Portraits Shot Using the Brenizer Method, a 400mm Lens, and iPhones for Lighting

Photographer Benjamin Von Wong shot the portrait above a couple of days ago using a Nikon D4, a $9,000 Nikon 400mm f/2.8G lens, and a few iPhones for lighting. The extremely shallow depth-of-field was achieved using 36 separate exposures and the Brenizer Method.

Popularized by NY-based wedding photographer Ryan Brenizer (and coined by others who came after), the Brenizer Method allows you to achieve wider shallow-DoF images by combining multiple shots. Typically the trick is done with a portrait lens — an 85mm, for example — but it can be done with much longer focal lengths as well.

Von Wong writes,

So what does one normally do with a 400mm f2.8? Sports… wildlife… that’s about it. It’s rare that the 400mm is used for portraits since it tends to flatten people’s faces and buddies inadvertently fattening them due to lens compression.

One of the things I had wanted to try out for a while but never quite got around to doing was to try out the Brenizer Method. The Brenizer Method consists of stitching together a bunch of shots taken from a telephoto at wide aperture to get an extremely shallow depth of field at a wider angle. Theoretically, all I would have to do is focus, set lens & camera settings to manual, swing my lens in a variety of directions capturing as wide a shot as possible, and later sit in front of the computer to stitch them together. This website explains it well if you want to try it out.

This Flickr pool has plenty of examples if you’d like to see what other people are doing with the technique.

54 shots. 400mm f/2.8. Lit with three iPhones: 1 behind and 2 on camera right.

15 shots. 400mm f/2.8. Lit with two iPhones on “Flash Light mode”

Here’s a behind-the-scenes video showing Von Wong creating these photographs:

You can read more about this project over on Von Wong’s blog.

Image credits: Photographs by Benjamin Von Wong and used with permission

  • sierrarobba

    Looks fantastic.BUT! 24mm 1.4??? And 9×12 panoramic????

  • Jared Monkman


  • Dave

    Never heard of the effect but it is a great look.

  • Mansgame

    I’m a fan of this method, but I don’t get the whole iphone thing?

  • Joseph Campanella

    It looks like someone took an out of focus image and photoshopped a person on top of it. I respect the craft but the end result looks plain goofy.

  • mitch

    He talks about it on his blog, wasn’t on purpose, they had to switch loc’s and had no lights or something?

  • Mitch

    “Unfortunately for us though, we had not quite done a proper job of scouting so when we arrived on the rooftop, we realized that we were going to have a lighting problem. Deidre spontaneously proposed using iPhone’s to light Andrew and I thought, why not? The Nikon D4 is capable of shooting at 12,800 ISO and at f2.8 I could easily grab shutter speeds at approx 160th of a second!”

  • Andy

    To be honest I’m more impressed with the iPhone lighting.

  • Contaflex

    Someone comes along and thinks they invented a technique, which actually has been done before, then names it after themselves. Classic!

  • Nathan Blaney

    I’ve never really seen the appeal of this technique and I know people who’ve hired Brenizer and hated the results. I’m also not seeing how doing this with a huge lens adds anything and although using the iPhone as a convenient light source is fine in a pinch, why do that here? What’s the benefit?

  • Nathan Blaney

    I’m almost 100% sure that the name was given by those who emulated the technique, not Ryan. I seem to recall him discussing this on Livejournal some years ago.

  • brandon

    I like to think i actually thought this up first. well, i thought it up, but never got around to actually doing it. hey, i’ve got 3 kids! then some time later i find that some dude in NY is doing it, and some people like it. But, I’ve since seen it done on his site, and i tried this myself with my 300mm2.8 , and i don’t think it was all that great of an idea anyway. like the guy above said, you could much more easily and to a larger, or smaller degree just photoshop two images together. one with your subject as you like, then with your background as blown out as you like. really, it’s not a big deal. also, I use my 300m for portraits all the time, and i’ve read about famous dudes using a 400mm 2.8, so I don’t know how uncommon it is to use such lenses like this.

  • School Ball Photographer

    Wow! Amazing effect. Thanks for sharing.

  • Contaflex

    If you thought it up before 2003, then yes, you thought it up first.

  • Peter Grifoni

    Looks fake. I think this has gone past the point of what this method was meant to achieve.

