Bokeh Panorama Tutorial, Pt. 2

March 4, 2012

Last week I gave a brief introduction to the bokeh panorama — aka the “Brenizer Method” — for those who weren’t already familiar. This week I’m going to dig into the actual shooting method and how to piece it all together.


First, I want to give you a better idea about what makes the bokeh panorama so special. It’s easy enough to look at one and think, “Okay, crazy DoF, got it!” My last post had many samples that did just that, but in retrospect, I think an even better way to persuade folks to try out this technique is to look at a side-by-side comparison.

Take yesterday’s Caturday spotlight, Griffin, for example.

Bokeh Panorama - Brenizer Method - Caturday
Click For Larger View

The photo on the left is a stitch made while I was considerably close to Griff (he totally said I could call him that!). The photo on the right was made by backing up a few steps so that I could capture the same scene with the same lens. Technically, everything about these photos is the same — camera, lens, settings, etc.

In this case, the incredibly narrow DoF actually works beyond achieving a desired aesthetic — all those branches make the scene awfully busy, but with less in focus, it’s easier to concentrate on what matters: Griff!

Basic Technique

The keys to executing a flawless bokeh panorama are steady footing, a somewhat motionless subject and shooting in complete Manual mode. This means turning off auto-focus, too. You want all your settings to be exactly the same — shutter speed, aperture and white balance — so that the end result is one, cohesive image. Funky stuff happens when you forget one of those steps.

Possibly more important than any of that, though, is pre-visualization. I go into each bokeh panorama with a game plan of where I’ll be shooting, and how, so I don’t miss anything. You might feel silly, but consider doing a little bit of this at first.

Usually, with inanimate objects, I’ll start in one corner of the pre-visualized composition and work my way through the grid. If my subject is prone to moving, however, it’s important that I shoot their body first, before moving on to the environment surrounding them. So, instead of sticking to a completely orderly grid, what I like to do is shoot the head, torso and feet first and then move to the edges. Like this:

Bokeh Panorama Tutorial - Brenizer Method
Click to View Final Product

Notice how the boxes in the grid aren’t equal sizes? This is to demonstrate how much I overlap each frame. Where the “2” shows a full-size frame from my camera, the rest of the grid overlaps each other to ensure there are no gaps in my composition.

For beginners or subjects that have a hard time staying still, you can choose to shoot vertical frames. Start with one shot that captures your subject from head to toe, then move to the edges.

Mind the Gap

I want to drive this point home, because there really isn’t anything worse that can happen than coming home and discovering you missed a spot. Photoshop trickery can save the day on the occasion that you missed a corner of the sky, or a patch of concrete, but more often a bokeh panorama with gaps will need to be cropped or trashed.

Here’s an example of a time when I was a little too careless with my grid:

Bokeh Panorama - Brenizer Method - Fail - Error
Botched Bokeh Panorama // 4 Photo Stitch // Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

So remember: Pre-visualize your end product, and overlap, overlap, overlap!

Checklist For Success

  1. Pre-visualize your composition.
  2. OPTIONAL: Switch to JPG. This will save you time when you’re just testing the waters!
  3. Put your camera into manual mode and set Exposure, Aperture and White Balance.
  4. Use Auto-Focus (AF) to zero in on your target, then throw it into Manual Focus (MF).
  5. OPTIONAL: Using back-button AF is great for bokeh panoramas. You can get your target locked in fast and easy, but releasing the shutter won’t trip up your focus.
  6. Keep your footing completely still, and only tilt your hands/camera to capture the scene.
  7. If shooting a human, begin with the head, torsos and feet. Then move to the edges.
  8. If shooting a cat… Be patient. Then be quick. =^..^=
  9. Make sure to overlap each frame considerably, either by 1/3 or 1/2.
  10. If you edit the files before stitching them together, apply the same exact changes to each frame.
  11. OPTIONAL: If shooting more than one bokeh panorama, fire off a frame with the lens cap on, or with your hand in front of the lens between scenes. When you get home it’ll be easier to tell where one set ends and another begins.

Completing The Puzzle

Once they’re loaded to your computer, you’ll have a variety of options for merging the photos into a single scene.

  • Photoshop — If you already own Photoshop, you’ll need to look no further than File > Automate > Photomerge.
  • AutoStitch — The best of the bunch because it’s free! You’ll have relatively little control over the final product, but it’s as easy as launching the program, loading up all the files and then making yourself a snack while AutoStitch does its thang.
  • Autopano Pro/Giga — This is some seriously sophisticated stitching software (say that 10 times fast!). You can edit RAW files in Bridge and then import them directly into Autopano. No need to edit RAW files, open in Photoshop, save as JPG and then load them. Of course, with serious software comes a serious price tag. Ouch.
  • Hugin — I’ve never used this software, but it’s free and also compatible with Macs. So if you don’t have Photoshop and aren’t running Windows, this is the program for you!

Remember… Baby Steps!

