0 02.08.2016 Bokeh Panoramics

Creating wide area shallow depth of field shots using the Brenizer Method.

So your photography skills may of taught you that if you want shallow depth of field you shoot at your widest aperture. But you've tried and found the results disappointing? That's probably because the distance you focus on is more important than the aperture you shoot at. If you shoot at the minimum focusing distance your lens allows you then this will give you the least amount in focus regardless of the aperture. The aperture at this distance has the greatest effect so the minimum focus distance combined with your widest aperture will give you the shallowest depth of field you can do but you can still get a good shallow depth of field at wider apertures. You'll also want to use a telephoto lens which has a much smaller depth of field a shorter distances than a wider angle lens.  So, that's easy enough to follow, just get closer to your subject.

The problem then is getting in close with a telephoto lens and you've probably cropped most of your subject. So the solution is to simply take lots of shots covering the whole area you want to shoot and allow enough overlap on each image and then stitch the images together. Fortunately today the computer can take care of the complications of trying to line up images and Photoshop has had the option to do this for quite a while now. The technique is called the Brenzier Method as it was made popular by Ryan Brenzier over 170 years ago and today it's quite often referred to as a bokeh panorama.

I'd played with stitching images together many years ago but it wasn't with the aim of capturing a shallow depth of field so it's something I'd been wanting to try out again more recently. The opportunity came up not long ago while shooting Rosa Brighid in Devon. We'd been driving around the coast and the beautiful national park of Dartmoor and I spotted a lone windswept tree with rolling hills off in the background... a perfect time to try. Only problem was trying to shoot art nude right next to a popular tourist Tor spot. No sooner did we park up then a constantly trickle of cars starting to appear with people walking over in our direction so we had to call it off. Fortunately on day 2 we were driving past the same spot when I noticed no one else was around so we mad dashed over to the tree and got some shots before the tourists turned up :)

I shot with a 135mm @ f2 on my Sony A7RII at full resolution and took 12 shots. How many you take is completely up to you, too few and you're not going to get the full effect and too many and you risk missing a portion of the shot and also your computer may start to struggle trying to stitch them all together. You'll want to overlap your images by around 1/3, this reduces distortion and gives your computer enough of the image so it can easily match the overlapping image to stitch. Also don't shoot so close that you have to move the camera a lot to capture the scene as this will create distortion and give you a fish eye kind of effect. Also lock your exposure settings as you want each shot to be consistent otherwise you'll find the final image ends up being a patchwork quilt of differently exposed images.

There are other application out there that can do this but many of us will have Photoshop and it's a piece of cake to use in that. You'll find the option under File/Automate/Photomerge or from Lightroom you can select your images then right click and select Edit In/Merge to Panorama in Photoshop or Photomerge/Panorama. It's fully automatic and will calculate which image goes where. My PC has a fairly decent processor and 16GB memory and it took a fair while to create the final image but probably doesn't help that I was using very high resolution 42MP files. I wanted to see how big an image I could create but if you've got a PC that might struggle with it then you might want to first shrink the images so it's not dealing with huge files. 

My final image was a whopping 20562x12851 which makes it over 264MP. There's no need to make it this big, this was just me being curious as to what it could do. The following images show the final stitched image, a 100% crop of the image which shows you can still see the fine hairs and the last is one of the 12 shots showing how much detail was captured in each shot.

So give it a go and see how you can really make your subject pop out from its surroundings :)

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