The shot most commonly known as the Bokeh-Rama or Brenizer is fun and has become popular among some very high priced wedding and portrait photographers. What is it? When should you do it and why?
Two of the factors that help you create a shallow depth of field are focal length and distance to your subject, more specifically narrow focal length and short distance to subject. Now, the problem arises when you want to include a good portion of the area around your subject; because, to do this you would normally have to increase your field of view by using a wider focal length and/or back up from your subject. Either of which, will cause you to increase your depth of field and lose that wonderful blurred background that so many portrait photographers seek.
“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
-Henry David Thoreau
It may take a trained eye but if you look at the image above of the young lady (Sara) in the tree you should notice something isn’t quite right. If I were ask what focal length was used for that shot I’d expect someone to say somewhere around 16mm. The thing is, at 16mm on a full frame camera I’d still have to be at least 20 feet away from her to achieve that composition. At 20 feet from your subject with a 16mm focal length even at f/1.2 you would have a depth of field of over 120 feet; ie. just about everything would be in sharp focus. As you can see however, the leaves just a few feet in front of Sara are out of focus as well as branches just a few inches behind her. To be exact, this shot has a depth of field of about 0.7 feet. So, how is that possible since a lens does not exist that can capture the field of view at this distance and maintain any blur?
The answer is actually simple, if not obvious. This is a composite of 57 shots taken with a 135mm f/1.8 lens @ f/1.8. The first question that comes to everyone’s mind who sees a shot like this; commonly referred to as a bokeh-rama or a Brenizer, for Ryan Brenizer who popularized this technique; is why not just photo shop it. Well as you can see with this shot, to photoshop fake blur between all those tree limbs would take hours. You would have to apply a different degree of blur for each limb that falls in a different focal plane not to mention all the spaces that fall between the limbs that are completely burred out because they are several feet behind the tree.
The question of “why not photoshop it” is still at times a valid question however. If you were to google “brenizer” or Bokeh-rama, you would see hundreds of examples pop up that could have been accomplished much easier in post. Like, most photo techniques it’s all about knowing when to use them. The following example would have been much easier to do in post than the park shot but still would have taken a lot of time to make it look realistic.
How to create your own.
I’ll tell you right away that these take lots of practice. My recommendation would be to start with a 50mm lens and just a 10 or 12 shot composite. Eventually you can work your way up to more difficult shots with a more narrow focal length such as 85mm. I would actually not recommend using a 135mm like I did in the sample shots. I used it simply because it was my favorite lens at the time and for the challenge haha. This is why I had to take so many shots when fewer would have done just as well.
For the actual shots, my system is the following. You many end up tweeking my steps or find a whole new system of your own.
1) Figure out how many shots it will need to cover my subject.
2) Shoot my subject with a slight overlap. Now my models can relax but they can’t move or they will end up in the next frames, which we clearly don’t want.
3) Systematically shoot the surrounding area. Many photographers will use an outward spiral. I tend to do rows as if I was building a brick wall. Make sure that you are stationary and that your camera is set to manual focus and your exposure is constant.
4) Resize your shots. A dozen or more full res shots will kill even the most powerful computer. Usually downsizing to about 1/4 or 1/8 will do the trick.
5) Make your composite. I use either the “photomerge” feature in Photoshop or a free program simply called “autostitch”.
Neither one seems to work best for every stitching job so I end up using them both.
6) Simple clean up. There are always little details that the stitching program didn’t quite deal with.
All images and text by Jason Kurokawa