Landscape shooters listen up: you NEED to use this technique!

Before: Focus fall-off - Using the hyperfocal method, a good level of sharpness is achieved, but the foreground rock stack is softer than expected, when compared to the background. (Image credit: Peter Fenech)

If you shoot landscape images then pay close attention – this is a technique that you absolutely have to try, as it could transform the way you take your photographs! 

For decades the core technique for precision focusing was the hyperfocal method, especially in landscape images. This technique makes use of pre-calculated focus distances to quickly set a lens, for an acceptable level of sharpness throughout the final image. 

It is calculated using the formula H = f² / Nc + f, where H is hyperfocal distance, f is focal length, N is f/stop and c is the circle of confusion. While generally suitable, however, hyperfocal focusing does not always deliver the optimal results. The values used are based on outdated parameters – namely the circle of confusion, which refers to the physical size of a blurred point of light, measured in millimeters. 

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BEFORE: Using the hyperfocal method, a good level of sharpness is achieved, but the foreground rock stack is softer than expected when compared to the background (Image credit: Peter Fenech)
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AFTER: By using the double-distance method, we can produce a uniform sharpness throughout the frame (Image credit: Peter Fenech)
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The term “acceptable sharpness” is variable and based on the quality of lenses and film available in the Nineteenth Century. In today’s world of ultra-precision optics and high resolution sensors, though, the values produced will not make the most of the total quality possible. 

The issue is compounded by the variability of scene components; not all scenes are equally structured, which often results in detail loss in the foreground.   

Here we discuss an alternative method, which is effective at producing a better equality of sharpness from foreground to background, helping us to get more from our expensive equipment. This technique is increasing in popularity among professionals and is an easy all-round solution…

01 Compose the shot

(Image credit: Future)
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We're using the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM lens. Start by arranging the frame to your liking, taking note of the spatial separation of foreground and background elements. Here it was obvious that there would be focus challenges with the receding stacks.

02 Set your f/stop

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Select an aperture that provides a balance of depth of field and resolution. Here we stopped down from f/8 to f/11, as this produced minimal diffraction but deeper focus coverage, for better overall detail.

03 Measure foreground distance

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Use Live View to focus on the closest visible object – in this case, a rock at the very bottom of the frame. This will quickly set the lens at the initial focus distance, likely producing a blurred background. 

04 Double the value  

(Image credit: Future)
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Referencing the lens’ focus window, refocus at a distance twice that of the current setting; the closest rock was 0.3 meters away, so we focussed to 0.6m. Without a focus window, simply estimate object distance.  

05 Shoot a test  

(Image credit: Future)
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Take an image at the current aperture setting, then review at 100% on the rear LCD. Check both foreground and background for your own level of ‘acceptable’ sharpness, which should be roughly equal in all frame areas. 

06: Adjust aperture 

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If your foreground or background is not as detailed as you’d like, stop down slightly and reshoot. If this is ineffective, nudge the focus forward or back until happy, prioritizing frame zones if required. 

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Peter Fenech

As the Editor for  Digital Photographer (opens in new tab) magazine, Peter is a specialist in camera tutorials and creative projects to help you get the most out of your camera, lens, tripod, filters, gimbal, lighting and other imaging equipment.

After cutting his teeth working in retail for camera specialists like Jessops, he has spent 11 years as a photography journalist and freelance writer – and he is a Getty Images-registered photographer, to boot.

No matter what you want to shoot, Peter can help you sharpen your skills and elevate your ability, whether it’s taking portraits, capturing landscapes, shooting architecture, creating macro and still life, photographing action… he can help you learn and improve.