THINK DEEP deep
Capture pin-sharp landscapes by maximising depth of field to bring everything into focus
The aim when shooting most landscape images is to record all parts of the scene in sharp focus, from the furthest hills to the closest foreground objects. This is usually achieved by stopping down (in other words, reducing the size of) the aperture, to f/16 for example. This in turn increases depth of field to bring everything into focus from front to back. (Avoid using your lens’s smallest apertures, though, as this can result in a softening of image detail– see Step by Step.)
However, the depth of field in an image is also affected by two other factors: the focal length of the lens, and the distance at which the lens is focused. The longer the focal length, the shallower the depth of field will be, and vice versa. This means that depth of field is greater when using a wideangle lens compared to a standard or telephoto lens – assuming they’re all focused on the same point.
In other words, it’s generally much easier to get both near and far parts of a scene in focus when using a wideangle lens set to a small aperture. In fact, if your lens is wide enough it might even be possible to achieve sharp focus throughout the scene using a mid-range aperture of f/8 or f/11, which for most lenses is the sweet spot in terms of optimal image quality.
Whenever I’m shooting I take a hyperfocal distance calculation chart, which tells me where to focus to achieve front-to-back sharpness for any given focal length and aperture combination.
It’s useful to carry one, but it’s not something I refer to for every photo. In most situations, a quicker and easier method is to focus a third of the way into the frame (that’s one third up from the bottom of the viewfinder, rather than a third of the way into the scene). Broadly speaking this is where the hyperfocal focus point would be. Nine times out of ten this technique works just fine, and I only really refer to my hyperfocal distance chart when my images feature close foreground subjects.
Whichever method you use, review your picture afterwards on your LCD by zooming into an area of both foreground and background to check for sharpness.