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

    | Landscape | Photography Tips | 28/03/2012 11:09am

    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


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    Posted on Wednesday, March 28th, 2012 at 11:09 am under Landscape, Photography Tips.

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