How to Get Super Sharp Landscape Photography Images

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The most common question I get asked by my workshop students is ‘how do you get such sharp images?’. It’s actually really simple. Basically, avoid movement of any kind while the shutter is open, focus well and choose the right aperture for your creative vision. Mostly it’s just plain old common sense with a couple of technical elements thrown in, so if you want to learn how to get super sharp landscape photography images, here’s my list of top tips.

Top tips for sharper landscape photography

How to take sharp landscape images - Gavin Hardcastle

1 – Use a good tripod with a sturdy ball head and make sure everything is TIGHT

Seems obvious, but time and time again I see students using decent tripods and they often don’t have everything clamped down tightly. For example, the attachment that is screwed to the underside of your camera should be as tight as you can get it, eventually it’ll work its way loose. Make sure that ball head is completely locked down once you’ve composed your shot.

2 – While taking the shot, don’t place your hands on your tripod

The vibrations of your hands will blur the shot. When that shutter opens, your hands should be nowhere near the camera.

How to get ultra sharp landscape shots - Gavin Hardcastle

3 – Use the 2 second timer or a remote shutter release

This insures that the shutter won’t open until you are completely hands free.

4 – Cheap lenses will defocus while you rotate your circular polarizer

This is another one that seems obvious but I’ve seen it happen a lot. Let’s say you’ve achieved perfect focus on your landscape composition and now you’d like to rotate the polarizer which is attached to your perfectly focused lens. Guess what, as you rotate that filter, the lens is now losing its focus because of the movement and pressure you’re exerting on the filter. This rarely happens with high end lenses but I’ve seen it happen a lot with cheaper kit lenses that are poorly engineered. When this happens simply remember to refocus before hitting the shutter.

How to get tack sharp landscape images Gavin Hardcastle

5 – Enable the mirror lock-up if you have a DLSR

Using mirror lock-up ensures that the mechanical shock induced by the cameras mirror mechanism has dissipated by the time the shutter opens.

6 – Remove your camera strap

In windy situations it will act like a sail and induce vibration.

7 – Add some weight to your tripod’s central column

If the conditions are windy, it will also help reduce vibration.

8 – Place a small but heavy bean bag on your camera and lens

Do this just before taking the shot to further eliminate movement from shutter shock.

How to get very sharp landscape photos - Gavin Hardcastle

9 – Choose a Mid-range to Narrow Aperture

This one should be an article in itself but for now it’s important to understand that if you want corner to corner focus in your landscape images you’ll need to select an aperture that gives you a wide depth of field. Using f/2.8 is pointless, so pick an aperture like f/11 or f/16 depending on how close you are to your foreground subjects. Be aware however that the narrower the aperture (larger number like f/22) the less sharp your image will be due to light diffraction so experiment with your lenses to discover their sweet spot for wide depth of field.

Side Note: Shallow depth of field in landscapes can be beautiful when done well, in which case you’ll need a wide aperture like f/2.8 and ideally a lens that delivers beautiful bokeh – most super wide angle lenses don’t do bokeh well.

How to get really sharp landscape photographs

10 – Focus In the Distance

Don’t focus on the object closest to you. Pick an object in the middle distance that has a clear contrasting line and focus on that. You could focus to infinity but beware that most of the wide angle lenses I’ve used actually focus beyond infinity so I often have to focus to infinity and then carefully rotate the focus wheel back so that it’s just slightly before the ‘infinity’ mark.

11 – Put Your Glasses On

If you need glasses in order to see clearly and focus on things, it should go without saying that you might need to put on your stylish and expensive bifocals in order to achieve clear focus in your photography. Besides, everyone knows that glasses make you look cool and more intelligent, so why not put them on?

12 – Use Live View or EVF magnification

If you have a DLSR with an optical viewfinder I highly recommend that you use your cameras ‘Live View’ mode and then magnify it to your point of interest and use your manual focus ring to achieve sharp focus  If your camera has an EVF (Electronic View Finder)  you can do the same thing while looking in the EVF. I actually prefer this because you don’t get distracted by glare on the LCD or external light sources. Either way, remember to disable auto focus if you decide to focus manually with Live View.

How to get super sharp landscape images

I use every single one of these techniques in my Vancouver Island photo workshops and I teach them to all of my students. If you follow these tips every time you shoot landscapes, you’ll be sure to get much sharper images. If you’ve got some of your own tricks and tips for getting super sharp landscape images please leave a comment below and share your knowledge.

PS: Want to learn more about Landscape Photography? Check out our brand new eBook launched today – Loving Landscapes: A Guide to Landscape Photography Workflow and Post Processing.

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Gavin Hardcastle is a fine art photographer, writer and instructor from BC, Canada. Become a better photographer today with his free photography guides and photography tutorials. You can learn from Gavin directly at his global photography workshops in some of the worlds most spectacular locations. Upgrade your post processing skills with his online video tutorials for Photoshop and Lightroom.

  • Jason

    Thanks for this article. I know most of this but don’t follow it all the time. i always feel like I’m rushed while out with people so i don’t use my tripod enough.

