For many types of photography, the question of where you should set your focus is pretty simple. For example, in portrait photography, there is one simple rule: focus on the eyes. When the eyes aren’t on the same plane of focus, focus on the near eye. End of story.
It is pretty simple with other types of photography, as well. In wildlife photography, you focus on the animal. In fact, in any type of photography where there is a clear subject, you always focus on that subject. That’s not to say it is always easy, but at least it isn’t difficult to figure out.
But what about landscape photography, where you are generally capturing more of a scene than a solitary subject? Where do you focus to ensure that everything in the scene is as sharp as possible? The answer isn’t always so clear.
Therefore, in this article, we’ll cover some tips for helping you know where to set the focus.
Tip 1: Don’t just set the focus at infinity
Again, oftentimes in landscape photography, you are trying to capture a scene rather than a solitary thing. Many times, the scene you are trying to capture is far away from you.
Most lenses have a range of focus values, and once you get beyond a certain distance (often 20-30 feet, or 8-10 meters) the focus is set at infinity. Everything beyond that point will just be infinity. Therefore, if you are taking a picture where most things in the frame are far away, it might seem that you should just set the focus at infinity. If you are using autofocus (and most of us are), you might be inclined to set the focus using something that is very far away from you.
If everything in the frame is truly at infinity, then setting the focus at its maximum distance is not a horrible idea. If there is nothing close to you, then there is just no need to do anything else; you don’t need to overly complicate things. But more commonly there are aspects of the scene that are closer to you than infinity. Where do you set the focus then?
You can get into hyperfocal distance (we’ll talk more about that in a minute) and make this as technical as you want. But often your time is precious when you’re out shooting. The light is changing and things are moving. You can get a pretty good sense of things without resorting to calculations.
As a result, consider this rule of thumb: Set the focus at infinity and then just turn it back a little bit. But there’s an obvious question: How do you define a little bit?
I’m afraid I don’t have a good answer for you. It will vary from lens to lens, but will usually be about a 5-10° turn or just to the highest distance number printed on the lens (if your lens has these numbers).
Why would you want to do that?
Because of the depth of field that will be in your picture (more on depth of field below). Since you are taking an outdoor photo, you will probably not be shooting wide open, or even with a large aperture. So there will likely be some depth depth of field involved. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a large depth of field, but the point is that it gives you some leeway. By pulling the focus forward, that leeway will still get everything out to infinity in focus. It will also get things a little closer in focus, as well.