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The Brenzier Method: Thin Depth of Focus

January 15, 2018

Here’s a very specialized kind of a post-processing to simulate a lens with an impossibly thin depth of focus, yet a very wide angle.  The guy who is credited with developing the technique is Ryan Brenzier, who uses it mainly for wedding portraits.

 

This kind of photo is intended to isolate the main subject, and makes it look as if you used something like a 20 mm f/0.2 lens wide open.  This look is achieved by making a multi-row panorama while using a fast lens at a wide aperture. The effect might even  remind you of something that a “LensBaby” might produce.  This technique is used for when you want a wide shot, yet you want to isolate the subject.

 

I’ll show you the results of using an 85 mm lens at f/1.4. You’re supposed to use a tripod to enable good control for aligning each overlapped shot (overlapped by both row and column) in the whole grid of photos.  On purpose, I tried to see what would happen if I instead hand-held the camera (a sort of worst-case scenario).

 

As with any panorama, it’s best to overlap the shots by 30 to 50 percent.  A multi-row panorama requires the shots not just overlap side-to-side, but also above and below.  You don’t have to take the shots in any particular sequence; you can start with your main subject and expand out from there, too.  You  might want to count your shots for each row, so that you get more predictable results when they get stitched together.

 

Try to shoot all of the pictures containing your main subject before it (or they) can move. The shots that are out of focus aren’t as critical as far as minor movement is concerned.  If your panorama shooting is going to be time-consuming, then do your people subjects a favor and get their shots in the sequence done first.

 

I used Lightroom 6.14 to create my multi-row panoramas.  You use the same menu options for creating a multi-row panorama that you’d use for a single row; Lightroom just figures out what to do.  You can, of course use any software that handles multi-row panorama stitching.

 

A word to the wise: re-sample your input photos to have lower resolution.  When you create a multi-row panorama, the finished picture can be huge and take a really, really long time to stitch. You’ll thank me for this tip.

 

As with any panorama, it’s best to stick with both manual exposure and manual focus.  Don’t change either while shooting the collection of pictures you’re going to use.

 

To physically create the panorama, start by selecting the range of pictures and then click on:

 

Photo | Photo Merge | Panorama…

 

If Lightroom is unable to stitch the pictures, you might try one of the other “projection” options before giving up.  I have found that “spherical” is the most forgiving.  You might find that one projection option gives you very different picture height-to-width proportions compared to the others.  All it will cost you is some time to explore various projection effects.

 

It’s often the case that there might be a little re-touching required, ala the “healing brush”, in the stitched panorama.  This will be especially true if subjects are moving a little during the shooting operation.  I'm getting quite fond of using Lightroom for stitching, because I usually have very little cleanup work to do.

 

You might also need to perform a little “distortion removal”, if you are close to objects or your panoramas are very wide.  Avoid backgrounds that have straight lines, if you want to save yourself a little work.  I feel compelled to mention that extreme perspective distortion might be exactly the effect you want; some rules beg to be broken.

 

 

Lightroom panorama stitching via the ‘Develop’ module

 

 

I found that Lightroom cropped off several of my hand-held shots, primarily from having ragged row widths.  I would have had much better success if I had used a tripod to control shot-to-shot alignment.  Not too surprising.

 

The shot above is comprised from roughly 3 rows of 5 shots per row, taken using vertical format.  I'm glad I tried  this hand-held experiment to convince myself that I don't have to avoid attempting this technique, just because I'm somewhere without access to a tripod.

 

 

Razor-thin depth of focus over a wide angle

 

 

Conclusion

 

This type of photographic technique probably won’t find itself being useful on a daily basis, but it might be just the ticket for a special portrait.  It’s just one more tool that you should be aware of.

 

If you want your shots to stand out from the crowd, give the Brenzier Method a try.

 

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