How to Get Razor-Sharp Landscape Photos

If you struggle with getting sharp photos, this is for you, and even if you are experienced, there might be a tip or two to pick up.

Although sharpness is important in any type of photography and something you can optimize, it is also something you, to a certain extent, can compromise if need be. I am not talking about throwing your photos out of focus deliberately, but as you will see in this article, “best” sharpness comes with compromises.

Focus

In my latest video, I share a ton of tips on how to get sharp photos and also more than what I can show in this article. However, first and foremost, you need to have your photo in focus or make sure that the parts of the photo you want to show are in focus. Focus is in itself a big topic, and I covered it in last week’s article and video.

Aperture

All lenses have an aperture or f-stop where they are the sharpest. On full-frame lenses, where maximum aperture is normally around f/22, it is usually around f/8 or f/11; however, from f/5.6-f/16, it can be hard to see the difference. The most important part is that the smallest aperture values (f/18-f/22) usually introduce too much diffraction, which is an optical phenomenon that makes your photos look a little soft or ghostly. On the other end of the spectrum, with a wide-open aperture, you may also experience softness; however, it is usually not as bad as fully closed down.

In many landscape scenes with a foreground close to the camera, you may need to use an aperture of f/16 or beyond. Depending on the scene (if you cannot focus stack) f/22 might be your only option, and therefore, you have to sacrifice some sharpness to get the shot.

Lenses

The lenses themselves also vary a lot in sharpness. It all comes down to the quality of the glass, how much glass is actually in the lens, and the lens design. Canon has their professional L series of lenses, Sony has their G master series, and other brands have their own names. These lenses are designed with the best optical performance in mind, but within these series of lenses, the quality can differ a lot. Even individual examples of the same lens can vary. Be sure to weigh the optical performance of a lens against other practical priorities (and budget) of yours before choosing a lens.

The Sony a6000 + lens is a great entry-level camera kit, but it is obviously not as sharp as the Sony a7r3 + 24-105mm lens.

Handholding the Camera

There can be many reasons for you to handhold your camera and to get the sharpest possible photo, there are many practical tips to consider. On the most basic level, it is about keeping the camera as still as possible (unless you photograph flying birds, car races, or other moving objects). It is a good idea to turn on any kind of image stabilization feature of your camera. The performance of the IS differs from camera to camera, but many modern cameras have good IS. Personally, I also prefer to use the viewfinder to support the camera against my face, and I make sure to use a breathing technique where I get the shot when I am in-between breaths.

Tripod

Landscape photography often requires a wide range of shutter speeds and often slow shutter speeds. Without a tripod (or something else to rest the camera on), these kinds of photos are nearly impossible to get. The tripod keeps the camera still, and if you combine it with a two-second shutter delay while you are not touching the camera, you greatly optimize the chance of getting a sharp photo. You can also use a remote or a wire trigger to ensure you do not touch the camera.

If I struggle with getting a certain photo sharp, I have found that the mirror lock-up (DSLRs) and the silent shooting mode (mirrorless) works really well. These two modes make sure no mechanical parts of the camera move while you take the photo.

Be sure to check out the video above. I share many more tips, tricks, and information you need to know to get sharp photos in different conditions. Let me hear below if you have some tips I did not cover.

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19 Comments

Mikkel Beiter's picture

Always quality content Mads!

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thank you so much, Mikkel! Appreciate it :)

Hans Gunnar Aslaksen's picture

Some very useful tips here Mads!

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thank you, Hans! I hope you can use them :)

Kai Hornung's picture

Sharpness is probably the main technical aspect that needs to be exact in photography

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Yeah, it surely is something you need - to a certain degree ;)

Tor-Ivar Næss's picture

Solid article about something meaningful 😀

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Haha thanks a loy, Tor-Ivar - do I spot a pinch of irony? ;)

Tor-Ivar Næss's picture

No, I never joke about sharpness. The comment might have a sprinkle of generic to it, but I blame that on social media 😁

Hello Mads...Just moving into tripod and monopod-assisted landscapes...Might you be able to refer me to a chart that gives sweet-spot / maximum sharpness f-stops for various focal lengths ?

Cheers,
Dr. Clikk
Atlanta

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Hi I don't know of such a chart. However, DxO lab has a huge database of lens tests you can look into

same or similar lenses from different manufacturers can have different 'sweet spot' f/stops - it might be f/11 with a certain Nikon 28-80 and f/9.5 with a Canon 28-80. best to do a bench test with YOUR lenses.

Yup, I have stopped down to the point of diffusion confusion; thinking I was going to have all sorts of sweet DoF, but ended up a tad blurry... Ick...

What I really have difficulty with is, nighttime astro-photography and focusing. Somehow just setting to infinity does not cut it. if anyone has a technique and wants to share that'd be great.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

I actually answer that in my video about focus. What I do is finding some distant light or star, enlarge my monitor on to that and manually focus. When the light/star is as small as possible I know I've reached "true" infinity.

Simple and clear article.

For those who are using a zoom or tele lens, you forgot to talk about the softness at both ends of the focal range.
For instance, I am often using the Fuji XF 55-200mm, within the aperture sweet spot + a solid tripod. All my pictures are annoyingly blurry above 190mm (whether I use manual or autofocus) .

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

That is right, and I had actually a bit about it in the video. However, I went to DxOlab I looked at a few lenses and they did not have that issue, so I thought it was just me. I do however have the same experience.

J. Albert Andrade's picture

Great and informative as always Mads....

Haven't looked at the video but as a preview helpful to beginners. As an aside, the technique of shooting between breaths is not necessarily the best. In the military snipers are taught to shoot at the end of a complete exhalation. Suggest you try it and see if it works for you.

Rene Larsen's picture

I get smarter every time... Tak Mads..