  • Thanks for the tips! I never though to use the live view to focus on an object first!

  • Bernhard Huber

    Nice article,I read lens reviews like published von http://www.photozone.com, they publish intetesting information about some lens characteristics Luke the sweet spot.

  • Bernhard Huber

    Sorry, http://www.photozone.de is the right link,not .com

  • Another useful option for sharper images is using any kind of Stabilization method, be it in the sensor or in the lens.

  • Jason

    Image stabilization is better than not if hand held. I have noticed that a tripod is always best though and when using the tripod to turn off stabilization.

  • Fast read. To the point. Beautiful photos.

    I use most of these or have experienced these challenges myself. It has pointed out the weaknesses I have in my current gear. (a tripod that doesn’t tighten down very well – especially in cold weather, a focus ring on a kit lens that seems to change in a stiff wind, a kit lens that isn’t very sharp to start with, etc…)

    These techniques though, can allow you to compensate for those weaknesses in gear (to a point). The same troublesome set of gear was used to capture this shot: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jdlais/9652248526/

    This has allowed me to save some money by extending the life of my gear! It has also helped to reinforce some good habits that will benefit me in the long run. That said, I’m really doing some shopping and saving my pennies to make capturing great images more repeatable.

  • I feel the same way and often feel bad making people wait. I give them a heads up well in advance that I might be stopping to take a few photos and they typically understand. Showing them the product of your work and their patience usually helps ensure you have people join you for the next trip.

    As a result, though, I have gotten changing my camera settings to a science that I can nearly do with my eyes closed. To switch to aperture priority, scroll to f/11 (or whatever I want it to), turn on the 2 second delay, enable LiveView and slap the camera on the tripod only takes me a few seconds now. I’m also working on my composition while I am setting up my tripod, even before I take my camera out of my bag. This all allows me to slow down when choosing my focus point, focusing the lens, composition my shot, and making the image. Also, depending on the camera you have, you may have the option to set up a custom menu (I can do it on my 5 year old Canon XSi) which can make it easier to get to a buried setting like mirror lock up or high ISO noise reduction.

  • Jason

    That’s a good idea about setting a custom function for mirror lockup. That could help Instead of going through the menu. That’s one thing I always forget, probably because it’s a pain to change it.

  • Image stabilization on a tripod needs to be set per your lens’ manuals. I have some that recommend turning it off on a tripod and some recommend leaving it on. It depends on how the IS firmware handles vibrations.

  • Good article of tips. I try to follow all of these, but I’ve also taken to manually focusing landscape images shot on a tripod. You have the time to set the shot if you have the time for a tripod so I take the extra step of letting my eyes focus the lens instead of the camera’s software. I have been getting much sharper shots this way. (I also don’t have a fancy camera that allows for lens focusing adjustments in the AF software)

  • texanmama

    AWESOME! Thanks for the tips!!!

  • Deborah P

    Great tips that makes the difference. Will definitely put this on my tip sheet!

  • rohan

    Very good tips! I have heard of an another technique some photographers use for sharper images. They take multiple shots at various focus planes with the lens set at its sweet spot. And then stack them in PS. That way they can maintain sharpness throughout the pic. I have not tried this technique myself. I hope I was able put across the concept.

  • lisa thomas

    thanks for the awesome tips, could have used some of these last night for the lunar eclipse

  • Kieron Warren

    Excellent tips, many thanks

  • Shiv Dindyal

    Thanks I have been wondering the same and exploring some techniques, I did use the remote and 2sec shutter release, I saw the function for mirror lock-up but I never knew what’s it for now going and read on it, just at a glance looks awesome. I do look forward to using these techniques.

    Some of my work can be found at http://www.photos.iconmedia.gy

  • William Burnett

    Your tip #9 does not have to be a guessing game. Ansel Adams discusses how the size openings that will cause diffraction. This information can be found in his book The Camera. It is easily possible to calculate the smallest opening per lens that will provide maximin sharpness without diffraction. In most cases profession lenses do not allow for large amounts of diffraction. This tends to be a greater problem on lower cost lenses that over promise on specs.

  • Constantine

    I’d say, at least with Canon lenses, IS absolutely must be turned off when shooting with a tripod. Otherwise, you will most definitely get slightly blurry images.

  • jaikumar

    thanks for the tips, i used to normally use the smallest aperture for landscape which was okay but the final picture quality was not exactly as seen by naked eyes We appreciate the tips and look forward to reading more. DPS fan

  • Guest

    I read a couple of those and thought, “Well, duh! Why haven’t I already thought of that?” Thanks! I will be trying these tips out soon!

  • tfeltz

    A fixed focus lens (instead the $100 kit zoom lens that comes with the camera) will show a significant improvement in sharpness, and does not need to be all that expensive.

  • Khandare Smita

    (Y)

  • Dr. Abhijit Deo

    Many thanks for the tips

  • Alex

    Points 2 and 3 should be merged, 3 is the continuation of 2. Otherwise, nice tips.

  • Danny Aguas

    Excellent tips, basics and beyond Gavin!!! Just was surprised you did not mention anywhere in your tripod usage Tips 1 ~ 3 to turn-off VR (for Nikon) or IS (for Canon) functions as recommended by these and other manufacturers. Thanks.

  • Danny A.

    Excellent, practical & easy-to-remember landscape photo tips, many thanks! Again,
    I just want to add in your Tip #10 – that a good knowledge of Hyperfocal distance and depth-of-field is a must to achieve best landscape photo results, whether using manual focusing or any relevant AF-mode to line-up your len’s focal length vs. desired aperture setting. A practical CHART and a hyperfocal distance calculator are available from the ‘net [depending on type of camera – either full-frame or crop factor 1.6(Canon) and 1.5(Nikon)].
    A quick easy estimate for optimal hyperfocal distance is by using “1/3 rule-of-thumbs” to set focus (never at infinity) in relation to your estimated beginning of your depth-of-field. Been using this easy method and works very well for me in general landscapes using both Nikon/Canon DSLR’s & P/S power-zoom cameras.

    Hyperfocal distance in photography is a technique that maximizes the depth of field by rendering more of the foreground in focus than would ordinarily be achieved when the lens is set to focus on infinity (when the focus is turned to the maximum distance).

  • Henk Wolthuizen

    It is sometimes easy to forget the basics thanks for the tips

  • Some great tips for keeping things sharp. Thanks

  • “As tight as you can get it,” for many people, will mean that something breaks. Instead, do what mechanics and engineers do: use Loctite Blue (or a similar product). You don’t want the maximum strength versions for photo equipment.

  • jim

    Excellent tips…I’ve started using several of them when I am doing close shots of art at home

  • Mark Harrison

    Great tips! I have been having difficulty with getting leaves on background trees to come out sharp and have been trying to figure out whether it’s a slight breeze or something with my lens causing it. Now I have a couple more tricks to try to at least better narrow things down. Do you have any specific ideas regarding leaves – especially in the background? Could it just be that there are too many of them overlapping? I have tried apertures between f11 and f22. I should note that other points in the same image are nice and clear.

  • Franklin Miller

    One of the best suggestion I got from Vincent Versace, and it has to do with blur/bokeh. The eye and brain makes decisions of what is sharp and what is not, so if you use blur in portions of the image such as the edges, the eye will think the in focus areas are even sharper.

  • Barry E Warren

    More great tip, Thanks Very good read ,and interesting tips.

  • Joseph Wright

    A rare helpful write-up on dps. Thanks.

  • Nadeesha Rathnayake

    Love that photo. Reminds me of home 🙂

  • Brian

    Same with Nikon VR Lenses …

  • me

    One problem with the article is the sample pics are all so post processed it gives false impressions. A better sample range of images would be direct from camera, without HDR, fill light etc put in

  • Feenix

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned ISO. I almost always use ISO 100 when shooting landscapes with tripod, unless it’s too windy, and even then it depends on the subject.

  • Mali John

    DSLR

  • Ted Dudziak

    Danny, I was also thinking hyper focal distance when reading Tip #10. I feel that I have a pretty good intuitive understanding of every camera setting except this one. You cite a rule-of-thumb for this. Can you elaborate on this since all the articles seem to indicate, as you also do, to use a chart? My Nikon has a grid that I use for 1/3 rule of thumb when I compose the image. Thanks.

  • Ted Dudziak

    Thanks for putting these tips in one spot. I like Tip #7 since that hook is a good spot for the camera bag. My bag has a loop that I use to hang it on the bottom of the tripod.

  • Well written … love the bean bag ON the camera idea … will try that. And oh .. the bit about the glasses, yes, very important, lol!!! Thanks!! Tweeted!!

  • Alfred

    Focus in the distance?? If I want everything sharp from 0.5 metre to infinity at f16 I need to use hyperfocal distance calculations to get everything sharp. Focusing on the middle distance certainly will not work.

  • Matt Burt

    One more is turning off SR/VR when using a tripod. It can introduce blur when the camera is fixed. On my camera (Pentax K-3) that happens automatically when you use the 2s timer but all cameras may not do that.

  • Senthil

    Hmmm… I was in Vancouver (visiting from Los Angeles) few days ago. The only place I didn’t go was Vancouver island. Looking at these pictures, I think I did a terrible mistake of not going there.

  • J. R. Weems

    More e-books?? sorry, I fail to understand this. Maybe I am just too old :), but I would rather have a book I can refer to and carry around– beautiful photos–

  • drdroad

    There’s absolutely no reason to use IS if you are following these tips. I only turn IS on when I’m hand holding. IS can cause real problems when shooting long exposures on a tripod.

  • Ron13

    Great Tips. Succinct and impactful. Tripod weight & strap to avoid that little shake are really appreciated little tips, as is the live view focus. Will try these, thank you!

  • Vijay Ghate

    Focus at “Hyperfocal Distance”

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