can use more images or less depending on the size of your final image. Just remember: the more images you take, the longer it takes to combine everything in photoshop during the stitching stage. 

Congratulations on completing the shooting stage! Next, please refer to the stitching stage outlined below. 

The Stitching Stage:

Remember, it takes longer to combine images with a lot of overlap. Be careful in your image selection.

1. Once you're at a computer with photoshop, plug in your memory card reader to the computer. 

2. Review your .JPG images in a finder. The headshots are the most important.

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Figure 7: This is an image of pictures being reviewed in a finder. I crossed out images that are not usable. 

3. Select the face, body, and surrounding background images and open them in photoshop.

Now for the easy, fun part. We get to start the stitching and let photoshop show us its stuff.

4. Go to FileAutomate, then Photomerge as shown below in figure 8. 

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Figure 8: Illustrates how to go from File to Automate to Photomerge

5. Click Photomerge. 
Photomerge will open as seen below in Figure 9. 

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Figure 9: Illustrates the Photomerge dialogue box. 

6. Select "Reposition" instead of the "Auto" layout function.

7. Click "Add Open Files" as illustrated in Figure 10 below. This will open the .JPG files you selected in step 3. (Important: make sure you only have your Brenizer Method .JPGs open in photoshop when you click this step. All open .JPG files will be combined.)

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Figure 10: Illustrates what it looks like when the "Add Open Files" button is clicked and the .JPGs are opened.

8. Click "OK" as illustrated in Figure 11 below. 


Figure 11: Illustrates where the "OK" button is. 

9. Wait for photoshop to combine the images.

This part takes time -- about 10 to 15 minutes on my computer. The more images you have to combine, the longer it will take photoshop to stitch them together. If your computer is not used to or capable of handling large file sizes, photoshop may quit. You should know whether or not your computer can easily handle large files. If photoshop does quit, you will have to start again from step 1 of the Stitching Stage.

A strongly suggested tip: shut down all applications other than photoshop. Do not use the Internet. Do not watch a DVD. Leave your computer alone while it stitches the images together. Additionally, do not let your computer shut down or go to sleep while photoshop is processing. This could freeze the application or cause it to quit. 

When photoshop is done, it is unlikely the resulting image will be perfect. You may have to touch things up with the clone tool or a different technique.

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Figure 12: a merged image with imperfections circled in red.

10. Make final edits. These are personal, stylistic choices. I cropped my image, then edited it using the clone stamp tool, curves, and layers. You can see my final result in Figure 1 repeated below. 


Figure 1 repeated: Final image using the Brenizer Method.

Aaaaand, you're done! Congratulations.

You’ve reached the end of my Brenizer Method tutorial. Please remember this technique requires practice. Don’t give up if it doesn’t work out the first time. Keep trying. The results are worth it.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in a comment below.