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The Brenizer Method

There are certain technical elements in photography that consistently excite me; shallow depth of field, telephoto compression, copious amounts of negative space and terrifyingly large images. I have recently discovered something that delivers on all fronts. Thus I present, the Brenizer Method.

The Brenizer Method is a panoramic photo technique that has been made famous by wedding photographer Ryan Brenizer. It is a panoramic stitch following both the x and y axis of a scene to cover a large area. A Brenizer portrait can be comprised of any number of images, but is often shot with at least nine and up to several dozen photos.

It is highly recommended that one would shoot for this technique using an 85mm prime lens to achieve a reasonable degree of compression, depth of field and field of view for shooting the panorama, but I have seen examples with a 50mm and even a 400mm that turned out beautifully.

The benefit of a Brenizer image is that it allows for a wide-angle coverage of a scene while trading the distortion and depth of field of a wide-angle for the compression and shallowness of a normal or telephoto lens. This allows for a very aesthetic image that can provide both a field of view and level of distortion much closer, or at least more appealing and realistic, to the human eye.

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Competition Images

This week I submitted two images to my program that might in turn be submitted to this year’s PPOC competition. I’m not sure if these are going to make it, or even if they could be considered my strongest images, but I’m tempted to write about them now since they represent two influential points of my photography career.

Sanity

 Sanity

This piece was part of a series I did with a friend from another art program at our school. It had many influences and a significant challenge of finally going well beyond the expectations of my assignment at the time. While originally aiming for a simple high key image, I called upon my friend to model for me. Since she was a painter it felt no less than appropriate to make a riddle of our situation; the medium became the subject, and the subject became the canvas. Thankfully, tempera does not a blinded eye make.

I chose another image to use for the project, and kept some others for future composite projects, but this one always stood out to me as a representation of the subject’s character, energy and style, as well as an example of my own preferred style and creativity. When I have a full portfolio built for the upcoming gallery I hope to take this conceptualism even further.

Omen

Omen

Last August while visiting family in New Brunswick I had the interesting experience of being both thoroughly under-equipped for gear, and overwhelmed with curiosity at the sight before me. A wasp nest was forming far too near the trailer of very young children, so my cousins sprayed it and knocked it down. On impact it opened up and revealed an entire lifecycle of wasps, from the larvae and cocoons to the queen herself. Two infants had just barely survived the spray, and they were stuck inside the honeycombs within which they had just recently metamorphosed.

I immediately reached for my 105mm macro lens, but was met with two distinct issues; it was far too dark to shoot with natural light, and only having two speedlights handy, it was entirely too harsh for me to try shooting such a small subject with flash. After several positioning attempts of the light and camera, I thought back through all of my lessons from the previous year of college. How do I highlight a minuscule subject on this muddy toned camouflage of a background? Texture lighting. The same lighting we learned on food textures and clothing fabrics – I placed one light low behind the wasp and reached for a paper plate. Holding the plate below my lens I bounced the light into it for a good edge light separating the wasp from the background while gently filling the entire scene with the reflector. A testament to my progress from my first year at Humber in a single, unique photo.


Luminance Processing

Luminance Processing is a term I’ve been using for the way I’ve started editing my images recently.

I’ve developed some level of reputation among peers with my passion for monochromatic photos. I believe it stems from my interest in chiaroscuro, a painting style that appears to sculpt the highlights from the shadows in a way that holds both a pleasingly soft gradient of tones, and a very strong contrast throughout the image. As a photographer I see the world in monochrome – the colors are often a distraction, where I focus on the play of light and shadow across a scene.

When I want a scene to have more contrast with a natural or even painterly feel, I will add a Black and White adjustment layer, adjust the color luminance sliders as desired and switch the blending mode to Luminance. I can also add curves adjustments while viewing the image in greyscale until it looks pleasing as a monochromatic image, and change the adjustment layers to luminance. The final image will have color as intended, but will have the interesting toning characteristic of strong black and white images.

A final, optional adjustment that helps to achieve the chiaroscuro feeling is to change the black and white adjustment layer from Luminance to Multiply, and adjust the color sliders as desired. The final image is darker with a very stark feeling, but the bright spots can be lifted with further curves or color luminance adjustments for an interesting overall look.


Inspirational Photographers

I want to share some of my favourite photographers, who are my strongest inspirations in photography. A majority of my own images are influenced and inspired by elements of these three photographers, and some of my own practices while shooting are based on their advice.

Erik Johansson (www.erikjohanssonphoto.com)

Erik is a phenomenally talented surrealist; he uses the camera as a medium to build his images into brilliant composites. Living in Berlin, Germany, he is a far away dream for potential internship and assistant work – however, I frequently study and admire his work, as his portfolio and business is exactly what I am striving to emulate here in Canada.

Sue Bryce (www.inbedwithsue.com)

Bryce is a glamour and beauty photographer in Australia, with a strong online presence from her brilliant portfolio and frequent CreativeLIVE appearances. I love natural light and extremely shallow depth of field, and Bryce has capitalized on those two things flawlessly. Working only with windows and reflector boards, she uses her extremely fast prime lens kit for lovely, soft lighting on all of her models. Her portfolio also leaves much to admire in her ability and determination to take absolutely any girl who walks into her studio and making her indistinguishable from the most stunning of models.