  • Mansgame

    So almost $20,000 worth of camera gear with the D4 and the lens, but he doesn’t carry a $180 D600?

  • Jared Monkman

    some of these comments tonight.. again.. huh?

  • Jared Monkman

    some of these comments tonight.. again.. huh?

  • 11

    I think the choice of background with abrupt discontinuity is not ideal for this type.. perhaps a gradually increasing depth, ex subject in the middle of a road would be better..

  • Chris MacAskill

    I don’t use this technique for portraits because you can go crazy shallow with the 85 1.2, but I use it for landscapes because it makes the mountains steeper and more dramatic.

  • vonwong

    we didn’t plan locations, just showed up and realized there was no lights on the roof… so we used iphones :)

  • vonwong

    because it’s funny. because I had a 400mm and wanted to try something new. That’s all!

  • vonwong

    +1 to Nathan. The technique was given to him by others, not the other way around

  • vonwong

    The method was meant to achieve a look that is not achievable by traditional methods- i.e Fake.

  • kyoshinikon

    Who cares that it looks “fake”. I think it looks cool! Love the Dof a lens like that gives… There would probably be less haters if he used a 5dmk3 and 400 2.8 L probably

  • Michael Zhang

    Thanks Jeffrey et al. Updated the text

  • cheap shots for real

    is this from a competition of how much money and other resources you can spend to a portrait that you’d be fine off with using a decent single medium format camera? :o

  • stanimir stoyanov

    Yep, this is where the Brenizer method bokeh panoramas really shine. It’s a DOF you can’t get with a real 35mm lens.

  • Henning Nilsen

    Not everyone has a 85 1.2, but most serious photographers has a 70-200 or similar with a fast aperture.

  • woodrow

    Looks stupid, and you’d have to radio your subject for directing :P

  • John R

    Think I’d have tried to put in a few in focus or partially in focus background images to add interest. Also, Gigapan springs to mind. I think the real advantage here is that you can construct your background with the exact amount of clutter/detail/ objects that you want. As for using a phone to light it, a light is a light.

  • 11

    yup. please note DOF has not changed…. your fov has increased as a result of ‘increased’ image sensor size…. in effect the magnification factor has changed, but not the DOF. yea.. but confusing..

  • sierrarobba

    These pictures NOT represent THE ACTUAL effect at all.
    Go flickr and you ill see the real deal!

  • sierrarobba

    Dont be confused.NOT depends the PRICE this effect!!!!!

  • Ren Bostelaar

    I spy Toronto!

  • 11

    Exactly how do you use this method for landscapes? When shooting landscapes, the focal distance is usually set to Inf, so the aperture wont matter.. unless you are doing something else..?

  • Mansgame

    It’s an honest question. I can’t help but wonder whether the whole iphone thing is part of the gimmick.

  • Raye

    PetaPixel needs to stop promoting meaningless, artless, tasteless, pointless, zero weight photography like this…

  • Michael Zhang
  • Hector Sanchez

    someone drank too much coffee before editing. the local exposure masking is horrible. I know the guy wasn’t prepared for this shoot. but geez Wong. your name is on these. work on you lightroom.

  • Jared Monkman

    I guess i was confused by your wording.. I was assuming a d600 is a camera…

  • TSY87

    because there are objective ways to determine what qualify under those characteristics? /sarcasm

    Obviously there are people who enjoyed this post, just look at the comments.

  • Jared Monkman

    I enjoyed this post, as I do most things petapixel! Even when I don’t particularly like a result of some photographic process, it’s always interesting to read the how and why!

  • Fatima

    Me too

  • soley

    Forget all the post-editing, good shot is a good shot. If you spend more time in lightroom/cs5 than you do out getting “that shot’ you know you’re doing something wrong.

  • medium format

    so much work for no reward. never thought this was anything but a look at me gimmick.i’m all for a good trick, or technique but all of the brenizer method shots are silly

  • dave

    Hats off to Mr. Von Wong. Iphone flash for lighting! :D

  • Danny Garside

    Yeah totally agree on this one, though this video is interesting to show that it can be done with such a long lens.

  • millie

    Amazingly done!!! Good use of the iphobe too :-)

  • herpderp

    reading comprehension isnt your strong point is it