Brenizer Method – Learning by burning

This is me trying out the already well documented “Brenizer Method” and what I learned trying this method.

The Brenizer Method

In short this method helps you accomplish sort of the look of shooting a medium format camera when using a full frame or cropped sensor camera. The characteristics of a photo from a medium format camera is a fairly wide angle with a shallow depth of field. The clever thing in this method is using a short tele/tele lens shot at a low aperture (F1.2-F2) to get a shallow depth of field, and shooting a panorama to get the wider field of view. You let some panorama software do some magic and stitch the shots together. You will get a photograph with wide(r) angle field of view and the shallow depth of field and it kind of looks like something out of a medium format camera. In the examples here I used Fujinon XF35mmF1.4 and XF56mmF1.2 on a Fujifilm X-Pro2 and Fujifilm X-T1.

Brenizer, Brenizer Method, Panorama, Fujifilm, Tutorial
The difference between a XF35mm (left) and a XF56mm (right) focal range (roughly 12-14 photos stitched). Click on picture to get a larger size image.
What to do – BEFORE

Here is a list of camera settings you need to fix before you get shooting because it will make things a lot easier in post process.

  1. Manually set the white balance. I usually just set around 5500K shooting outside.
  2. Fix your ISO and shutterspeed and leave there through the whole shot.
  3. Manually set your aperture as low as you can/want.
  4. Turn off auto focus and focus manually and do not touch it (you kind of knew that didn’t you?).

In short go fully manual – also with white balance.
Why? Because you want coherent exposures across 10-20-30 or more photos your are blending together in one frame. Since you most likely will be postprocessing jpg’s (I don’t know of any software that stitches RAW files) it is also recommendable to nail the exposure. It always makes post processing easier and using jpg’s will not give you as much dynamic range and information to work with before you get artifacts.

WHAT to do – during the shot

Now comes the part where I used the Brenizer Method and shot some portraits and other stuff in different settings, stitched it. Here is what I became aware of in order to get a better end result.

  1. If you are fairly close to your subject I will have a viewpoint in chest height to minimize the distortion in the periferi of the scene.
  2. Be aware of of the geometric shapes in your scenes. If you have a lot of clean geometric shapes/patterns in your entire scene (foreground, middle and background) the software will fail in giving you a perfect stitch even if you help. You will likely need to do some photoshop work after the stitch to correct errors.

    Brenizer, Brenizer Method, Panorama, Fujifilm, Tutorial
    Artefacts in geometric shapes during stitching. Shot with XF35mmF1.4
  3. If you are shooting in environments with moving objects, be aware if something is moving through your shot.
  4. Sequence your shots. I generally have had best results with a pattern that resembles how you read: Top left to bottom right.
  5. Do not rush shooting. Take a breath and do it calmly.
  6. Shoot with adequate overlap in the pictures. I think 1/3-1/2 overlap will do. You can always remove a photo if you have to many/much overlap as this also can give you some artefacts in the postprocessing.
  7. I shoot handheld and try to keep the camera rotating around one point and trying to keep the horizon level.
  8. Shoot in a fairly good and even lightning condition, because that software needs contrast and colors in order to make a stitch. I tried the method in low lightning conditions, with bad results in stitching. You can do it, but requires you hand place the photos.
Brenizer Method - Panorama Portrait
Shot with Fujinon XF56mmF1.2 (Opens in a new tab)

There are lots of tutorials about the stitching panoramas and software. I am not going into details with this, but just mention I tried Photoshop, Affinity PhotoPT Gui, Autopano  Giga and Hugin. Each will do a good job but none are fool proof and you might get artefacts in varying degrees. But if you take care during the shot you minimize the amount of time in postprocessing.

Some of the test shots I did, just didn’t stitch. The different software packages just wouldn’t put it together. To applaud Autopano they make it fairly easy to hand place the photos and “force” the program to blend the photos as you placed it. This option you do not have in Photoshop as far as I know. Also in the non-photoshop programs you can change the projection on the fly which some times helps make the stitched image look more realistic.

I used jpg’s straight out of camera in all these examples and did only some slight levels and curves adjustment after the stitch. Of course you can post process the RAW files first, then export jpg’s and then stitch those and then tweak it again. Do what gives you the best result.

Needless to say, when you use the Brenizer Method and stitch a panorama you end up with big big files. I only used cropped version writing this because the original file size would be like this (11 photos merged):

Brenizer Method
Original file size

The cover image was around 20 photos stitched. Download the cover image in full size here (70Mb Jpg).

Shot with Fujifilm X-T1/XF56mmF1.2 – three photos (horisontal) stitched.
My thoughts so far

The Brenizer Method is a nice technique to have in your photography toolbag. It can give a really nice and unique look but if you overdo it, you will end up with something that looks as a tilt shift picture. That is not something I fancy a lot, so for me it has to be subtle. My experience is you get a fairly nice look if you cover a full body portrait in three to four shots (head to toe). This is regardless of focal length. It minimizes the distortion of stitching.  The effect of the shallow depth of field with the wider viewing angle strikes a nice balance between being noticed but not becoming a gimmick effect.

This method is not only about how you get the shot. You are depending on the software for the final result, so you need to know the process from A to Z to know what the quirks are. It requires practice – no way around it!

Tell me your experience and what you have learned trying this out? What is your good advice?

Shot with Fujinon XF35mmF1.4. Original file size roughly 8000px X 12000px

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