It’s really easy to go hog wild when you’re snapping away at a scene, but Griffin’s portrait is proof that you don’t need a lot of shots to create a stunning bokeh panorama. Start out by breaking your composition up into 4 frames. It’ll be much easier to pre-visualize (think of it as 4 hemispheres!), and your computer will thank you when it’s processing all those files! :)

Need Some Inspiration?

The Brenizer Method‘s Flickr Pool is both incredibly active and also brimming with amazing work. I keep my bokeh panorama uploads in a Flickr set. And, of course, you can always visit Ryan Brenizer’s blog for some stunning bokeh panoramas taken at weddings.

That’s It!

Next week I’ll go over troubleshooting, and what to do when problems occur. Of course, if you have any questions right now just drop me a line in the comments or by email and I’ll see what I can do. Now go have some fun!


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Thanks for the detailed post! I tried the technique last weekend during a wedding in Hawaii and LOVED the results!!! Kind of like the game of Othello, it takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master! Many thanks from Minneapolis! Here’s the link with a favorite wedding photo using the technique:

Hi R.J.! Thanks for stopping by — I’m glad the tutorial was helpful for you! You totally knocked it out of the ballpark with that bokeh panorama!!

[…] I look forward to pushing the technique forward in my own work. And if you are curious, here’s a link for how-to on creating bokeh panoramas. Leave a Comment » Link To This Posted by R. J. on April 19, […]

[…] K. Miller made an awesome post on her blog  on how it can be done.  Check out her images and tutorial here!  It’s amazing. […]

[…] with a really shallow depth of field (the post I read was here, but further reading can be found here, and […]

[…] heard of this technique before, but never really became interested in it until Kim Miller put this ridiculously awesome blog post together. So if you really want to know how it’s done, head to her blog. She does a much […]

[…] recently read about the Brenizer Method or Bokeh Panorama. At first, I thought there was no way I’d ever bother with doing something so intensive […]

Alright SO…I’m so glad you did an awesome tutorial on this!! I’ve been practicing a lot and have had a couple of successful outcomes although I simply cannot figure out the best settings in the “options” menu on autostitch. I can’t get it right, they’re either too pixelated or have too many ghosts/shadowing. You seem to have mastered it…well that’s based on me thinking you use autostitch…any guidance on the matter would be awesome cause I’m determined to figure this out!

Hey Mel! I’m glad you’re trying out the method. Can’t wait to see what you create! As for the Autostitch options, that is very strange, as I only ever fiddled with the Output Size (usually I set it to 50%). The only thing I can think of is perhaps you’re making your output size too large and it’s stretching the pixels? That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you consider that you’re putting together lots of photos, though, unless you’re setting the output to like, 50k pixels.

As for the ghosts and shadowing, that will just be the result of either you moving, or your subject moving. One trick I can recommend is to hold your camera up to your face with your elbows pressed against your body. When you shoot through the grid, swivel and move ONLY your wrists to angle the camera. Don’t move your arms, or torso.

Of course you should feel free to email or FB me the results you’ve been getting so I can (hopefully) help you troubleshoot some more!

Alright! After firmly planting my arms I had my first fully successful 9 photo stitch with a cupcake! Took me 4 attempts before I got it right, but I got it! It’s the not moving around bit that’s particularly hard, cause I thought I was already pretty good at that…turns out I’m not. Oops.

As for the pixelatedness, it wasn’t a problem this time and I only ever had the output size between 50-75%. Hopefully it was just another effect of me moving! I’m going to keep trying though. When my computer (I’m on Tysen’s computer at the moment) decides to stop throwing a tantrum and connect to our wireless I’ll post my success!

Can’t wait to get home and try this! What a great explanation, very clear and concise.

Ok, I’m seriously gonna try this thanks to you. Thanks for the killer how-to!

“If shooting a cat… Be patient. Then be quick. =^..^=” You have no idea how many times I’ve been caught pleading to my cats to sit still, or do that cute thing again…they never listen and I always look pretty silly!

Just a quick question, if you have a section that’s very bright, say, a grey sky, and a very dark section, say, dark brown dirt, would you start with the sky as your first frame? To keep the shot from becoming blown out? In mine, I don’t put it on manual for that reason, then later I adjust each frame in photoshop to match the others. It works most of the time, though when it’s wrong, it’s bad! Just checking to see what you do. :)

Oh yeah… I know that one all too well. My cats are a couple of buttheads, too, in that regard. :)

Great question about blowing out the sky! I have to admit that I usually just expose for my subject and let the rest fall into place, blown highlights be damned! If it’s a really insane contrast and my sky (or something else) is getting completely blown out, I would underexpose the whole panorama and then dodge the final product where I’d like the exposure to come back up a little bit. Hope that helps!

I loved this! I never looked into this method b/c it sounded like so much complicated work, but you broke it down so simply, with every step covered. I might have to try this!

Awesome! I’m so glad I hit my mark with the tutorial. And I really do hope you’ll try this — Like I said once to Jade, you could practice in your kitchen on a bowl of fruit or cup of coffee. All you stand to lose is 20 minutes of your time and a few actuations on your camera! Nothing to be scared of at all. :)