src="http://www.mirrorlessons.com/wp-content/themes/mirrorlessons The Brenizer Method – How to achieve more shallow depth of field with M4/3s
MirrorLessons
In Depth

Date: 19/08/2015 | By: Mathieu

More shallow depth of field with your Micro Four Thirds camera – Using the Brenizer Method

E-M1, 1/80, f/ 18/10, ISO 200

More shallow depth of field with your Micro Four Thirds camera – Using the Brenizer Method

One of the criticisms or hesitations many users have about the Micro Four Thirds system is the lack of shallow depth of field in comparison to APS-C and full frame sensors especially when using wide angle or standard lenses. While the physical difference in sensor size will always present an obstacle, there are various solutions to help you achieve more shallow depth of field with your Olympus or Panasonic camera.

The first and most obvious method is to take advantage of your lens’ characteristics: fast prime lenses with a 1.8, 1.4 or even 0.95 aperture like the Voigtlander Nokton series are useful, and it helps to focus as close to your subject as possible (check our our first article about m4/3 and DoF here). Another solution is to use a telephoto prime lens but this might not suit everyone’s taste.

But what about having an attractive shallow depth of field with a wide angle of view? Is it really impossible?

Well, actually, it isn’t impossible and some of you might already be familiar with the technique mentioned in the title of this article. It is called the Brenizer method and it is nothing new. Actually, many articles about the topic have already been published by the most popular online magazines and blogs (I particularly recommend that you read the piece on Photography Life). It is used by many photographers with various cameras including full-frame cameras.

As for me, I’d heard about this technique before but had never taken the time to experiment with it until now. Out of all the mirrorless systems out there, I felt that Micro Four Thirds could certainly be the ideal candidate to a reap the benefits of this method, as it would help to surpass the limitations of the system. So, without further ado, here are my findings and feedback about this technique.

Gear used for this test:


The Brenizer method: what is it?

The Brenizer method is essentially the same technique as the well know Panorama function: you take multiple images and tie them together in post production to create a larger image than the single image your camera can take.

fujifilm x100t review
Example of a Panorama taken with the Fujifilm X100T

With Panorama, you usually take a sequence of shots by panning left to right or vice versa. You can also take a sequence on multiple levels to create an even larger file not only in width but also height. The latter is often referred to as a Gigapixel Panorama because the final composition can be a 200/300 MP image. There are many software programs that can automatically combine the different shots together. For this article I used Photoshop. Most mirrorless cameras today can also take in-camera panoramas and output a JPG file as a result but for the Brenizer method that specific camera feature doesn’t interest us.

While being similar, the Brenizer technique has a different aim: you build a series of images around your subject. The goal is to have a final composition that has a wide angle of view and a shallow depth of field.

Origins: who is Ryan Brenizer?

Ryan Brenizer is a long-time experienced photo-journalist and wedding photographer based in New York City. While it is difficult to assess if he was the very first to come up with this technique, he was the first to use it intensively for his wedding work and to inspire many other photographers to apply the same method. This is why the technique has been named after him. You can see Ryan’s work on his official website.


The Brenizer method: how does it work?

First you are going to need a fast standard or medium-telephoto lens. You want to use it at its fastest aperture to get the narrowest depth of field possible. Second, you have to find an appropriate location and try to imagine your final composition. Let’s see our first example using the Olympus 45mm f/1.8.

We went to Nant Gwernol and found an appropriate spot with some nice trees and water flowing in the background. There were also some interesting rocks and other natural elements that helped to give the final image a good 3D appearance.

I started by taking my reference image, which is an upper-body picture of Heather shot at 1.8. I used full manual exposure, manual white balance and manual focus with the help of the magnification assist. That way I was sure that my settings wouldn’t change between one image and another.

brenizer method micro four thirds
E-M1, 1/80, f/1.8, ISO 200
My reference shot

From there, I took several shots around Heather without changing any settings or the focus distance. I started to take shots to the left of my reference image, then right, then up and down. Is it important that your subject remain as still as possible. You basically take 3/4 rows of images that you will merge later on. Also you don’t want the different images to overlap too much (no more than 40-50%), otherwise the software will have more difficulty merging them together. Being my first experience with this technique, I took a lot of shots for each composition. In this example the total amount was 73 Raw files.

brenizer method omd em1
Amount of pictures taken: 73

However I learned that too many shots can make it difficult for Photoshop to correctly stitch the Panorama. While working on location, taking more shots is helpful because you then have more versatility in choosing what to exclude and what to keep. But this also means it will take more time in post-production to figure out which shots to eliminate from the final selection. I found out that even one or two extra shots can cause Photoshop to merge the images incorrectly.

