Back to Basics: Exploring Depth-of-Field

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Other than shooting infrared landscapes, I don’t really think of myself as a landscape photographer. But back when I was student at the Maryland Institute, School of Art, I developed four 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

A few DOF Basics: When  focusing a lens on a specific subject, all of the subject matter on that plane of focus (at that same distance) are critically sharp. Objects not on the same plane of focus are theoretically out of focus 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 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 wide angle-of-view increases apparent depth-of-field (guideline #2) while using a longer focal length lens decreases it. 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.

My personal rule for landscape photography was to always use the smallest smallest possible aperture to produce the greatest amount of depth-of-field. This may mean that you may have to use a tripod to steady your camera because of the slow shutter speeds produced at small apertures. If you have time read my post Four Reasons to Use a tripod. Working with a tripod also 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 (1/640 sec at f/4 and ISO 80) was shot handheld.


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