Taking your focus to new levels of clarity
THE CREATION OF A GREAT PHOTOGRAPH REQUIRES THE MASTERY OF A MACHINE...
PHOTOGRAPHY is effectively unique among the visual arts for the way it blends creativity and science. A photographer might approach a glorious coastal scene in a manner familiar to any other artist, but the creation of a great photograph requires the mastery of a machine – the camera – in order to turn the photographer’s vision into visual reality.
Finding your perfect location, waiting for just the right sort of light and composing for maximum impact will give you all the foundations of a great photograph, but if the technical aspects aren’t spot-on, you are likely to be very disappointed with the end result.
Modern digital cameras are capable of producing good results in ‘point and shoot’ mode, while the ability to instantly review the image you’ve just taken has removed much of the guesswork from taking a great shot, but if you want to produce the best possible image, while enjoying the satisfaction that comes with really understanding what you’re doing, then taking full manual control of your camera is key. In coastal photography there are several advantages to this ‘analogue’ approach to shooting.
Keeping your focus
The current crop of autofocus lenses and cameras are technological marvels. They focus silently and almost instantly in nearly every type of lighting condition and offer a number of different modes, but when it comes to taking a shot of a seascape, much of that technology is rather superfluous.
Coastal photography rarely needs to be a hurried pursuit, and with time on your side you will have the opportunity to control every aspect of your shot – so how should you go about achieving sharpness?
We will assume that your camera is anchored to a tripod, so camera shake won’t be an issue – so you can turn off those image stabilisation settings – and if you’re looking for sharp focus from front to
back in your image then your aperture will be dialled down to its smallest opening (probably around f/22 to f/32 on most lenses). That just leaves the question of where in your image to set your focus point.
Due to the way in which lenses focus light, the field of sharpness at any focal ratio will be roughly twice as deep behind the focus point as it is in front of it. What that means in practical terms is that if you focus roughly one-third of the way into your scene, then no matter what aperture you’ve set, you will achieve the deepest zone of sharp focus that you possibly can.
Many people will refer to this as ‘hyperfocal focusing’. Technically it isn’t (see the box, top-right, for more detail) but it will deliver a consistently sharp image with as much of the scene in focus as possible.