So after much trial and error in front of my computer screen, I finally came up with the right number of images for this example: 15. As you can see, I decreased the number considerably. I realise now that I didn’t need that many shots in the first place but this was all part of the learning process.

brenizer method omd em1
Final selection: 15 images

Note that it doesn’t matter if you don’t take the shots in the order of the final composition starting from the top left. Photoshop always manages to rearrange them correctly. To merge the images, you go to File/Automate/Photomerge. A window opens and you can import the images and select different options. Now here is another important step to understand: there isn’t a standard setting that will always work. In my experience, I got the best results by leaving the Layout to Auto and ticking the “Blend images together” box. Sometimes, the Perspective or Reposition layout worked better. It is, as I mentioned before, a matter of trial and error to understand what works best. Often it will differ from one panorama to another.

brenizer method photomerge

Depending on the number of images you need to stick together, it can take some time for the software to render the Panorama especially at the beginning when you try to merge as many shots as you can. A good tip here is to work with the JPG versions first, then once you have your final selection, you can use the Raw files. The more powerful your computer is, the faster Photoshop will work. I have a MacBook Pro Retina with an Intel Quad Core processor and 16GB of RAM but when merging more than 30 shots, I sometimes had to force quit Photoshop and re-start it.

Once the shots have been merged, you will have to crop to get rid of the superfluous areas at the edges of your frame. Once you’ve done this, you can make the final adjustments to colour and contrast (here I applied one of Rebecca Lily’s presets) and voilà, you have your final Brenizer image.

brenizer method micro four thirds
E-M1, 1/80, f/1.8, ISO 200 – 45mm f/1.8
16mm f/0.65 (simulation)

You might have noticed that I indicated two focal lengths and two apertures below the Brenizer shots. The first is referring to the lens/aperture used and the second is the “emulated” lens in the final panorama. I didn’t input the second result casually but rather thanks to Brett Maxwell’s calculator that I found via the article on Photography Life. Brett is a fan of the Brenizer method and created this calculator to find the equivalent focal length and aperture your final panorama image is emulating.

If you use less images, you might end up with a result that is not so far from lenses that already exist on the market. For example below you can see the same Panorama but I used 12 images instead of 15. The simulated focal length is very close to the Nokton 25mm f/0.95.

brenizer method micro four thirds
E-M1, 1/80, f/1.8, ISO 200 – 45mm f/1.8
25mm f/1.0 (simulation)

 

Below you can see another panorama example with the 45mm.

brenizer method omd em1
E-M1, 1/50, f/1.8, ISO 200 – 45mm f/1.8
21mm f/0.8 (simulation)


The Brenizer method: trial and error, tips and tricks for better results

With my various attempts I got different results depending on the focal length used, the specific location, the distance from the subject and the amount of images used for the final merge.

Certainly some of the issues I had were related to the lack of experience I have with this technique, which I only began using recently. It takes time and numerous attempts to figure out the best way to do it. So below is a list of different things I learned that may prove useful to someone wanting to experiment with the Brenizer method as well.

  • Be patient: it takes time to capture the different shots you need, and it takes even more time to merge them correctly. This is not a quick technique especially at the beginning.
  • Distortion and perspective: depending on the number of images you want to merge, the final shot might have distortion and can give your subject an unpleasant look. In this case I find better to merge fewer images and to avoid complete body shots of your subject.
brenizer method omd em1
Here Heather appears squished, the horizon in the background is distorted and there are several stitching errors.
  • Distortion on architectural elements: some architectural elements can be a problem if you try to merge too many shots. You either try to find the perfect number of images to stitch together or simply use fewer of them.
micro four thirds shallow depth of field
Here I merged 28 images and you can see the issue with the horizontal lines of the bridge being distorted.
  • Choosing the right focal length and the right reference image: I got my best results with the 45mm focal length. I also tried one with the 75mm. However if you are too close to your subject when shooting with a telephoto lens (such as a headshot) you can have a harder time taking multiple shots without missing a portion or overlaying too much. With my 75mm example, I wasn’t able to stick more than 3/4 images together and I didn’t get the result I wanted. Also, being so close to my subject, the stitching produced lots of distortion that was more difficult to remove.
E-M1, 1/1250, f/1.8, ISO 200 – 75mm f/1.8 – Only 4 shots stitched
50mm f/1.2 (Simulation)
  • Beware of merge errors: even if a final Panorama looks okay, you could find some errors by looking closely at your image. In the example below, one of Heather’s hands is missing a finger. To fix this, I imported the single shot into the stitched Panorama, isolated the hand on a separate level, then used a mask to merge it properly. Also check your subject’s face to make sure that there isn’t anything weird thing going on.

