Creating Maximum Depth-of-Field

Ghost Ranch, NMMany years ago, I developed a series of personal guidelines on the “what” and “how” for photographing landscapes that I still follow today. These four principles are not cast in concrete and are presented here only as guidelines for your own explorations in landscape photography.

1. Photograph locally
2. Use a wide angle-of-view
3. Create the maximum depth-of-field
4. Saturate the colors

Today, it’s item number three: Create the maximum depth-of-field. When you focus any lens—either manually or automatically—it focuses on a specific subject and all of the subject matter that is on the same plane of focus (at that distance) are critically sharp. Objects that are not on the same plane of focus or distance are theoretically out of focus and not as sharp but there is a range of acceptable sharpness that is referred to as the depth-of-field. At typical shooting distances, about one-third of the area of depth-of-field is in front of the plane of critical focus and two-thirds are behind it. Using a lens with a wider angle-of-view increases depth-of-field (guideline #2) while using a longer focal length lens.

Increasing depth-of-field in an image also increases the image’s apparent level of sharpness by including more objects that are acceptably sharp. Depth-of-field varies depending on lens focal length, focusing distance, and aperture and 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 area of acceptable sharpness.

Photo Clam tripodTip: Depending on what the ISO of your film is you may have to use a tripod to steady your camera because of the slow shutter speeds produced by these small apertures. Using a tripod has attributes that are more useful than just keeping the camera steady. Working with a tripod enforces a slower more deliberate approach to composing the images, so a side benefit is that the composition of your image may be a little stronger as a result.

Author: Joe Farace

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