There’s more to a sharp landscape photograph than setting your lens to autofocus and pressing the shutter. Use these expert tips for great results…
Even with the incredible technology packed into modern cameras, you still need to put in a bit of work to achieve critical sharpness in your landscapes, from subjects close to the camera right to infinity and beyond! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) One technique I have found invaluable is focus stacking. But before we even get into that, let’s get back to basics first.
These three tips will get you off on the right footing:
Now combine all three of these tips along with a very easy technique called focus stacking and you will achieve critically sharp landscapes with subjects close to the camera right to infinity and beyond! Sorry I couldn’t resist. Focus stacking allows you to go beyond the capabilities of your equipment to capture pin sharp images. For example, take this image of the golden barrel cacti and agave. I wanted to accentuate the patterns and textures in this scene by using a 70-200mm lens to compress these shapes, but also wanted the image sharp throughout, but even stopping the lens down to f/22 to increase the depth of field did not achieve overall sharpness. In fact, shooting at f/22 softens the image through diffraction where light passes through a very small aperture such as f/22. Depth of field is not the same as image sharpness. So by using the optimal aperture of f/8 instead, I achieved the sharpest image possible by combining 12 images each focused at a different point in the scene. Focus stacking works great when nothing is moving in the scene such as this, but if there is any wind or moving elements then it could be more problematic. Let me take you through how to focus stack in the field, then how to combine the images in post processing.
I wanted to fill the frame with blooming heather with this image I made in the Peak District, so I set the tripod mounted camera close to the heather with Stanage Edge in the background. I’m using the Nikon D850 which automatically carries out the focus sequence so I will detail how to do this with the D850, but you can also do this manually with any DSLR by setting the lens to manual focus and turn the focus ring slightly until you have focused all the way through the scene.
Now let’s combine all the images in post-production. You can do this using Photoshop, Helicon Focus or Zerene Stacker. I’ve used them all and have found that Zerene Stacker to be the best overall and best value for money. It produces no artifacts especially when there is a rise to the landscape. Because the physical size of the image changes as you change the focus, it tends to create artifacts along the top of the horizon such as with mountains. A great feature of the software is the retouching brush. This is especially useful when there are moving elements in your scene created by wind. This will create multiple subjects and if the clouds are moving fast you will have multiple edges to your clouds. In my scene here in the Peak District, the wind was blowing the heather as well as the sheep moving through the scene, but I’ll now show you how to overcome this using Zerene Stacker.
Now I’m not saying that you need to do this with every scene to get sharp images, just when you need to go beyond the capabilities of your equipment, but it does open up all sorts of creative possibilities.
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