 

  • Use only very fast apertures: as I mentioned at the beginning, you need fast lenses to get relevant results. The 45mm 1.8 or the Lumix 42.5mm 1.7 are not expensive and can work well. The Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 or the Nokton 42.5mm f/0.95 would be even more interesting for this method but they are more expensive. Anything slower than f/2 won’t give you exciting results. For example, the image below was taken with the 12-40mm Pro at 2.8 and 40mm. The results I got is basically the equivalent of the M.Zuiko 17mm 1.8..
E-M1, 1/160, f/2.8, ISO 200 – 12-40mm Pro at 40mm
17mm f/1.8 (simulated)
  • Since Lightroom recently implemented Panorama options, I tried using it to see how well it would work. With one shot I got good results, but often I got a complete mess like the one below. However it could work for some “abstract” projects I guess!

micro four thirds shallow depth of field


Conclusion

Is the Brenizer method worth using?

Well it depends. It certainly requires a lot of work from the initial shoot to the post-processing stage. You want to experiment with it before using it regularly, especially if you are thinking of implementing the technique into some of your work.

The aspect I found the most difficult is to achieve the composition you envisioned at the beginning. In my example, I had to cut out a lot of images around my subject to be able to achieve a correctly stitched panorama which means that I ended up with a narrower angle of view. I didn’t publish a few extra examples because the results gave me an equivalent focal length/aperture that was close to lenses that are already available for the MFT mount. Also distortion and perspective can be difficult to handle.

But when you get it right, it certainly gives you an interesting result. It isn’t a permanent solution to have more shallow depth of field but it can be a nice technique to use sometimes for specific projects or ideas.

Are you already familiar with the Brenizer technique? Do you have any suggestions or questions? Feel free to leave a comment below.


Like our blog? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter! If you’re planning on buying camera gear, you can check out Amazon and Adorama. Prices remain the same for you, but a small percentage of your purchase value is valued back to us. Thank you!

About the author: Mathieu Gasquet

Mathieu Gasquet is a professional photographer with French and Italian origins. Besides running his own video and photography studio 3Dit Lab, he is also the official photographer for the National Cinema Museum in Turin. You can follow him on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Thanks! I’ll give it a try.

  • Henrik Fessler
  • http://www.imajez.com imajez

    After just over a year working professionally as a carpenter using a hammer, I returned to using a screwdriver. I have absolutely no regrets about doing so. 😉

    There is no one best tool. There is simply the best tool for a particular job.
    M4/3 is better than FF at times and vice versa, just like FF is better than 10×8 at other times and again vice versa. I have various cameras with a selection of sensor sizes. I simply choose the most appropriate one for the task at hand. Or even take all of them.

  • http://www.imajez.com imajez

    It’s a technique first invented and used by those using FF cameras.
    So….If there is any reason to move up from FF cameras, you just presented a great reason to do so. 😉

  • Mauro Morando

    Yes!

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    It is time-consuming and can be interesting for specific ideas or projects but it won’t substitute a proper fast lens for daily usage.
    I agree about the 75mm, it’s one of my favourite lens for MFT. Always with me when traveling if I need a telephoto lens :)

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    If you do, let me know how do you find the results. I am sure you can get something very interesting with the Speedbooster.

  • http://mks.smugmug.com/ Mundstrøm

    This method is so time-consuming you’ll soon find yourself wishing you’d just spent some money on a lens with a bigger aperture :) Don’t get me wrong I think it’s really informative, but I also recommend that any photographer using smaller sensors like Micro 4/3 invests in a fast prime lens, they are just so darn handy, more light-sensitive (a big advantage when using smaller sensors) and optically superior to “kit” lenes.

    My first was the 20mm F1.7 Lumix “pancake”because it’s both compact, cheap and gorgeous.

