Here is why Depth of field calculator sucks and how to get the most of your depth of field in Landscape Photography.

You paid the high price for ticket and hotel to reach your dreamed destination.  You are sitting on the rock waiting for the sun to set, hoping for this magic warm color to hit the lighthouse across the bay.

You start the apps on your iPhone to calculate the needed distance and aperture to get everything in focus in the scene.  You carefully rotate the focusing ring at the proper distance and set the needed aperture.  You put these variables in manual and you wait.

The magic happens, you press the shutter, after selecting a 2 seconds delay to avoid camera shake.  All your expectation came to fruition, you pack everything and go to bed.

Well, this is not enough.  This picture clearly shows that the rocks in the foreground are not sharp.  I have done everything right!  What happened with that Depth of field calculator?  Here are the potential pitfalls

  1. The sharp zone calculated by it is “Reasonably sharp”;
  2. Your lens barrel showing distance use a logarithmic scale and the positioning of it is not that precise.  Try to find out the difference between 17 and 19 feet.  Almost impossible on most lenses;
  3. Should you try to focus on an object at 17 feet, you will end up at a different place on the focusing ring should focusing start from the near side or the far side.  This is especially true on wide-angle with a maximum aperture of f/4.  On a full frame f/4 at 17mm you will get a sharp zone from 5 feet to infinity.  How does your camera sensor focus at 17 feet?  It is reasonably sharp from 5 feet to infinity!
  4. Did you heard about the circle of confusion?  Well this confuses me too.

So the challenge is simple and the solution is simple too!

The challenge:  I want everything sharp enough in my landscape picture to print at 220 dpi.

The solution to the desired depth of field:

[checklist]
  • Set your camera to manual focus;
  • Set your aperture manually to the largest opening (smaller number);
  • Find something that is one-third into the scene;
  • Switch to live view, use a hoodloupe if available.  If not, get one!  This is less than 100$!;
  • Use the zoom button on the back of the camera and set it at the greatest magnification;
  • Find out the selected object and position the focusing ring so it is in the middle of range where this object is sharp;
  • Close the aperture to f/8 staying in live view;
  • Navigate the lcd monitor at the highest magnification and ensure that everything is sharp, if not, close down further.
  • Get out of live view, and use the lock-up mirror and timer to make sure everything stays sharp.[/checklist]

Finally, do not bring back home a crappy picture of a great scene.  This is just too painful.