Something that has been a huge part of my workflow in the previous couple of years in both weddings and portraiture is stitched images. Whether they be panoramics, vertos or Brenizers, they have been an integral part of my method for shooting everything from natural light portraits to table decorations. I have been asked and wanted to discuss the how's, when's and most importantly the why's of stitching images!

What is a stitched image?

I am assuming most people will be aware of what I am referring to, but for those that don't, it is fairly simple. The premise of stitching images is simply to cover a greater area by taking multiple photos around or across a subject or scene, then joining them in either photoshop or lightroom. This can be shot from left>right or vice versa to create a panoramic, from top>bottom or vice versa to create a vertorama or (the way I shoot them) spiralling out from centre to create a Brenizer (named after Ryan Brenizer, brilliant photographer and interpreted inventor of the technique).

Why stitch portraits?

The vast majority of the people using any of these techniques are landscape shooters who want to either create a letterbox shaped crop to their image and/or to cover a greater area than can be pleasantly rendered by most focal length/sensor combinations. But there is more to it. 

I shall speak only for myself, but I honestly believe there is a look to shooting brenizers in a very particular way that creates an image that cannot be replicated. The way I view brenizers is as a substitute for medium format! Keeping in mind that with a consistent sensor size, the three factors that will affect depth of field will be distance to subject, focal length and aperture, I am able to create images that work in ways that couldn't be done with a single shot on full frame or smaller sensors. 

So let's say I am shooting with the intention of creating a nice 3/4 length portrait with a 135mm lens. Obviously this would mean I have to be a fair distance away from my subject, which will increase my depth of field. But by moving to say a tight headshots distance from my subject and shooting a series of images starting with this headshot but spiralling down and round to create the same 3/4 frame, I will have created a significantly narrower depth of field by keeping the focal length and aperture the same, just reducing my distance to the subject. In addition to the narrower depth of field, there is the added benefit of a much higher resolution final file due to the multiplication of the megapixel count. 

This technique is now allowing us to take much wider shots but with the far narrower depth of field than would be possible with a single shot. This means we are able to mimic the DOF of medium format and similar. Half body, 3/4 and full body images suddenly have the same cinematic depth of field as a headshot. You can now incorporate more scenery into the image without it becoming bland or distracting! To put it simply, I just LOVE the aesthetic it creates. Even shooting a half body in two images can create a really strong effect, as shown at the bottom of this blog! 

How do you shoot stitched portraits?

Its a lot simpler than you might think. I don't use a tripod or monopod or any silly gadgets, its just down to understanding the approach and practise. Now I know for a fact that because it isn't something you can just buy your way in to, many people will never give this technique a serious try!

Sad but true.

But let's leave them behind and create some really cool images! 

So to start, I strongly recommend using a prime lens somewhere between 85mm and 135mm. Can you use a zoom like a 70-200mm? Yes but there is a far larger margin for error and you miss out on the more interesting apertures to play with. Fixed focal length will definitely simplify the process! You want to plan the shot! Plan what you want the final crop to be. If you want a half body or a full body etc. Plan what is included in the frame from the surroundings. Explain the technique in base detail to your subject, informing them that they need to stay pretty still for the 3-4 second this takes. Then we get to the shooting...

You're going to want to be in Manual Mode. You technically can shoot in an automated mode by using the camera to freeze the exposure, but this is daft, hit and miss and can negatively affect the flow of the shoot. So you're in Manual Mode, fixed focal length and you have set your exposure. You will be shooting landscape orientation. With autofocus on, frame up and shoot your first shot. This should be the subjects face with their nearest eye in crisp focus. You can shoot a couple of these shots so you can guarantee a tack sharp shot, though as you progress with this, you'll become more confident! 

Having taken your first shot, holding the camera steady, turn off your auto focus being sure not to knock the focus ring or move dramatically. Now your focus is locked you can begin the sequence by tilting your camera down and taking a shot that cuts off the top of the frame about halfway down the face. This will mean you have something from the previous frame for your software to connect each frame to. Continue this sequence of tilting and shooting to include as much of the subject as you want to make the final frame with a tiny amount of overlap. Now that you have worked vertically down it is time to work up the (camera left) side of the person, again making sure to include some of the subject in the right of your frame for context for the software. Once that side is finished, work down the opposite side. You have now shot your first brenizer! Sounds very elaborate and complicated but it really isn't. Once you've done it two or three times it becomes second nature. A good little extra tip is to get in the habit of immediately turning your autofocus back on once you shoot the last frame as it can be easy to forget! 

How do you edit stitched portraits?

Thanks to Adobe, it's an absolute breeze to put these together. I do mine in Lightroom by simply selecting all of the images I want to be included and ctrl+clicking (right clicking) on them, scrolling up to "Photo Merge" and clicking "Panorama". This can also be done in Photoshop by clicking file>automate>photomerge. The reason I prefer Lightroom is that it doesn't disrupt my regular workflow and the end file is still a Raw file. 