Vadim Stein (500px.com/stein)

A photographer from Russia, I know very little of Stein, but I’m deeply familiar with his work. When I first discovered one of his images I thought to myself that this photographer must have been either a sculptor or a lighting technician due to the statuesque quality of his portraits. Upon discovering his bio, it appears I was doubly correct. Stein consistently works with dancers and other athletic and flexible models, and uses his unique lighting style to create a portrait with the same majesty and reverence of a Greek God.


Value of Pinterest

I’ve been very late to joining the Pinterest scene, while admittedly still lazily lagging behind on the use of applications like Twitter and Instagram. However, now that I’ve found Pinterest and began frequently using it, I must take a minute to rave about the value of this network. Any number of search words brings us copious images and even boards to follow that match the ideas we’re looking for, and consistently surprise us with similar, and often out-of-this-world ideas. Pinterest seems to be, for artists, an unpolluted resource of the most admirable modern and historical talent, and is constantly being updated with new content being added by its large user base. I am now subscribed to several boards and often searching a set list of tags to see what the world can present me for inspiration, even providing links to tutorials or series, talented photographers, lighting diagrams and before & after pictures to allow us a full appreciation for the work at hand. This website has made it fantastically easy to set up mood boards for projects, find tutorials, find inspiration and discover new artists, as well as keeping possibilities open for any number of other discoveries.


How to Light Complex Glass – Crystal Head Vodka

Last week I shot some beverages, including Crystal Head Vodka. There are two traditional ways to light glass, being black line and white line lighting, which make use of black cutouts. Since Crystal Head’s bottle is such a complex shape, I opted for a third technique.

For this shot I used a style of Bright Field lighting that involves placing the light directly behind a diffuse background. This method is sometimes done on a product table with translucent plexiglass or a similar type of surface, but in my case I used a scrim.

The benefit of this style of lighting is a complete lack of catchlights and hotspots in the image, with a very smooth gradient, which is valuable in photos of glassware. The drawback, however, is that this method is not possible with white on a black surface unless the image is inverted, which adds complication to subjects that have labels or other content requiring accurate colour rendering.


The Shoot

The first step is to set up the product on its base, lining it up with as much symmetry as possible. Adjust the subject’s position toward the front or back of the base according to what works best with your composition. Once the product is aligned, place a scrim directly behind it, as symmetrical as possible.

Step1


The next step is to align your light source directly behind the scrim, again aiming for symmetry. In this instance a striplight was used, since I liked the distinct vertical beam of light traveling down the shot and across the wood surface.

Step2


If you are shooting a subject that does not require any other details to be lit, like a label or other possible elements, you can move straight to post-processing. Otherwise, you can try compositing after the addition of another light source. Since Crystal Head has a cork and wood lid, and a “Vodka” print plastic cover, a spot light was added as fill to one side aiming just in front of the bottle. For a cleaner look, you could use another softbox and optional scrim.

Step3


Lastly, a gold reflective bounce card was used to catch the spotlight and reflect a warm glow into the label.

Step4


Post-Processing

At the time of capture while tethered to Phocus, the Contrast was set to 25 and Highlight Recovery to 44 to add a slight punch while avoiding any washed out highlights.

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Contrast: 25 — Recovery: 44

The next step is bringing the image into Photoshop. Since the label was being composited in this image, I opened both images and used layer masks to reveal the label in the photo using the reflector. Since perfect symmetry is also a bit of a challenge, I duplicated the base layer and flipped it horizontally (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal). A layer mask was then added to reveal the best side.

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50% Mask to show composite alignment.

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Composite aligned to centre of subject.


To create a cleaner background than the scrim in use, I used the gradient tool with a white-to-black transition, starting from the centre of the image to just outside the border. I then used the magic wand to do a basic selection of the original background, and placed a layer mask on the new gradient to hide it from the skull and table. The magic wand rarely gives clean results, but using the blur tool over any edges smoothed out the jagged selection and created a more believable look.

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It is common for the gradient tool to create banding in some sections, where the transition between shades is not rendered out smoothly. While this isn’t always as drastic as it appears, it can significantly hurt a print. A small workaround is to add a 50% grey layer, set it to overlay, and add noise (Filter > Noise > Add Noise) at about 10%. In this case, mine is set to Gaussian, with monochromatic noise enabled. Once the noise is added, change the layer opacity until the banding is removed. This simulates the in-camera noise, making the background look more realistic, and depending on the severity of the banding that is occurring, can partially or completely remove it.

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Grayscale banding apparent throughout the image.

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10% Gaussian noise at a reduced opacity simulates natural in-camera noise.


A second copy of the gradient layer was created, with the contrast raised, to enhance the background gradient’s reflection on the wood surface. The mask was then altered to reveal only the changes to the wood.

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The image was retouched using the clone stamp and spot healing brush, and sharpened with a High Pass layer set to 3.0, and blending mode set to Overlay.

CrystalHead