    After 4 years I got tired of the slow autofocus and sold it, replacing it with the Panasonic Leica 25mm F1,4, even brighter, sharper and with an even lower depth of field.

    I will also recommend the Olympus 75mm F1.8 because it’s still one of the best lenses for Micro Four Thirds, period. The 75mm range (equivalent to 150mm) requires you distance yourself from your subject, but then again that causes an even greater sharp-to-blurry ratio between the subject and anything closer or further away from it.

    Which brings me to remind everyone that an extended zoom lens can also create a large DOF, you simply need to ensure the distance from your subject to the background is big enough to make the background blurry.

  • http://johngaylordphotography.com John Gaylord

    I would select-mask the subject and use Photoshop’s Blur tool on a duplicate layer, or use one of the available soft-focus Plug-ins. Another shooting technique is to use a tilt adapter to tilt the plane of focus away from the background (lens tilted upward).

  • Hubertus Bigend

    Another trick to either increase the effect or reduce the number of needed shots would be to use a sufficiently fast legacy lens with a focal reducer. One of my personal favourites is a Minolta MD 50mm f/1.4, turned to a real 35mm f/1.0 lens (70mm f/2.0 full-frame equivalent) by the Metabones Speed Booster adapter. My first experiments with the ‘Brenizer method’, using an Olympus DSLR with both Four Thirds and legacy lenses but no focal reducer, gave me the impression that very nice results were possible, but at the cost of too many shots to combine and too much work. Now, with the focal reducer and the OM-D, I’m more inclined to give it another more serious try one of these days.

  • Archer Sully

    I generally find this method to produce excessively gimmicky images, rather like the overused before it was popular “tilt-shift effect”. If anyone wants to explore it further, a well-calibrated pano-head is a necessity in order to avoid the perspective distortion that is so apparent in many of these shots. I have a NodalNinja from Fanotec. Really Right Stuff also makes good one.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    I know the post focus effect on the XQ2 but it is just blur added by the camera software. In doesn’t give you the same result and I find useful only for some headshots since the camera has a more limited shallow DoF.

  • Stan Gordon

    The little Fujifilm XQ2 can do this in camera, the results look very good. Its under advanced filters, called pro focus.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    It’s a lot of work I agree but I am sure once you know how to master the method properly, it becomes easier. If you google it on the web you can find very nice examples.

  • Sven Sen

    Seems like a lot of post work to achieve this! And IMHO, many of the examples herein look a bit unreal, as if Heather has been “photo shopped” into an image, which essentially she has been.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    I think the Brenizer technique can be interesting once it is mastered properly. Of course it takes time and we can question the necessity of it, but that is valid for M4/3 as well as for larger sensor cameras. I saw very nice images render with the method and I can understand why some people are using it. Of course like everything, you don’t want to abuse it otherwise it looses its value in the first place.
    As for shallow DoF, I agree with you, we tend to focus too much on that and we often forget that it is the subject in the foreground that matters :)
    That being said, I know photographers that use shallow DoF as a specific signature style. Some of them even asked me advice about switching to m4/3 or Fuji X but in the end they couldn’t give up the look they were getting with their full frame Canon or Nikon. And that’s fine with me. If your lens workhorse is a 50mm f/1.2 or a 85mm 1.2 on a 5d mkII and you shoot mainly at 1.2, I understand that it is difficult to switch to something else.
    For those who are interested in using a compact system, you can still get lots of DoF. This method is an extra, certainly not the main way to go :)

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    I agree, a tripod is definitely of help. Is PtGUI also available for mac?

  • Henrik Fessler

    I also tried the Brenizer method once on one of my own grown flower meadows:
    http://www.mopswerk.de/2013/08/flower-bokeh-panorama/
    It was some task to do the stitching. From my point (doing some Panorama Photography) your results could become better, if:
    * You’d use a tripod (-> Nodal/No Parallax Point ) resulting in fewer stitching and alignment errors
    * You’d use a dedicated Panoramic Software such as PtGUI, where you’d
    have control over what parts to stitch and which parts of each image to
    use in the final image (may be the freeware HugIn would also do a more
    sophisticated job)

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    No April fool, sorry :)
    It has been invented (or credited) to a wedding photographer and there are others that use the method for weddings and/or portraits.

