Where to Focus in Landscape Photography

Where to Focus in Landscape Photography


Where should I focus when taking a Landscape Shot?

When shooting a typical landscape image it is normal to attempt to keep as much of the image in focus as possible.

This means selecting a small Aperture (remember the larger the number the smaller the actual Aperture) to ensure that you end up with a large depth of field. This will ensure that parts of the image that are both close and far away from you have a good chance of being somewhat in focus.

But at what point in the shot should you actually focus the image?

I suspect that many digital camera owners would set the focal point as the middle of the shot – or even at the horizon – however it might not actually be the ideal place to focus your camera.

I chatted this week with a landscape photographer who shared this tip:

‘Focus in the lower half of the image – at around the ‘thirdway’ point.’


Ok – I’m not sure if ‘thirdway‘ is an actual word – but what he was suggesting is that the point that will help you get the maximum amount of your shot in focus is at a point around a third of the way up an image (as highlighted above).

This is a fairly general rule and you’d want to ignore if if your landscape shot had a particular point of interest in it that wasn’t on the third line. However if your landscape shot doesn’t have one specific point of interest it is probably a rule worth using.

My photographer friend went on to give a rather complicated reasoning for focusing upon this point a third of the way into an image that I don’t wish to repeat here for fear of losing many – however, in general if you focus too far into your image you’ll end up with objects in the distance nice and sharp but anything close to you noticeably out of focus. If you focus at the lower third you increase the depth of field in the foreground and as depth of field extends further behind a focal point than in front of it the distant objects will be reasonably sharp too.

Disclaimer – I should say that in researching this technique I found a lot of debate on the topic and a lot of technical language – in actual fact this ‘rule’ depends on many factors including the focal length of your lens, the format you’re shooting in (vertical or horizontal), the aperture you’re using and how far the scene extends away from you.

However I’ve found it to be a useful ‘rule’ to know and to start with when shooting landscapes. Whether you focus exactly on the third way point probably doesn’t matter that much – however the key is not to focus on the horizon but closer to you as the photographer.

Perhaps it’s one of those ‘one percent’ rules that won’t make a lot of difference for most of us – but when you’re taking high level landscape shots it’s often the little things that count!

Further Reading: Landscape Photography Tips

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Debajit December 28, 2012 02:26 am

    It was a great hint. Where should I focus when taking snaps of city skylight

  • mtberfrombothell August 5, 2011 06:00 am

    I've read in a book this technique that I would like to share. I tried it and it works really well.

    1. Find out the sharpest aperture on your lens. In my case f/16 shows the sharpest. i almost always use this as my aperture for landscape.
    2. I focus on the nearest object that i want in focus. For example the focusing window shows 5 ft.
    3. i then focus on the farthest object that i want in focus. For example it is at infinity.
    4. I manually set the focusing distance midway between the 5 ft. mark and infinity.
    5. I then take the shot.

    Try it out and see if it works for you. It works for me really well. I normally focus on the closest object with some good result but I found the technique above better.

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  • Andrew sawers February 28, 2011 04:20 am

    I am very much a started with a basic DSLR(eos 450d), but this is fainting stuff. I am looking for some assistance as to types of lenses to purchase etc, so I will
    Be reading all night. I revelry spent some time in New York and took some landscap photography. Perfect centre but blurred to edges. Building lines at bottom left leading out to middle right(furthers part). The further right very blurred. Any help?

  • Doug February 14, 2011 06:44 am

    Liozou - you are quite simply wrong. in my examply of a 17mm lens focused at 1m would result by your understanding of a depth of field from 66cm ot 1.66m. Quite clearly this is wrong.

    See myth number 14:

    Or try it for yourself

  • Loizou Andreas February 10, 2011 09:45 pm

    The image is divided into three parts. 1/3 of the distance in front of the focal point and 2/3 behind the focal point will be in focus that's why we focus on the 1/3 of the image. This happenes at every f stop you have. If the f is lets say 3 the 1/3 and the 2/3 which will be in focus won't be much of a distance but if your f is 17 then the 1/3 and the2/3 is a lot.

  • Doug December 23, 2010 02:17 am

    Greg wrote:

    Depth of field extends 1/3 in front and 2/3. This is why focusing 1/3 into the frame can work so well.

    Not true at all. Ratios change with subject distance, focal length, and aperture. For exmple using a 17mm lens on a full frame camera gives focused at 1m gives a depth of field from 46cm to infinity.

    And not the point of the article was not to suggest focussing 1/3 into the scene rather focus on whatever is 1/3 from the bottom of the view finder. Those may be two very different things depending on the scene.

  • ratkellar November 12, 2010 03:48 am

    A fine rule of thumb. My solution to such problems is always to take multiple photos with various f-stops, focal points, etc. The glory of digital!

