Focus: How to get sharp images front to back. Part 1

So you want to know how to focus in landscape photography?

In this part we will look at focusing 1/3 of the way in and focus stacking. The next part will find us talking about the hyperfocal distance and focusing to infinity.

One of the questions I get asked is how do you get your photos sharp? There are a number of different methods I use and we will have a look at them all in this series.

Most of the techniques are easy to understand and with some practice you will know how to focus in landscape photography efficiently.

Focus 1/3 of the way

Focusing 1/3 into the image (from the bottom) is a quick way to get most of your image acceptably sharp.

The great thing about this is that it allows you to focus more on composition than having to worry about if your shot will be sharp or not, however this method still isn’t always as accurate as the hyper-focal distance method, but it leaves less room for mistakes.

This way of focusing has been used for a long time and was recommened by the great Ansell Adams in the time of SLR cameras. But it has also stuck with us today and plenty of people still use it with great sucess. It is usually best used with apertures of F8 and above. I would primarily use this with a wide angle lens and when time is not going to permit me to focus stack. That way you can be sure to have a fool proof image of a grand vista in a short amount of time whilst keeping everything as sharp as it can be.

If parts of your foreground are still not sharp then either reduce the focal length if you can or move backwards which will in theory make your foreground and background closer together providing you with greater depth of field, because as you move so does the plane of focus.

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focus here

Above you can see aproximately where to focus to ensure everything is nice and crisp. However you don’t want to just rely on focusing 1/3 the way in without checking it.

The best way to check that your focus is correct is to enter live view and press the depth of field button. If you cant find it on your camera then refer to your manual.

Also don’t forget to use the zoom in live view to check the foreground, middleground and background. If some elements still are not in focus and you have changed focal length, tried moving back or increased your F-stop to higher than f8 etc…Then you might have reached the limits of yours lens capabilities. This happens even with the best lenses and it greatly depends on a few factors such as: How far you are to you to your subject, where in the photo is your subject located. Can you move back? Do you need to move closer? Have you got the right focal length? These are a few things to be aware of if this method does not give you the desired result.

I like to say that the more tools we have to use, the more prepared we will be to deal with any situation that arises.

Please note that if you are having trouble locating where exactly 1/3 of the image is then it is best you bring the grid up on live view as it will give you an accurate point on where to focus, which will provide better results than guessing it.

Refer to your camera manual.

Focus stacking

This is by far one of my favourite methods to use when I want to get absoloutley everything I can in focus without compromise. Below is a tutorial on how to focus stack, but in this example I have only used three photos. You can use as many as you want but to get everything in focus it is usually recommended to stack up to 3-5 images.

Lightroom

First we have to transfer our images to lightroom and perform any edits on the First photograph because we can then transer the same settings across our stack without having to individually edit each one.

Do the editing first before attempting to stack.

Do the editing first before attempting to stack.

The focus is on the rock in the foreground and the background is slightly out of focus.

focus stack 2.jpg

After finishing the edit on the first photo the hold CTRL and click on each of the photos that you want to be in your stack. After doing this Right-click and go to Develop settings and then sync settings.

Once all the above has been done the box below should appear.

focus stack 3.jpg

Tick all the boxes and then hit Synchronize. This should now put the edit you did on the first image on to the rest of the images you highlighted.

focus stack 4.jpg

After the above has been done right-click on the highlighted images again and go to Edit in then open as layers in photoshop…

Focus stack 5.jpg

Once photoshop is up and running hold CTRL and click on each of the layers which will then highlight them.

focus stack 6.jpg

After highlighting the layers go into Edit then find Auto-align layers.

focus stack 7.jpg

This box should appear if followed correctly. Select Auto and click ok.

What this will do is align all the images together as best as it can, just to eliminate any movement that may of occurred whilst out in the elements.

This may take a little while depending on your computers capabailities.

Once it is done, if there was anymovement detected you can always crop it out to make sure everything is neat and tidy.

fstack 8.jpg

The final step is to go into Edit again and this time find Auto-blend layers.

fstack 9.jpg

When this box shows up then click on stack images and click on the bottom two boxes if they are not already ticked

Once the images have been stacked save it and it should create a master copy in lightroom.

After I found out how to focus stack, it allowed me to worry more about composition and not to be so stuck on wondering if “everything would be in focus” as with anything sometimes compromise is needed. But, the best thing about this method is if you have the time you don’t need to worry about having to compromise, because you know your image will be pin-sharp front to back.

Thing to remember when focus stacking is to focus in the foreground, then the middle ground and after the background. This is the way I do it but I also look at the edge of the image aswell just to make sure there is nothing I have missed.

In part two we will discuss hyper focal distance and what focusing to infinity actually means.

I will see you in part 2!

To be continued…