Want Sharper Landscape Photos? Try This.

Marc Andre
Marc Andre
By MARC ANDRE

One of the most critical decisions when composing and taking a photograph involves the selection of a focal point that will capture the attention of viewers. Going along with that, selecting the depth of field will have an impact on how the focal point is portrayed in the photo (for example, creating a bokeh effect with a blurry background that makes the focal point really stand out).

With many landscape photos the goal will be to use a depth of field that allows you maximum sharpness for the entire photo, from foreground to background. But edge-to-edge sharpness is not always easy to achieve. If you’ve struggled with creating truly sharp landscape photos or been frustrated by details that weren’t as sharp as you would like, you may appreciate a new infographic created by Loaded Landscapes.

The infographic is a companion to their article 11 Steps to Tack-Sharp Landscape Photos, and it shows all of the main steps that you can take to start seeing serious improvement in the sharpness of your photos. The infographic is shown below, but here is a summary of the key points/steps.

1. Invest in quality lenses. If you want maximum sharpness you will need to have gear is capable of the results you are after. Don’t spend all of your money on a camera body and then skimp on the lenses. Leave enough money in your budget for quality lenses.

2. Get to know your lenses. Each lens will perform differently. Test your lenses to find what aperture produces the sharpest photos.

3. Learn to be comfortable with manual focus. Auto focus is great, but it doesn’t always work. Make sure you are comfortable enough to use manual focus when needed.

4. Use a sturdy tripod. If you want the best quality landscape photos with edge-to-edge sharpness, using a tripod is a must.

Many landscape photos, like the one below, are taken at sunrise or sunset. At these times a tripod is especially critical.

Sunrise | Marc Andre / LoadedLandscapes.com
Sunrise | Marc Andre / LoadedLandscapes.com

5. Remove unneeded filters. If that polarizer or ND filter is serving a purpose of course you can and should use it. But if not, take it off. Filters can sometimes have a slight negative impact on sharpness.

6. Enable mirror lockup. This can eliminate small vibrations when the mirror moves to take a photo. Even the small movements can make a big difference when you are after maximum sharpness.

7. Turn off image stabilization if you are using a tripod. The tripod should be eliminating any movement in the camera, and in some cases the image stabilization will create worse results when the camera is tripod mounted.

Forrest | Marc Andre / LoadedLandscapes.com
Forrest | Marc Andre / LoadedLandscapes.com

8. Focus with a purpose. Know the focal point of your photos and be sure that it is completely in focus.

9. Use a cable shutter release or timer to avoid even the slightest movement from pressing the shutter button.

10. Check the LCD screen after the photo has been taken. Zoom in to check the sharpness and try again if it is not sharp enough.

Waterfalls are a favorite subject for many landscape photographers, and waterfall photos are a perfect example of using the LCD screen to check your photos. After taking the photo you can check the LCD screen to be sure that the foreground elements are sharp, that the water is blurred or not blurred to your satisfaction, and that the highlights in the water are not blown out.

Waterfall | Marc Andre / LoadedLandscapes.com
Waterfall | Marc Andre / LoadedLandscapes.com

11. Apply Sharpening in Photoshop or Lightroom. Both programs have tools for sharpening your photos.

Marc is a landscape photographer and the editor of LoadedLandscapes.com. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and two kids. Infographic via LoadedLandscapes.com. Photos are copyright Loaded Landscapes.

11 Steps to Shaper Landscape Photos




  • Gus Hart

    Love it! Always learning something new1 Thank you Theme!

  • Hi Marc,

    after shooting landscapes for a long time and with all kinds of gear, I miss several ideas and arguments.

    Shooting a single image

    I agree with most of your advices (BTW what is a mirror :-)) ), but most of them like a good lens are obvious to an engaged hobby photographer.

    4. most of my landscapes where made hand held, why a tripod at normal daylight conditions and wide angle lenses (you did not mention WA lenses?)

    8. even, if the focal point is perfect, your landscape may be not sharp as desired. You did not mention the effect of the aperture and diffraction. Even stopped down to get the desired DOF you may get a soft image due to diffraction.

