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How I Got the Shot - Brenizer Effect

Ever come across an eye catching photo that appears to have amazingly shallow depth-of-field despite being wider angle? It looks impossible... and impossibly cool! There's a technique to accomplish this look, and while he didn't invent it, one of my favorite wedding photographers, Ryan Brenizer, has coined the term "The Brenizer Effect." Here's how it works.

First you choose a locale that allows you to pose your subject so they can be perfectly still. The background should allow you to shoot it as though it was fairly wide angle, between 24mm and 35mm on a full-frame camera. Then you mount a 200mm lens and back away. Prefocus on your subject(s)' face and then set everything, focus, white balance & exposure (don't forget to turn off auto-ISO). Start with the subject(s) and quickly shoot frames of sections the scene that overlap slightly. Shoot both the subjects and the surrounding scene as wide as you'd like to go in the final image. Here are a few of the 18 total images I made:

Once you have the RAW material (pun intended), you'll head to your computer and import the shots into your preferred editing program. I use Lightroom Classic CC. Once you import the files, select all of them and go to Photo > Photomerge > Panorama.

Lightroom will then think hard for a few moments and present you with a preview. If you like what you see, then click "Merge" and go get a cup of coffee. Each of the frames was shot with a Nikon D850 (46mp) so, on my 5K iMac, the merge took about 15 minutes. On my older (2010) iMac, I gave up after 90 minutes. The resulting file was a 1.14GB Adobe DNG RAW file.

Here's the final result. In hindsight, I should have shot more of the surrounding scene to make the effect even more dramatic, but I'm happy and the clients were thrilled.

Here's another one done using the same effect a few years back:

In anticipation of a few questions...

Q: Couldn't I have achieved about the same depth-of-field with a 35mm f/1.4?

A: Perhaps. I may have been able to get a similar depth-of-field with a 35mm f/1.4 shot wide open, but the resulting shot would have featured much more perspective distortion from shooting at a wider angle. And if I had included even more of the surrounding scene, no single frame could have replicated the effect. Had I used a 35mm and put my subjects in the exact same place in the frame, the perspective of the scene would be completely different.

Q: Why 200mm?

A: For the same reason: I want the distortion free frame that 200mm provides without the compressed background that would result from a single 200mm frame. I want it to look like a wide-angle shot with the depth-of-field and distortion free look of a 200mm.

Q: Is that a flash I see in some of the individual frames?

A: Why yes it is! Another cool part of this technique is that I can shoot some of the frames with a light in frame, and then ask my assistant (my cool daughter, in this case) to back away for the rest of the shots. As long as I include frames without the lights that overlap properly, the light will disappear in the merge process.

Any other questions? Feel free to ask in the comments! And make sure to check out Ryan Brenizer's work!


Lee Shelly is a commercial and lifestyle photographer based just outside Philadelphia, PA, but serving clients local, national and international. You can view his portfolios HERE and HERE

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