Exploring Depth-of-Field

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Other than shooting infrared landscapes, I’m not known as a landscape photographer. When a student at the Maryland Institute, School of Art, I developed four personal rules for photographing landscapes that I still follow today. They are not cast in concrete and are hereby presented for your approval as guidelines for your own landscape photography:

  • Photograph locally
  • Use a lens with a wide angle-of-view
  • Create maximum depth-of-field
  • Saturate colors

DOF Basics: When  focusing a lens on a specific subject, all of the subject matter on that same plane of focus (at that same distance) are critically sharp. Objects  not on the same plane of focus are theoretically out of focus and not as sharp but there is a range of acceptable sharpness.

At typical shooting distances, one-third of the area in front of the plane of critical focus and two-thirds are behind are theoretically in focus. Increasing a photograph’s depth-of-field also increases the apparent level of sharpness by including more objects in the scene as acceptably sharp.

Depth-of-field will vary depending on focal length, distance and aperture. Using a lens with a wider angle-of-view increases apparent depth-of-field (guideline #2) while using a longer focal length lens decreases it.

My personal rule for landscape photography was to always use the smallest smallest possible aperture to produce the greatest amount of depth-of-field. The old rule of thumb being that as the aperture size decreases, the depth-of-field increases and vice versa. Increasing the size of the lens aperture decreases depth-of-field and the area of acceptable sharpness.

This set of choices may mean that you may have to use a tripod to steady your camera because of slow shutter speeds produced by small apertures. If you have time read my post (on my old blog,) Reasons why you should use a tripodUsing a tripod has other attributes that are more useful than keeping the camera steady. Working with a tripod enforces a slower more deliberate approach to composing images, so a side benefit is that the composition of your image may be a little stronger as a result. Although in the interest of full disclosure, the above image was hand=held.