  • Larry Cross

    Why not use both, like Mathieu does, use the advantages of both? For me m4/3 is great for most of my work and fun (I do websites), but I would not hesitate to have full frame as well if I needed it. Not sure why you need to return to full frame like a prodical son who’s messed around with the naughty m4/3’s. 😉

  • soundimageplus

    I checked my calendar and no it isn’t April 1st. The ‘Brenizer Method’ seriously? A wedding photographer who shoots multi images at weddings? Nice one guys, you actually had me going for a moment.

  • whensly

    I was not discounting the Brenizer method at all or how great shallow DOF can look. I was criticizing those who would argue against M4/3rds because of the shallow DOF. First you can get super shallow DOF on a M4/3rds and also the fact that shallow DOF is one choice (very overused these days) where there are so many other choices. But maybe that’s another blog posting, about photographic technique and an argument against shallow DOF (all the time) ? On Brenizer, its interesting but the question is, is it necessary? If you want shallow DOF on a M4rds look no further than the 42mm Panasonic or the Voightlanders, even any old C-mount 25mm lens at f 1.4 and on and on.

    I use almost all the formats and love M4/3rds, just when I hear people make the argument against M4/rds because of lack of shallow DOF, they are showing naivete. We all love gear but I think most enthusiasts need to spend more time studying the history of photography, art and theory. That helps as much as a format change :)

  • foto2021

    After just over a year working professionally with Micro Four Thirds, I returned to full frame. I have absolutely no regrets about doing so.

    I enjoyed the small size and lightness of Micro Four Thirds equipment but the format always fell well short when it came to controlling depth of field. You don’t need this in every shot, but when you do need it, Micro Four Thirds falls well short. There are other problems too, notably the absolute physical limitation that the Four Thirds sensor can only gather about a quarter of the light that a full frame sensor does. This places limits on image quality that cannot easily be overcome.

    It is highly amusing to see a Micro Four Thirds user trying to justify their choice of format by dismissing those who use depth of field as a creative tool as amateurs who “can’t conjure or create a good photo”. Personal abuse is the last refuge of people who cannot conjure or create a good argument.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    The Brenizer method is also used by professional photographers so it is not just a question of amateur’s fallback. But this article is not against micro four thirds. As a matter of fact I switched from my Nikon D700 two years ago and used my E-M5/E-M1 since for lots of things including professional work. I wanted to try this method for a while and I thought it was more interesting to see how it would perform with m4/3 gear.
    The hollywood method you are referring to is called Lens Whacking. I used it with the GH3 in a music video two years ago (with a Nikon 85mm 1.4).

  • whensly

    People who argue lack of shallow depth of field on a M 4/3rd camera show their hands as hacks when they whip out that argument. There are a so many lenses you can use on a M4/3rds to achieve shallow DOF (in one shot) it’s crazy. But I guess you wanted to show this method which looks lugubrious and unnecessary. B. Shallow DOF is often the amateurs’ fallback when they can’t conjure or create a good photo. C. There is another method they use in hollywood on 35mm lenses where they hold the lens outside the camera in their hand, and manipulate it from there. It’s like swing and tilt only in your hand. This is probably very hard to impossible to do on M4/3rds because of focus by wire as much as anything. Also exposing the sensor so much lets in a lot of dust….so shoot w/ fast lensesm there are plenty!:)

  • Mark Rustad

    If there is any reason to move up from MFT’s you just presented a great reason to do so.

BACK TO TOP
Disclaimer & Copyright Notice

The owners of this website, Heather Broster and Mathieu Gasquet, are participants in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, B&H Photo Affiliate Program, eBay Partner Network, Macphun Affiliate Program, Peak Design Affiliate Program, The Inspired Eye Affiliate Program, SmugMug Affiliate Program and Mediterranean Photo Tours Affiliate Program, all of which are affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking MirrorLessons (mirrorlessons.com) to Amazon, B&H Photo, eBay, Macphun, Peak Design, The Inspired Eye, SmugMug and Mediterranean Photo Tours properties properties. They are also members of Google AdSense. AdSense publishers must have and abide by a privacy policy that discloses that third parties may be placing and reading cookies on your users’ browsers, or using web beacons to collect information as a result of ad serving on your website.

To see more information, visit our full Disclaimer page. Thank you!

© Heather Broster/Mathieu Gasquet and MirrorLessons, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Heather Broster/Mathieu Gasquet and MirrorLessons with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
MENU
×