Focus Stacking for Greater Depth in Landscape Photography

Posted on

OK, lets just take a photo already. What did you focus on in the scene.

The rule of thumb when focusing is to choose a spot one-third into the scene. This is easier if you have a row of trees or telephone poles: Just divide them by three and shoot away. By following this strategy, naturally the best thing to do is stop down to f22 or f32. Everything will be in focus near to far—right? Well, not exactly. Small apertures introduce an issue known as “diffraction.” Basically, diffraction spreads the sharpness from the near point in focus to the far, usually infinity. This introduces a softening into the image that you do not want. Lenses have a peak focus based on apertures, which is where the conversation gets very technical. Try to keep your lens between f5.6 and f11 when you don’t know specifically.

So far, we have introduced how to focus the scene and what apertures to use, but even f8 isn’t going to accurately cover a landscape extending to the horizon. What now? A technique to calculate the hyperfocal distance is a great solution to focusing a single image with tack-sharp details. Focusing at the hyperfocal distance can be figured out with a depth-of-field calculator. I downloaded DOFMaster from the Apple App Store on my phone. It allows me to plug in all my shooting data, giving me a distance to focus.(1) You can also figure this out if you know your “near limit” of acceptable focus. Your near limit is the distance from your camera to the beginning of what is in focus. If you double that distance, you get the approximate hyperfocal distance. (That’s great if you didn’t forget your 100-foot tape measure!)

So, what now?

Finally, we are getting into the process of focus stacking. For this shoot, I kept my aperture set to f5.6, set up my tripod and fired three images. For the first image, I focused on a point in the foreground.(1ab) For the second, I focused almost at the horizon line.(3ab) If you’re able to focus on a point in the middle ground, go for it.(2ab) Usually the wiggle room between foreground and background is tiny, and, when shooting at f5.6, the coverage is sharp near to far once you stack the images together.

Prev2 of 3Next

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *