El Capitan and Three Brothers

Ask James – Focusing for Landscape Photography

When making your landscape images, and wanting to maximize sharp focusing from front to back of the image, what do you do to achieve it? Obviously this starts with a good tripod, using a shutter release cable, locking the mirror up, etc. Are you using Hyperfocal, Merklinger, or Focus Stacking? Is diffraction ever a concern? How and why are you using the method that you do?Jeff

This really depends on the situation. I rarely if ever bother with hyperfocal distance, mainly because it’s just not worth the effort to me. The two methods I typically use are simply focusing on my subject and using a mid aperture like f/8 to f/14, or focus stacking if I have a subject super close to the frame.

Focus Stacking

If I have a subject very close to the lens (within a few feet) I will usually take the focus stacking approach. This typically involves having the camera set on a tripod and using live view to focus on my subject. After that, I’ll take an image focused on something behind the subject. Then, I’ll take another where I focus on the background. And of course sometimes I’ll take more or less stacked images if needed. Here’s an example…


To me, hyperfocal distance is more trouble than it’s worth in the field. I get that many will disagree with this statement, but it’s my opinion. I see people grabbing their phones to get out a hyperfocal calculator and then trying focus on a something in front of the camera that’s around 8 feet away. Meanwhile, they are losing light and fumbling with their camera instead of just taking the shot. Jay and Varina Patel have an entire video course on Hyperfocal Distance but this still just goes back to preference. I’d rather not carry a hyperfocal chart with me in the field. I’ve never felt like I needed one.


  1. Thank you. I wrote to you at “Ask James” about this same subject because I am an “old school” 35mm photographer starting in the 1960’s and until just a few years ago was still using manual SLR’s with totally manual lenses. I was accustomed to using the depth of field/f-stop lines that were printed on most manual focus lenses to achieve maximum depth of field. (This is what I wrote to you about because I was using an app on my iPhone to find DOF/f-stop and found it very inconvenient). When I moved to a digital SLR, I was lost with no DOF/f-stop lines on the lenses. And honestly, I had never heard of focus stacking until I read your response to Jeff’s question. I was very familiar with developing film and dodging and burning prints in a darkroom but I am still learning what can be done to manipulate photos by using the various computer software programs that are available. I stumbled into HDR a couple of years ago and I am now in the process of reading Zerene’s tutorials about focus stacking. Wow!! I am totally impressed.

    I appreciate your taking the time to answer reader’s questions.
    Butch Goodwin

  2. Is there any software which will do focus stacking if you do not have access to photoshop?

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