A Brenizer portrait is a composite photograph created by combining 9 to 15 different captures into a single final image. The technique is often performed using a full-frame digital camera, but the final image has a perspective that resembles an image taken on a medium-format camera. In this video, photographer Steven Schultz takes this technique one step further by using a medium format camera to create a Brenizer portrait.
I was unfamiliar with this type of portrait but after watching the video I wanted to give it a try so I contacted Steven who walked me through the process. For the first few image captures, it is best to use a 50mm lens and take the photos in portrait orientation. Start with a portrait of your subject where the subject is centered in the frame. Then imagine a grid of nine rectangles where this first image is the center of the grid. Now start taking a series of three shots where you have the subject lower in the frame. This means you point your camera higher than you did for the initial shot and capture one shot with the camera pointing to the left of the subject, one with the camera pointing directly overhead of the subject and one with the camera pointing to the right. Next, take a series of three images at the same height where you took the initial photo. Technically, you can skip the middle image as it would be the same as the very first photo you captured. Finally, aim your camera lower and take three final photos. If this process seems tedious, I can assure you that it is not; you can take all these images in three or four seconds.
When taking photos, it’s important that you focus on your subject for the first shot and then lock focus for all subsequent shots. Also use a lens with a focal length of at least 50mm or more. If you were to shoot with a wider focal length, like a 35mm lens, the subject would be distorted and the depth of field would be wide. To create the medium format look, you need to use a focal length and subject-to-camera distance that will create both compression and a shallow depth of field.
Although there is no exact formula for composing photos and after initial capture, if you strive for 30% overlap in your compositions, you will likely be happy with the final composite image. Depending on how far you are from your subject, the additional images may or may not show the subject. Elements of the background will certainly be repeated. You are creating art, so be prepared to experiment. For the photographs accompanying this article, I made four attempts to create a portrait of Brenizer, and was satisfied with each of the final composites.
Watch the video for details on how to stitch images together in Lightroom. To learn more about the work of Steven Schultz, see his website.