  • Ryan November 8, 2010 11:05 am

    I've tried using this technique before, and using it successfully is very dependent on what type of landscape you are shooting. I believe that one of the success criteria is to have a fairly closed aperture... f/11 or smaller. Many times, this will cut out too much light, necessitating a tripod... but I guess you should probably be using a tripod for landscape photography anyway... :)

  • Adler Chalk June 27, 2010 08:45 am

    This is a great starting point. Give it a try. ;-)

  • Quazi Ahmed Hussain June 26, 2010 03:37 am

    I read a bit about hyperfocal focusing but it's not clear to me. Particularly, unsure how to hyperfocus with my Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM on my Canon EOS 50D. Tips are humbly invited.

  • Tiberman May 4, 2010 08:52 am

    Hey folks

    I am taking landscape photos for my future book. One important shot for me is a valley, the view of which I obtain from the edge of a cliff, literally. So the hyperfocal distance is somewhere in mid-air ahead of me. What should I do?
    Tiberman Sajiwan Ramyead - Mauritius

  • Jan McTolf January 15, 2010 04:49 am

    Thanks for tip on focus shots on landscapes. Going to Texas Big Bend Natl. Park this week with your tip in mind--focus on the 1/3.

  • jayakumar October 20, 2009 05:25 pm

    i've read all the responses. there are differences of opinions. this may not be a thumb rule but for beginner, or a person who has not really focussed on this, this is a very good tip. thank you.

  • Fred October 14, 2009 09:40 am

    Focus on the Hyper Focal point will achieve maximum DOF, the 1/3 split rule does not always work, the longer lens, the closer to 50/50 split.

  • MeiTeng August 17, 2009 06:06 pm

    I have been wondering about where to focus in landscape photography. Thanks for sharing this. I learned something new today.

  • Paul February 19, 2009 06:34 am

    Greg said "Depth of field extends 1/3 in front and 2/3. This is why focusing 1/3 into the frame can work so well."

    And that's all you need to know. This holds true for any focal length. Always remember, as Greg states, depth of field will extend 1/3 in front of where you focus and 2/3 behind the focal point. The closer you get to the subjct the shallower DOF becomes. Consequently, the further you move away from the subject the deeper DOF becomes, BUT the ratio always remains the same, 1/3 in front, 2/3rd behind the plane of focus.

    I don't think there is any need to get hung up on Hyperfocal focussing. Setting your aperture to your lens' sharpest f-stop (probably f8 or f11) you'll have acceptable sharpness (unless you're 3 feet away....).

  • Paul Kirkbride January 16, 2009 09:25 pm

    I have a particular question that has arisen as a result of my moving from an older style film camera (Nikon 601, 35-135mm zoom) to a compact digital (Canon G10). When using my old film camera for landscape shots I'd usually stop down to whatever was possible (usually F16-F22 and usually with the aid of a tripod) and use a handy little focussing calculator that indicated the depth of focus for the lens at the particular perture and indicated the midpoint of the field. The idea is to then focus the camera (by hand) at that midpoint, thereby ensuring sharp focus from infinity to as close a possible to the camera (hyperfocal focussing it is called). It gives good results, and I was interested to see your rule of thumb using the bottom third as the region at which to focus. I must try that.
    My question is this. My little Canon has a minimum aperture of F8. How does the depth of field in this compact digital relate to depth of focus in a 35mm film camera? I have the feeling that F8 with a compact digital might have an equivalent depth of field to about F16 on a 35mm camera, but I can't quite work out why that should be the case. Is there a rule of thumb that can be used here?

  • Greg McKinnon August 21, 2008 10:02 pm

    Depth of field extends 1/3 in front and 2/3. This is why focusing 1/3 into the frame can work so well.

  • Klaidas September 15, 2007 07:00 am

    I was allways wondering about this...

  • Shane September 10, 2007 04:40 pm

    I've been reading about DoF and hyperfocal distance calculations and real use for a while and the 1/3 principle is certainly a good "rule of thumb" that will work in most circumstances. I also have DoF installed on my Pocket PC Ipaq 4700 and it works fine. Hint: for a Canon 30D set the resolution to 52.6 lines per mm and the results are more accurate.

  • John September 10, 2007 02:48 am

    I guess the tip would make sense...as a general rule...

    i have a further question though - at what part of the "thirdway" should focus be pointed at? middle? left ? right? object nearest you? farthest? midpoint?

  • Stan September 7, 2007 01:48 pm

    Thanks for this tip, didn't think about it before, but it makes sense :)

  • tutubi September 7, 2007 12:41 pm

    sometimes I use auto-aperture in my camera. knowing the correct aperture is hard for beginners and I choose a few points in the frame to be in-focus

  • Os Sutrisno September 7, 2007 11:42 am

    Great article!

    I never gave any thought on where to focus for landscapes before. Thanks for the tip!

  • Chet September 7, 2007 01:40 am

    I did workshop with Lewis Kemper, one of Canon's "Explorers of Light" outdoor photographers.

