The 10 Commandments of Landscape Photography (and how to break them)

The 10 Commandments of Landscape Photography (and how to break them)

Commandment 9: Use a narrow aperture

Landscape Photography Tips (and how to break them)

Image copyright Adam Burton

Getting the foreground, middle distance and background of a landscape acceptably sharp means using a narrow aperture to get lots of depth of field.

Aperture priority is a good choice of exposure mode for this because it enables you to set the aperture while the camera determines the shutter speed (learn more about your exposure modes with Dial M for… Your exposure modes exposed).

Don’t assume that the camera will always know exactly what you want though – keep an eye on the histogram and make sure the highlights are retained.

Also, make sure you don’t fall into the trap of using the very narrowest aperture available on your lens because this will often result in a soft image because of diffraction. Diffraction is the bending of light waves as they pass by the aperture blades – the narrower the aperture, the more significant it will be.

To avoid the problem, use an aperture of at least a stop or two wider than the lens’s minimum.

Using a narrow aperture and a low sensitivity means that fairly long exposures are required, so make sure you obey commandment five and use a tripod.

It can be hard to get everything in a landscape sharp, so focus stacking provides a convenient digital solution. Focus stacking involves taking several images from the same position (with the camera on a tripod), but with the focus set to a different point in each photo. These images can then be merged using Photoshop CS4 or 5 using Edit>Auto Align followed by Edit>Auto Merge.

A free software package called CombineZM is available for download by PC users from

Landscape Photography Tips (and how to break them)

Image copyright Mitsushi Okada

Break The Rules: Open up
While we usually think of landscape images as having lots of sharp detail, you can add impact by restricting the focus to isolate a specific part.

To do this, use a wide aperture to limit the depth of field, so that only a small section of the image is in sharp focus (for more on depth of field, see our guide Depth of Field: what you need to know for successful images).

The best subjects for this type of approach are often in the foreground of the landscape because they will be comparatively large, and the soft, blurry surrounding helps put this detail into context without causing too much distraction.

Play around with a sequence of apertures to find the right one. Opening up to f/2.8, for example, may blur a background beyond recognition, whereas f/4 or f/5.6 will leave enough recognisable detail to make sense of the scene.

Using a wide aperture to blur the foreground can also add emphasis to a dominant but more distant part of a landscape, such as a windmill or lighthouse (learn more about when to use a small vs wide aperture). It’s a good trick when breaking commandment four to make use of positive space.

You could even consider merging two images taken with a wide aperture with the focus in different places.

Commandment 1: Shoot during the golden hour
Commandment 2: Use a wideangle lens
Commandment 3: Use the Rule of Thirds
Commandment 4: Find foreground interest
Commandment 5: Use a steady tripod
Commandment 6: Focus one third in
Commandment 7: Balance the exposure
Commandment 8: Boost greens and blues
Commandment 9: Use a narrow aperture
Commandment 10: Use a low ISO setting


10 common camera mistakes every photographer makes
Annoying problems at common aperture settings (and how to solve them)
Professional Photographer to the Rescue: seaside sunset photography made easy
Camera Filters: the only cheat sheet you’ll ever need to get beautifully balanced exposures

  • jmeyer

    Thanks for the kind words, durand! Glad to have you here!