Beautiful sunsets, silky waterfalls, pin-sharp stars all over the skies – we all have seen such photographs and have also attempted to capture something like that, often with less than spectacular results.
In this article, I will tell you what settings you can use to ensure that you get the shot you want.
There are many factors which affect the final image like ISO, shutter speed, sensor size etc. But for landscape photography, perhaps knowing the right aperture and the concept of hyper focal distance would prove to be the most useful.
What Aperture value to use?
Aperture refers to the size of the hole in your lens which allows light to come in. More the aperture, bigger the hole and more the amount of light coming in.
But before I start talking about numbers, you should remember that the values in your camera is not the aperture itself, but actually the inverse of the aperture. The f-stop value is actually inversely proportional to aperture value. In short, f/22 is a small aperture while f/2.8 is a big aperture.
How does this affect your landscape shots?
In landscape photography, you will almost always want everything to be sharp – the trees, the river and the mountains.
The general rule is that smaller your aperture, or bigger your f-stop value, sharper the photo. Simply put, a value of aperture around f/22 should give you the sharpest result. But there is one thing you should remember. The size of the hole at f/22 gets very very small, which actually causes a phenomenon called diffraction. So, the photo will actually not be that sharp.
Hence, even though a smaller aperture ensures sharpness, you should not keep the aperture at the extreme. Stop down a little, literally. Lowering your f-stop by a bit will actually give you better results. Don't make your lens go to its extreme and try to keep it somewhere around f/11.
In a nutshell, you should try to start with an aperture value of about f/8 and if that doesn't work, move up to f/16. Anything more than that will actually cause the aperture to get too small and you will lose some sharpness.
Hyperfocal distance calculator
Don't worry, it is not as complex as it sounds.
If you have set your focal length and are not zooming in and out anymore, focusing at the hyperfocal distance for that focal length – with the right aperture - will give you sharpness over the entire scene. Because the calculation can get a bit tedious, here is a chart that tells you the hyperfocal distances for different settings. For a given focal length and aperture, just focus at the hyperfocal distance and get amazing detail.
But first, which lens to buy?
Before even worrying about aperture, you need to buy a good lens for landscapes. Almost all photographers would recommend you to start with a wide angle lens.
The advantage is that you will be able to include a lot of scenery and emphasize the distance between your foreground and background elements. The excellent Canon 16-35mm f/4 IS USM or the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G are a good place to start. You can even more wide with a lens that widens up to 12mm or 14mm, though you should always check for distortion.
But telephoto lens also have their uses. Keeping a good zoom in your camera bag never hurts, as it is possible you may want to zoom in on one part of the scenery or compress the background, unlike the wide angles. A standard zoom range of around 70mm to 200mm should work for almost all scenes.