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Photography

Quick Tip: Shooting Shallow DOF Panoramas

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You've probably never seen anything like a shallow depth of field (DOF)panorama. Known as the "Brenizer Method," named for well-known NYC photographer Ryan Brenizer, who pioneered the technique. These photos have some super shallow depth of field. Today, I'll show you the trick to creating these photos quickly and easily.


What is a Shallow DOF Panorama?

Many photographers (including yours truly) love shallow depth of field. It allows us to isolate our subject and gives a visually appealing effect. For this, we love to use lenses with wide open apertures, often choosing an aperture in the range of f/1.2 - f/2.0 for best results.

Equally important to the aperture choice is the focal length choice. This further affects the depth of field, so we will frequently choose a longer focal length like 85mm or 135mm. These are frequently go-to focal lengths for portrait photographers.

The problem is when we want to balance our subject with the environment. Using those long focal lengths is going to give us a tight composition that will probably be filled by our subject, unless we back far far away. Yet, we wouldn't want to use a wide focal length because it's not flattering. We're in a tight spot, trying to balance shallow depth of field by using a long focal length and wanting to show the environment.

Enter the Brenizer method. We can combine a series of photos to get the best of both worlds. Shooting a shallow DOF panorama gives us a wide perspective to capture the environment, and since we shoot a series of fullsize frames, the shallow depth of field is preserved.


Getting Started

Shooting shallow DOF panoramas requires some special shooting techniques and ensuring that we nail our settings. Keep in mind that we are shooting a series of images to compile later in post production.

This situation really calls for putting the camera in full manual mode. We are relying on the "look" of each photo not changing, so we want to make sure we lock in our shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

To get started, the first thing that I do is get all of my settings locked in. This includes locking focus after getting it the way that I want. From shot to shot, I don't want any of my settings - particularly focus - to change.

I'll begin shooting my frames. Typically, I shoot 9 frames while putting together a shallow DOF panorama. The first thing that I shoot is my subject, just because that's the key part of the frame. From there, I move in a "Z" formation, to get the other 8 frames. I will start in the upper left hand corner, and shoot three frames for each row, keeping in mind that I already have a frame of my subject.

A key thing comes to mind while shooting these photos: we definitely want overlap in our frames. If we try and cut the frames close together, we're going to end up not having overlap, and thus combining the frames in Photoshop won't work.


Here, you can see the nine frames that I captured to put together the shallow DOF panorama. I shoot with quite a bit of overlap so that I'm not left short on images with blank spaces between the photos.

Post-Production

Putting together a shallow DOF panorama is easier than you think, thanks to the magic of Adobe Photoshop. It takes only a few clicks to put together the shallow DOF panorama.

Go ahead and start up Photoshop and make sure you know where your images are located on your computer. We are going to use Photoshop to combine the images into one shallow DOF panorama.

With our images set aside, we're going to go to "File", then "Automate", and choose "Photomerge." On the resulting menu, choose "Reposition" on the layout options, and then browse and choose all of the photos that you shot. After pressing okay, Photoshop will begin processing the images.

It may take a few minutes, but eventually it will return a combined panorama. With a bit of a crop, we have a resulting image that combines shallow depth of field with wide perspective. If you have big gaping areas, you will want to try shooting the images again, paying closer attention to lining it all up.


As always, Photoshop is amazing for putting things together automatically. With a bit of a crop, I have the image I want: shallow depth of field, along with an environmental perspective.

One cool thing here is that the resulting image is simply massive. Remember that we are combining a number of full resolution images, so the images lined up alongside each other are going to just build a larger and larger image.


Wrapping Up

If you're looking to create something new, a shallow DOF panorama is a fairly easy-to-create image that can be put together quickly in post production. The method is a great way of combining shallow depth of field portraits with a wide angle perspective to show off the environment.

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