Controlling depth of field for lansdcapes

Modern cameras and lenses have given us many improvements over the models of old, but one thing that seems to have gone backwards is the easy control over depth of field.

Way back when with my Nikon FM SLR and 24mm lens I could set the lens to f22 (nobody had impressed on me back then that opening up a stop on almost any lens would have given a better image) and then set the focus from the scale on the lens and know that everything from 2ft to infinity would be in focus.

Nowadays lenses rarely have a depth of field scale, and most do not even let you see the distance they are focused at, which makes this procedure tricky. However whilst on holiday I worked out a way to do this with my Nikon D40 and 17-105mm lens.

First I needed to find a hyperfocal distance table for the focal length I was using - but the very good news is I only needed to use this once, no need to carry it around and look at it for every image. The table gave the hyperfocal distance for 17mm on an APS-C sensor as 3.3ft at f16 and 4.5ft at f11.

From this if you are tall use f11, if not then use f16. If that sounds a strange connection read on to find how you can easily make use of this information without having a scale on the lens. The numbers here assume that you are using a 17mm lens;

1. Set the camera to aperture priority and select f11 or f16

2. Whilst standing point the camera at your toes and half depress the shutter to focus.

3. Taking care not to change the focus switch the lens to manual focus so that the camera will not change it.

4. Now you can recompose on the scene and take the shot. Focus will be from 1.15ft to infinity at f16, or 2.25ft to infinity at f11.

5. IMPORTANT After you have finished shooting remember to reset the focus switch to auto if you are going to be taking other shots.

NB: Hyperfocal distance, if you are not familiar with the term, is the focusing distance for a given lens/aperture which will given a depth of field stretching from half the hyperfocal distance through to infinity.

Photo credits: Neil Machin.

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August 23, 2012


I assume that it only works with short focals. I do not have a distance scale on my lenses, so I generally use a rule of thumb when shooting landscapes: focus on something at the lower third of the image (foreground) and use f/16 (sometimes f/22 also). Anyway, thanks for the advice, i'll try it next time. Ciao!

August 21, 2012


Thanks for your good information on Depth of Field. I've always had a problem with this. I'm going to print out your blog and put it in my camera bag. I've just purchased the Nikon D800 and I need a new focus.

August 21, 2012


I find that the DOF preview buttons on my D80 and D7000 seem like a good idea, but don't really provide enough assurance that I'll get the results I'm after.

Your approach certainly sounds simple enough and it's nice to hear about doing things manually for a change!


August 21, 2012


Great, thanks for sharing.

August 21, 2012


Nice information! More info on the hyperfocal distance can be found at Hyperfocal distance

August 21, 2012


Never pictured it like that to focus on the feet... but it makes perfect sense!

August 21, 2012


Canon cameras used to have a mode called 'A=DEP' on the main dial (Automatic depth of field). You focused on two spots (near and far) and then the camera calculated the aperture and focus point necessary to get both in focus. Very cool feature that I didn't even know was missing on the latest bodies... Taking a quick look I see it was still included on the Canon 40D. Not sure when they stopped including it.

Quick link to an article on the feature... DEP Note that this is a little bit different than setting it to the hyperfocal distance, as the far point need not be infinity.

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