    I asked him about hyperfocal distance and exactly this subject. Basically his advice to me is generally, if you pick a focus point, figure 1/3 of the distance in front and 2/3 behind will be acceptable. His other piece of advice was to look through the eyepiece with the DOF preview down for 30 seconds because sometimes it takes our eyes that long to adjust to the darkness.

    So this may not be "what" to focus on but I guess if you think about framing, then you can decide "where" to focus?

  • Gayle September 6, 2007 08:45 pm

    Well, this all gives me something to work on this weekend. Thank you for all the info.
    Gayle :)

  • Roger September 6, 2007 06:08 pm

    DOFMaster.com has some good reading on this topic. It covers DOF charts and Hyperfocal Distance. It's not rocket science. For those that are interested I'd recommend taking thirty minutes and educating themselves.

    It boils down to this: with some simple charts that take into account circle of confusion(which is specific to a camera), focus distance, aperture and focal length you can easily arrange landscape photos that have virtually all the picture in focus assuming you have a lens that is wide enough. DOFMaster.com also has a link to a handy little free Palm aplication that will calculate DOF and hyperfocal distance based on your input.

  • Ash September 6, 2007 05:03 pm

    If youi have a lens with a focussing distance and aperture marking, it is better-still to switch off autofocussing, and focus manually at the correct distance calculated as the hypoerfocal legnth. Beware - it may appear blurred, but using the DOF preview button can help convince you that science has won out!!

  • rickl September 6, 2007 12:09 pm

    My understanding is that, given a smooth transition from foreground to background, this is a pretty good estimation of where the hyperfocal point would be. I will often use this approach with my D200 by setting the autofocus to a point below the center focal point. I think it worked well on this one.

  • Jan September 6, 2007 08:44 am

    Another consideration is to provide the camera's auto-focus an area of enough contrast in the scene to work with. Sometimes the objects closer-in can work better than some blue sky, or hazy mountain range in the distance.

    It's important to note that the depth of field extends an equal amount on either side of the focal point. So having the focal point at infinity is a bit wasteful, as you only use 1/2 of the available depth range.

    I hadn't heard about the 1/3rd rule so far, but it seems pretty logical considering that most landscape shots usually have a horizon line somewhere between the middle and upper third. That's where infinity is. For sake of argument let's say it's at the upper 1/3rd (i.e. 2/3rd landscape and 1/3rd sky). If you then want to put your focal point at 1/2 of the distance to optimally use your depth field, that would put you exactly at the bottom 1/3rd of the photo (on a flat/linear landscape of course).

    If you further take a look and optimize for hyperfocal length by choosing the right aperture for your camera and lens, you could place the bottom most part of the image at the near end of your depth field and the entire image is sharp.

  • Ash September 6, 2007 08:43 am

    knafland - if you mail me through my site "www.ashley-darby-photography.co.uk" I'll forward you some hyperlinks to the sites I examined regarding hyperfocal length focussing.



  • AC September 6, 2007 07:34 am

    I think it depends more on what the geography of the landscape snap is. For subjects like mountains, an infinity focus makes more sense. In terms of woodlands, I prefer to set the tone and focus depending on the lighting at the given moment. Even for grasslands, a lot depends on what you want to convey with the snap - the sense of openness of the plain, or use it as the foreground for a more interesting formation/structure in the photograph.

  • good boy September 6, 2007 05:58 am

    This article really helps, i was always wondering where I should point my focus point to. thanks.

  • knafland September 6, 2007 05:31 am

    This is a wery popular theme, so any practical experience is welcome. I was facing this question manytimes, but most of it at a close up pictures, where Depth Of Field is usualy so smal, that it is hard (to me even impossible) to get all the "stuf" sharp. While landscape photography is not so DOF sensitive (specialy using smal focal length lenses), sometimes i still use DOF calculators to help me determing the right spot of focus, and not DOF directly, as in such cases best "focus spot" is my goal. Ash, i am anxious to get more data, so your site address is very welcome. And BTW, this article is also great!

  • Ash September 6, 2007 02:27 am

    I recently spent quite some time reading up on hyperfocal length focussing. There was a lot of "pro" feeling, but one site I found was very "con". It seems to come down to what you consider to be "acceptable focus" at infinity! If you focus on the horizon, then "infinity" should be sharp. If you focus at the hyper-focal length, you'll get the best out of the image for foreground sharpness, for a much bigger aperture (lower f-stop). Why would that matter? Smaller apertures (bigger f-numbers) introduce the risk of diffraction affecting the image, which generally manifests as ... a lack of sharpness. I've always used f22-is for landscapes, but in the Lake District recently, I took some corkers at f7.1 with a crisp foreground, and what appears to be crips horizon even when printed at A4. It's very technical stuff, but really worthy of some more reading up.