Big vast horizons. Majestic mountains. Piers that lead forever into the ocean. Tropical beaches. Night Skies. Leading lines in longer, tighter areas. Landscape photography takes viewers into an escape from the present. A key element in landscape photography is using a large depth of field to convey scale, size and sense of the moment.
- How to capture a large depth of field
- How to maximize the area that is in focus
- Helpful tools for optimal beauty and sharpness
Large Depth of Field
Depth of field, refers to how much is or is not in focus in a given image. When photographing landscapes, a large depth of field is needed to have the entire image appear sharp from front to back to convey vastness and details.
→ Related reading: 11 Steps to Tack-Sharp Landscape Photos
To maximize a large depth of field there are a few key steps that will make a difference in creating clear and inviting landscapes.
- Working with the shorter focal length lenses versus longer lenses. The shorter the lens, the greater the depth of field.
- Practicing with your camera and lens using multiple f/stops. Working with the ranges of f/11 to f/16 will typically create the desired effect.
- Understanding the optimal place to focus to maximize depth of field. See Hyperfocal Distance below.
- For Photoshop users, try focus stacking and then blending the images. Focus stacking is taking multiple photos of the exact same image (tripod needed) using the same f/stop and settings. The only difference is that each photo has a different focus point such as front, middle and back. To process, the steps are short and simple. Go in to Photoshop using Edit, Auto align, then Auto-blend.
If you don’t already have Photoshop you can download a free trial here.
How to Maximize the Area in Focus
If we set our f/stop to the biggest number, will that provide a large depth of field with everything in focus? Or if we focus to infinity will everything be in focus? Each of these have their place, but there’s a sharper option – hyperfocal distance. We’ll review focusing to infinity and hyperfocal distance below.
Focusing to infinity – Lenses have the ability to focus to infinity by changing to manual focus and moving the lens meter to the sideways figure 8. Focusing to infinity is a technique that is commonly used in night photography as an example. The Milky Way in Moab, Utah was taken by focusing to infinity with settings of 14mm, ISO 1600, f/2.8 and a 30 second exposure.
Hyperfocal Distance – the point of focus that allows for a maximum depth of field throughout a scene. Hyperfocal is the nearest focus distance at which the depth of field goes to infinity. Once you have focused on the hyperfocal point, everything from half the hyperfocal distance to infinity will be in focus.
Each lens and camera has a different focus distance that maximizes depth of field. There are several apps available to help calculate the hyperfocal distance. They range from free to a few dollars. Select the camera, lens focal length (i.e. 24 mm), the f/stop and they will calculate the focus point distance.
In summary, selecting to utilize hyperfocal distance takes advantage of the maximum possible depth of field from the foreground to the background. Choosing focus on infinity will maximum sharpness at infinity as in the Milky Way above.
Wide angle lenses – I always remind folks that the best lens for the moment is the one you have in your hands. For landscapes, use the widest angle lens that you have to optimize landscapes with a larger depth of field
Tripod – When working with a larger depth of field (with high stop numbers such as f/16), there is less light which slows the shutter speed. A tripod provides stability and steadiness when the shutter is pressed. Additionally, if bracketing exposures or stacking focus points, a tripod is needed to keep each image the same.
Remote shutter release (cable or radio frequency) – A remote shutter release will press the shutter without touching the camera. This eliminates even the smallest camera shake. This is useful when shooting with longer shutter speeds where the tiniest camera movement can potentially impact image sharpness.
Filters – Both Polarizing and Neutral Density Filters are essential tools in landscape photography. The article An Intro to Filters for Landscape Photography highlights the benefits of using filters. The Polarizer Filter eliminates glare, reflections and enhances saturation. A Neutral Density filter reduces the amount of light without impacting color so the shutter speed can be reduced.
The waterfall below was taken at 10:00 a.m. in the morning using a B+W Neutral Density filter with a Nikon 28mm Prime lens and an f/stop of f/16. With the Neutral Density filter, the shutter speed was set at 8 seconds which slowed the water to a soft buttery texture.
→ Related reading: Guide to Long Exposure Landscape Photography
Pulling it All Together
To maximize depth of field in landscapes: 1) work with the shorter focal lengths, 2) understand the hyperfocal distance for your lens, camera and settings and 3) use the accessories (if any are needed given your composition) to ensure sharp, clear photographs.