Focus on Focus: Part 2

Where do I set the focus to achieve this depth of field, including the foreground?

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This shot is from the north shore of Fidalgo Island, looking toward Cypress Island at low tide. It’s the kind of shot you could take casually with your phone, and while I like how it turned out, the process of making the shot was more important to me than the results.

Like my post last week, achieving proper focus was one of the key exercises I had in mind. But first, a side note.

Many of us shoot landscapes in “landscape mode” (the image is wider than it is high). This choice is usually made because we want to show a wide expanse of horizon and features. I took this shot in portrait mode. Why? Landscape shots done in portrait mode tend to emphasize depth in a composition, and instead of having your eyes travel across the image, I want your eyes to travel from the foreground to the background, showing the distance from the debris in the front, through the tidal flats, the channel beyond, and finally to Cypress Island and the dramatic sky beyond.

Now on to the main subject: Focus. The composition is in clear focus from the foreground to the background – we call this a large “depth of field”. I shot it with a 28mm lens, a wide angle lens, (but not ultra-wide).

Where do I set the focus to achieve this depth of field, including the foreground? The subject of hyperfocal distance comes into play here. I actually set my focus (using back button focus) somewhere just past the debris in the foreground. Hyperfocal distance on my 28mm lens gave me the depth of field to include the island and sky in acceptable focus, giving me the clear depth of field I wanted throughout the composition.

I am going to reprocess this image, because some edits to the sky introduced what looks like noise. This is due to using too much clarity in Adobe Lightroom. However, my goals in this exercise were largely achieved. Get the composition and focus right, get exposure close, and you’re good to go!

Focus on Focus

…the reason focus is important is it’s one of the few things you can’t fix with an editor…

One of the key things that gets pounded into my head as a photographer, and deserves to be at the forefront of any composition, is the necessity of achieving proper focus.  This is harder than it sounds, and focus can often be off when you look closely at a picture you otherwise think is well composed.

And the reason focus is important is it’s one of the few things you can’t fix with an editor.

Part (but not all) of the problem is in the fact that modern cameras (and phones) are trying to think for you.  Much of the time, these devices do the right thing – but certainly not always.  The upshot is that once you acquire confidence to operate your camera properly, you will want to be in charge of this key process.

One of the techniques to achieve focus is documented in part here.  Back-button focus (for DSLRs) simply means that pressing the shutter button halfway down and holding it is not always the best way to dynamically focus.  Being in control of when your camera tries to autofocus and when to leave it locked in on your subject is the key benefit with this technique.  Check out this great article by James Brandon.