Focus Stacking for Greater Depth in Landscape Photography

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It never fails when I read about new ways to better my photography: There’s usually an equipment pitch. It’s all about having the best lenses and cameras. Or on the flip side, I find large-format film photographers preaching lessons in the landscape. Hauling my 4×5 view camera everywhere was great when I was shooting for 40-by-50-inch prints and I had grant money to blow on art projects. But technique is often more important than equipment. One technique, “focus stacking,” can lend greater depth to your landscape imagery.

We’ve all shot a landscape or two. I don’t need to go into great detail about what makes a landscape, or how to shoot one with a great depth of field. Wide or telephoto lens—does it matter? It seems simple enough: You can just stop down to f22, and everything will magically be in focus…. That depends on how you define focus versus sharpness. Also, where in the landscape are you choosing your focal point? Focus stacking allows you to precisely shoot a landscape with a sharp foreground, middle ground and background.

Before we go any further into focus stacking, let’s look at some essential components: focal lengths, apertures and where to focus.

There is a great deal of debate about lenses and focal lengths when photographing landscapes. With this shoot, I used my kit zoom lens, a Nikon 24–120 f4 VR, to experiment with wide, normal and slight telephoto focal lengths. I like wide to tele-zoom lenses because, for landscape photography, I am usually shooting at f5.6 on a tripod (and if you care about depth of field, you don’t care about fast, expensive lenses—just putting that out there). I will stick with a focal length of 24mm for the widest perspective of the scene and the greatest depth of field. Greater depth in a landscape is composed with a defined foreground, middle ground and background.

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