With Lightroom you will be given three options for merging; "Perspective", "Cylindrical" & "Spherical". I have found that 99/100 times it will be "Perspective", but if not it will be "Cylindrical".

Below is a finished 2 image stitched portrait taken with a 135mm lens at F2. Please give this technique a go, and feel free to let me know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. 

I know this can be fairly daunting idea at first but it is so worth breaking through that wall and playing around with this technique. Have Fun.



2017 Favourites!

I want to wish a massive thanks to everyone I have worked with over the past 12 months, it has been a fun and crazy turbulent year! Below are a few of my favourite portraits from the past year. 

Happy holidays everyone! 

5 non-photography videos that will help your photography

Youtube is packed full of content aimed at either informing or selling information (and/or products) to photographers at various stages of their journey. Much of these are nothing more than the low hanging fruit of subjects that have been covered to death or they are paid product endorsements that are well disguised lies, or at best part-truths, with an aim to do nothing more than generate dollars from misplaced trust.

Much of the really useful content that is available for photographers can be found at sites such as Creative Live or RGGEDU though these do come with a (justifiably) high price tag. 

But here are 5 videos that, whilst not intended for photographers, still offer some valuable information, fresh perspectives & universally applicable advice.

So here are...

5 non-photography videos that will help your photography

1. "Composition In Storytelling" - Channel Criswell

The first but not the last time we will visit this channel for some incredibly articulate and thought provoking theories on the subject of visual art. Now whilst this is aimed of DoP's and Directors looking to develop stronger storytelling skills, anyone hoping to engage their audience and immerse them in a visual scene (still or otherwise) can learn so much about the psychological effects you can create with simple yet effective techniques.

2. "Sparkles & Wine" - Nacho Guzman

Just watch and be amazed by how light can augment a persons appearance...

3. "David Fincher - And The Other Way Is Wrong" - Every Frame A Painting

Just a fascinating video about my favourite movie director and his philosophy on how inform an audience of what is important. A thoroughly entertaining dissection of a great artists work and this channel is flooded with great videos on all things cinematic.

4. "Colour In Storytelling" - Channel Criswell

Back to Criswell and possibly my favourite video on youtube. Covering the psychological impact colour has on everyone. How to create dominance or to pacify. How to single something out or how to create a wall of complimentary tones. Just watch! 

5. "'The Revenant' Cinematographer Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki - Variety Artisans" - Variety

OK, so you could take most any still frame of the multi-oscar winning movie "The Revenant" and it would be a stronger, more engaging image than 99.99999% of photos that have been taken in the history of still imaging! There I said it, and if you disagree you are wrong.

Even if you don't like the movie itself, the visuals are unreal and this short video which speaks to several cinematographers and the films colourist gives so many glimpses into the genius that is Chivo Lubezki! So what can you take away from this video? If you watch this and aren't inspired, awe-struck and terrified, I have some bad news for you! 

Thanks for reading and watching!


Gear I can't live without #1

I am a man who really hates gear! More specifically, I am a man who really, really hate dependence on gear! The very notion that something you can buy will just instantly fix fundamental issues with the user is something that has pissed me off. It isn't even specifically a photography/photographer issue, more an issue with some peoples inclination to find a shortcut regardless of how much it costs, as long as it saves time and ego!

Despite all this, I have some pieces of equipment that I think are just so wonderful I would gladly sell my wife before I decided to part ways with. 

And to kick things off, any who knows me will already know what I am going to pick...

Canon 135mm F2 L

It is just magnificent! My insistent and no doubt irritating love for this piece of glass has, to date, caused 11 workshop attendees and/or friends of mine to purchase the lens entirely based from my whining and swooning! Canon really should consider cutting me a commission cheque...

So why is it so great?

Well to start with it is sharper than a prison toothbrush. Like, scary sharp! Wide open it is most definitely one of, if not the most sharp lenses canon has. A lot of glass picks up when it's stopped down, but this beauty is magnificent wide open! 

The images it produces have a similar yet slightly more compressed look to the 85mm 1.2 L but with some massive bonus points over the (in my opinion) much-overrated sister of the 135. Straight off the bat, the focus speed is as swift as you could possibly want. An area the 85 really struggles with. Next is the sharpness wide open. Now this isn't a fair comparison per say, but its my blog, so deal with it. 

Next is the compression. This can easily be chalked up to my preference for longer focal lengths, but having plopped this lens on the front of many, many peoples cameras to enlighten anyone who is bored enough to humour me has shown me that the focal length/maximum aperture/sharpness is the perfect portrait storm.

Finally, and maybe not most importantly, but its a hell of a bonus, it's half a grand cheaper than the 85mm. I buy most of my gear, especially lenses second-hand from (not a paid advertisement, I just like them). Second hand, these can be found for between £450-£550 for very decent examples which means you can get a used 135mm and a holiday to Greece for the cost of the 85mm! And with how slow the focussing speed of the 85 is, you'll probably be on the flight back from Santorini by the time the 85 locks in! 

And just to preempt the idea that I am in any way jealous of the 85mm or am knocking it without warrant, I own both lenses :)

Thanks for reading