    Shooting multiple images:

    Shooting focus stacking:

    if stopping down does not give the desired DOF with very close foreground, you can shoot multiple images with different focus points and combine these in post (for example PS)

    Stitched images:

    I stitched most of my landscapes since 2004. With stitching you get any angle of view, any resolution and any sharpness (within the DOF). Most of my landscape images are single row images made in portrait orientation hand held. Even with 35mm or 28mm you get super wide images. If you still want more angle of view and/or resolution, you can shoot multi row images. And if you want more DOF you can use focus stacking with separate focused rows for foreground and background. I did some multi row panorama shots with focus stacking. Shoot one row focused on the foreground, one for medium distance and one for background. Even the stitching program can handle that (my experience).

    With this technic you get any resolution and get sharp images by scaling the images down to the desired size.

    One big limitation: water and moving objects (you have to shoot multiple shots of the same position and eliminate the objects in post)

    The first example in ‘Guide To Shooting Panoramics’ on loadedlandscapes.com is with ocean waves, the worst case for shooting stitched panorama landscapes! Nigel Howe is using an example made with a super wide 10mm, but I don’t know, if it is stitched.

    Attached example:

    Sony A7RII with Zeiss OTUS 1.4/85mm, stitch ot 10 images,1/160 sec., f/5.6
    stitch of 10 images portrait hand held, much overlap
    total images size 27.000 x 6.800 pixel = 180 MP

    and a 1:1 crop of this image

    Even with small point and shoot you get extreme resolution like this one on Gigapan, zoom into it as far as you want.
    Leica D-Lux3
    Panorama size: 781 megapixels (50855 x 15375 pixels)
    Input images: 198 (22 columns by 9 rows)
    Field of view: 237.5 degrees wide by 71.8

    http://gigapan.com/gigapans/15967

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0e00a9e06f36936e6f5ced11ad20cfd586fc62632139f3f477da58ef010d4a58.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1b68bbbd4363bf43928e2fb83ec7059247bad49f99a1738a2a9e03f7ad7a3de2.jpg

    dierk

    • Hi Dierk,
      I agree with you that several of the points are obvious to those with experience, but it is intended to be somewhat of an introductory level article and since it is step-by-step, even the obvious steps should be mentioned, in my opinion.

      Of course you can shoot handheld in ideal situations, but if the goal is to get the sharpest photos possible, a sturdy tripod can help even in normal daylight conditions.

      The points you are mentioning about aperture and sharpness are encompassed in point number two about testing and knowing your lenses. The article posted here is a summarized version of the full article at our site. The word “diffraction” is not used, but it is mentioned that using smaller apertures does not always mean superior results in terms of getting sharpness throughout the photo. The article mentions that you should test your lenses to find the sweet spot for the best sharpness. Getting into the details of diffraction is outside the scope of this article and could not be effectively covered briefly. An effective discussion on diffraction would require a detailed article like this one http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/diffraction-photography.htm

      • Hi Marc

        thanks for the detailed answer.

        We should mention, what we mean by sharpness. It could be an image in a browser window, a small printed image with 300 DPI or a large poster or even larger for an advertise on an outside wall of a building. Nobody would print a 2m wide image with 300 DPI, when a lot less would be very good for the normal viewing distance. I admit, that I like super high res images of this size, and walk around on the image at very close distance :-)

        …”about testing and knowing your lenses”
        I agree, but the camera and/or sensor is important too. I remember, that Lloyd Chambers noticed diffraction on the Nikon D3X with 24 MP at apertures below f/5.6.

        And thanks for the link to cambridgeincolor. I know the site since about 10 years but have not been there for a while.

        As I mentioned before he writes:
        “Digital photo stitching for mosaics and panoramas enable the photographer to create photos with higher resolution and/or a wider angle of view than their digital camera or lenses would ordinarily allow—creating more detailed final prints and potentially more dramatic, all-encompassing panoramic perspectives.”
        http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/digital-panoramas.htm

        dierk