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.