The Birrarung Bridge
 

6 suggestions for a sharp landscape photo

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The nine tips for better landscape photography introduced few concepts to keep always in mind whenever out in the field. We also talked about how to have the best focusing in a photo. It is now time to discuss how to shoot a sharp landscape.

One of the most important settings we need to understand for a sharp landscape is aperture. This is a variable-size hole inside your lens that controls the amount of light passing through it and onto the sensor inside. This is usually referred as f-stop and it can go from a very low value, for example f/1.4 or f/2.8 (the hole is wide open), to an high value as f/22 or more (the hole is almost closed)

Don’t confuse the sharpness concept with focusing (more info on the focusing article).

Let’s see the most important steps to setting up your camera. Remember you want to be in control of your camera and not vice-versa.

Set Aperture priority

On Your camera’s mode dial you’ll find an A or Av setting, depending on what camera you have. If you don’t have a mode dial this will be accessible through the menu.

Switch the camera to this setting and you can now choose the aperture for yourself, while the camera automatically sets the shutter speed.

For a landscape photo with a wide sharp area set the aperture to f/9 or f/15

fstops and sharp landscape photography

Typical F-stops available in a lens, the highest the value the smallest is the hole

Set your ISO and white balance (WB)

ISO sets the light sensitivity of the sensor. Lower settings make it less sensitive, while higher settings make it more sensitive.

Without going into too much detail, lower settings provide the best image quality so set to the lowest ISO possible, ideally 100 or 200.

White balance controls the overall colour balance of photos, but for now simply make sure it’s set to Auto (way too many settings already; remember also that the WB can be fixed in post when shooting in RAW)

6 suggestions for a sharp landscape photo

6 suggestions for a sharp landscape photo – higher ISO, higher noise

Set the camera metering mode

Another important setting that needs to be changed is the one that the camera uses to read the amount of light in a scene to set a correct exposure.

The best metering mode for landscape is called Evaluative or Matrix, depending on the camera you have.

It reads light hitting all parts of the sensor and sets an average exposure

Use a Tripod or control your shutter speed

I personally do all my landscape photos using a tripod. This avoid any movement and therefore something less to be worried about.

If you’ re hand holding you’ll need to keep an eye on the shutter speed. As a general rule-of-thumb, shutter speed should match or exceed the inverted value of the lens focal length. So, for a 50mm lens, don’t handhold below 1/50sec.

If the shutter speed is too slow for your lens, increase ISO to 200 or 400. This is the only way to increase your shutter speed, although not the best way because an higher ISO will introduce noise.

Always remember that it’s better to take a photo with high ISO, therefore most likely with noise, than not taking any photo at all 😉

6 suggestions for a sharp landscape photo

6 suggestions for a sharp landscape photo – Shutter speed at 30 seconds with a tripod

Shutter speed at 30 seconds with a tripod, the only way to make a clean and sharp photo in that night

Mirror-Up mode

Choose this mode to minimize any camera shake and avoid situations in which the slightest camera movement can result in blurred photographs. Although not as important as the usage of a tripod, it is worth spending few seconds more in the setting to have a better result.

On a Nikon select mirror-up mode (MUP on your release mode dial), frame the picture, focus, and then press the shutter-release button the rest of the way down to raise the mirror.

Press the shutter-release button all the way down again to take the picture. Using a remote shutter control will once again avoid the slightest camera movement.

Mirror-Up mode is recommended in case of HDR photography

Understand and control the Depth of field

This is not strictly speaking a setting to be aware but a creativity decision you need to take by controlling the amount of sharpness present in shots, and with landscapes you generally want as much of the picture as possible to be in sharp focus because the entire scene is of equal importance.

This varying level of sharpness is known as depth of field.

You control the depth of field by using the camera’s aperture. This is a variable-size diaphragm inside the lens controlled by turning a dial on the camera body. The aperture determines the size of the lens hole through which the light goes to the sensor through the camera

Unfortunately the numbering system that’s used for depth-of-field isn’t particularly intuitive. Every incremental change in aperture is known as an f/stop.

At its most simple level, the wider an aperture you use (small number like f/2 or f/4) the less depth-of-field or front-to-back sharpness you get. Conversely, the narrower an aperture you use (larger number like f/16), the greater depth-of-field you get

A good way to remember it is that usually a small number aperture (f/2) is used for portraits where people stand 2 meters from you. An high number aperture (f/15) is used for landscape that are 15 meters or more from you. This is only an easy way to remember as a start, don’t take it an overall rule

So, let’s assume you have a kit lens with an aperture range including f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16 and f/20. These can be roughly grouped into three categories

  • wide – best for subjects where having a blurred background to highlight the subject is important (f/4 to f/5.6)
  • medium – suited to subjects where a medium to large depth-of-field is required to increase detail (f/5.6 to f/11)
  • narrow – full sharp image (f/8 to f/20)
6 suggestions for a sharp landscape photo - Landscape Photo with setting at f/16 and sharpness from foreground to background

Landscape Photo with setting at f/16 and sharpness from foreground to background

Landscape Photo with setting at f/16 and sharpness from foreground to background

6 suggestions for a sharp landscape photo - Same landscape Photo with setting at f/4 and sharpness from foreground bridge

Same landscape Photo with setting at f/4 and sharpness from foreground bridge

Same landscape Photo with setting at f/4 and controlled sharpness on the foreground bridge

A point worth remembering is that the closer the subject appears to be in the viewfinder, the shallower depth-of-field will appear than if you were further away. If you’re shooting wider scenes like landscapes this means you can successfully use medium apertures like f/8 and f/11 if you’re hand holding the camera, but if you have a tripod it always pays to set aperture to f/16.

This is because the shutter speed needs to match or exceed the focal length of the lens if hand holding. To be safe, shutter speed should never really drop below 1/60sec, but if using a tripod you can shoot at much slower speeds, basically as slow as you want or need to.

Yes, there is a lot to think about when making a nice, still and sharp landscape photo, but after a while it will be all automatic. You will build up a process that it will be just business as usual.


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Jacky The Techy
Photography is taking me everywhere in the world. I love the technical side of it, how to create my photos minimizing the post-production side of it. More time on the field and less time on the computer.
Ten years of experience and counting. Is it enough? Never! I learn new things everyday.

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