A Seven-Step Process to Sharper Landscape Photographs

Excellent sharpness is one of the top requirements for a successful landscape image, and there are steps you can take all throughout the process of shooting to help ensure that your image is pin-sharp. This excellent video gives a great seven-stop process to help you get those sharp photos.

Coming to you from Chris Sale, this fantastic video details a seven-step process for ensuring your landscape photos are as sharp as possible. One mistake I often see beginner landscape photographers make is selecting too narrow an aperture. It is true that lenses are typically sharper when stopped down from their maximum aperture (they are normally sharpest about four stops past the maximum aperture) and that you gain more depth of field as you stop down, but past a certain point, you begin to run into issues with diffraction, which will rob your images of sharpness. If you need more depth of field and/or sharpness at this point, it is best to look into techniques like focus stacking. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Sale. 

And if you want to continue learning about landscape photography, be sure to check out "Photographing the World 1: Landscape Photography and Post-Processing With Elia Locardi!"

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Ben Cooper's picture

Excellent tips and advice and a great video. I would also add that for really sharp shots, while shooting on a tripod, it is best to turn off all stabilization features. The camera, which looks to reduce vibrations with stabilization turned on, can actually CAUSE vibrations while on a tripod.

Mark Smith's picture

I would like to see a source or a confirmation of this theory, Ben. Not disagreeing, just don't know how you would know this.

Alan Myers's picture

Yes, all good stuff, concise and well explained. Thanks for the reminders.

I'd add...

After checking that your lens optics are pristine, also pay attention to your image sensor. With today's self-cleaning sensors we might easily overlook this. The self-cleaning usually does a pretty good job removing larger "stuff". But sensors gradually get sort of a haze anyway... Which will effect resolution unless a proper cleaning is done occasionally.

Also, be careful with filters. First, avoid cheap, low quality, uncoated filters. Invest in top quality, multi-coated. It won't break the bank because so few filters are needed with digital photography. Second, use filters purposefully... Only when they actually serve a purpose. Related to this, use a lens hood to shade both the front element of the lens and any filter you might be using. ÷

As to image stabilization when using a tripod... Whether or not you should turn it off... Well, it depends upon the system and specific camera or lens you're using. Today IS might actually be helpful more often than not. You correctly mention in the video using mirror lockup, a remote release or a self-timer delay (on DSLRs), to avoid internal camera vibrations. That's all good. But it doesn't help with another possible source of vibration.... The movement of the mechanical shutter itself (in both DSLRs and mirrorless). Image Stabilization can counteract the small vibrations a shutter can cause.

I don't know about other systems, but with nearly all Canon IS lenses today, there are no concerns leaving IS on while on a tripod. All but one current Canon IS lenses will self-detect when there is no movement and turn IS off automatically. It was only five specific Canon IS lenses that didn't, where you had to manually turn IS off. The only one of those five Canon IS lenses still in production is the EF 300mm f/4L IS USM, which was intro'd in mid-1990s and was one of the earliest to have IS. The other 35 or so current Canon IS lenses... No worries! (Discontinued Canon IS lens where it needs to be turned off are: EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM first version, EF 28-135mm IS USM, EF 100-400mm L IS USM first version/push-pull zoom, and the EF 75-300mm IS USM first version. List provided by Chuck Westfall, Canon USA tech guru.)

Again, this is Canon-specific. Other manufacturer' in-lens and in-body image stabilization may act differently. While the goal is the same, there are likely differences because each has their own patented, proprietary stabilization system.