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Ryan Brenizer's Panoramic Portraiture

All photos ©Ryan Brenizer. Click on any pic for bigger.

New York City-based wedding photographer Ryan Brenizer has so-perfected the art of stitched portraiture that the technique has become associated with his name. You know, kinda like the Heimlich Maneuver.

Take this image for example, done quickly on the fly at a wedding with a 35mm lens @f/1.8 and a single small light source. It's a technique that is particularly suited to small-flash photography – and to photographers who like to tote a minimal amount of lighting gear.

Ryan averages more than one wedding per week, traveling for many of his jobs, and approaches his work from a photojournalistic perspective. He truly enjoys attending so many weddings, which is says is critical to his career choice.

"Why shoot fashion models looking dour if I can photograph people with a huge range of genuine emotion?" Ryan says.

We don't focus too much on wedding shooters on Strobist, as there are lots of other sites for that. But Ryan is really killing it, IMO. Take a look at his site. (Seriously check out his wedding portfolio.)

In addition to the hide-the-light kind of photos seen above, his stitched-pano technique also gives him the ability to shoot the the photos with what seems like an impossibly shallow depth of field that you see in his portfolio.

The image above was actually shot quickly as a series of images. Ryan used an LED LitePanel as his key (and everything else) but this is also very suited to speedlight shooters. I'll let Ryan explain it.

Ed. Note: Unless otherwise noted from here, Ryan has the mic.

As a former photojournalist, I like to do as little Photoshop as I have to. And if I do, I want it to be for good reason, like things that are either completely impossible or deeply impractical without it. One of the things I have become known for is using panorama techniques in unorthodox ways, including a technique for creating incredibly shallow depth-of-field that has become named after me.

Because I shoot it so much for those purposes, I've become very fast at doing panoramas on the fly. And sometimes I'll do things like a quick panorama of a group shot instead of getting a wider lens, etc.

Another thing that I do quite a bit is create compositions where quickly achieving the effect I want means that the equipment would be in the shot -- and then either taking a blank frame to remove the equipment in post, or layering many such photos together. This way I can do shots that would take precious minutes or hours to set up very quickly. And in wedding photography, every second matters.

The shot above is a little bit of both -- it's a panorama AND a multiple layer image.

Late November is an interesting tome to shoot weddings in the North -- even if it's not cold out, the sun goes down quite early, earlier than receptions tend to start. In this case, Amanda and Glenn had a gorgeous field near Princeton University picked out for their wedding photos, but they were delayed at the church longer than they had expected, so by the time we showed up at the field, it was almost completely dark.

Fields have lots of great trees and nature and pastoral looks, but they don't have lights. So dark meant … DARK. Flashlights to see where you want to walk dark. In these cases, speedlights are generally too powerful at any output to overcome the kind of ambient I'm shooting (think ISO 3200 f/1.4), so sometimes what I need is the weakest output possible as a key light -- even, occasionally, my iPhone.

While I will often use this layering trick to put a speedlight right next to my subjects and overpower the sun, here what I wanted was to use the closeness of the light sources to create dramatic falloff, mixing the tungsten light of my (CTO) gelled LitePanel with the blue ambient of late twilight. I love mixing color temperatures because people tell me not to.

The eye sees five light sources (plus ambient) here, but really there was just one assistant with one LitePanel. The key in these is to keep all of the settings the same, which means that I need to have my assistant trained to stay about the same distance from the areas he's lighting, keeping power output where I want it. Luckily my assistant that day, Dustin Finn, knows this quite well.
[Ed. Note: Love the whole technique, but IMO the column lights are the special sauce here and really sell the image. Click the image above for a 1600-pixel version.]
We start with the couple, get that frame perfect, and then he goes through and lights the columns. In this case, I actually move the camera to follow him a bit, so that I can make sure to get the whole structure in my frame. But I keep lots of overlap so that the panorama will stitch properly. As he stands, I want to make sure he's not overlapping any of the other frames I'll need to layer in -- I want this to be nice, easy, and cloning-free in photoshop. Then I took an extra frame with the top of the structure unlit, giving me all the pieces I'd need.

It might sound complicated, but it's not -- and if you've kept ALL of the settings the same from shot to shot, the photoshop is a breeze, auto-aligning pieces and just layer brushing out the dude holding the light. Or you can brush him in five times if you feel like it.

Ed Note: Back to me again.

Here's a second shot from the same scene, shot similarly but walking the light to each couple:

There are so many possibilities to be had with multi-image stitching. You can light close (for power, and/or fall-off) and remove the light, as above.

You can effectively expand your chip size, creating far higher quality images than you can do in one shot – especially at high ISO, for instance.

You can create portraiture with a quality and depth of field that make it look like it was shot on a large format camera. Because, effectively, it was.

Ryan is far from a one-trick pony, too. If you didn't above, make sure to look at his portfolio on his site. And for more, check out his other wedding-themed site, Moment Junkie, which he cofounded.


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