This article provides some simple techniques on photographing landscapes using f/2.8 with a wide angle constant aperture zoom lens.
We can risk some image softness from diffraction when we stop our lens down further than is needed to achieve deep depth-of-field. Diffraction is not only a potential issue when using smaller sensor cameras like M4/3, but also with high density full frame sensors.
Some photographers assume that they need to stop their lens down to f/8, f/11 or even more, to achieve their desired depth-of-field with landscape images. This isn’t always needed, and is often not the case when using smaller sensor cameras.
While sensor size isn’t directly related to depth-of-field, it is indirectly associated as the focal length of lenses are impacted by sensor size. For example, to achieve the same field-of-view as a 14 mm focal length on a full frame camera, a photographer using a M4/3 sensor system would use a 7 mm focal length.
Some of us forget that while the field-of-views may be equivalent, a 7 mm focal length lens performs differently from an optical standpoint when compared to a 14 mm focal length lens. Simply put, a shorter focal length lens will always have more depth-of-field than a longer focal length lens when used at the identical aperture.
This article showcases a small selection of landscape photographs that I captured earlier this week. All of the images were created using an E-M1X coupled with an M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 zoom lens using a focal length of 7 mm, and an aperture of f/2.8. Let’s have a look at our first sample landscape image.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
You’ll see that the photograph above has a good amount of depth-of-field even though an aperture of f/2.8 was used. I used a single auto-focus point and placed it on the fence post in the foreground of the image.
I knew from experience that if i move in close to a foreground element (i.e. 1.5 to 2 metres away) and use a wide angle focal length, deep depth-of-field can be achieved without having to stop my lens down to f/8 or f/11. Using a focal length of 7 mm combined with an aperture of f/2.8 allowed me to maximize the dynamic range available from the 20.4 MP M4/3 sensor in my E-M1X by keeping it at its base ISO value of 200.
There are various online depth-of-field calculators available. If you’re interested in learning more about how your specific camera gear will perform, I’d recommend using one of these online calculators. You may find out that you have been stopping your lens down further than is actually needed.
With the image above I focused on the partial stump in the foreground and composed the image with an inferred leading line coming from the bottom left-hand corner. This line cuts diagonally across the composition and leads a viewer to the row of fence posts on the upper right hand side of the photograph. Again, a good amount of depth-of-field was achieved with f/2.8 because I used a wide angle focal length of 7 mm, moved in close to a foreground element, and placed my auto-focus point on it.
The wide angle landscape photograph above really accentuates the shape of the sandbar along the shoreline. The strong left to right flow of the image draws a reader’s eye to the distant tree line. This adds to the feeling of depth. Some folks looking at this image may assume that an aperture of f/8 or f/11 was used to achieve the depth-of-field… rather than f/2.8. In this case I placed my auto-focus point on the sand, just slightly closer to the bottom of the composition than is the log on the left-hand side.
Imagine if a photographer was attempting to capture the image above at first light. Being able to use an aperture of f/2.8 and leveraging the outstanding IBIS performance of the E-M1X would likely result in a handheld image captured at ISO-200 in quite low light conditions. The key to this is understanding how your lenses perform at various focal lengths in terms of the depth-of-field created at various aperture settings and focusing distances.
Now… let’s have some more fun with a few more landscapes using f/2.8.
Using a tree trunk or large rock as a foreground element can add some drama to a landscape photograph. When using a wide angle focal length like 7 mm, some care needs to be taken to avoid wide angle distortion. This can be done by adjusting the physical position of your camera and the angle of the focal plane of the camera’s sensor. I placed my single auto-focus point on one of the rocks close to the base of the tree.
The trees off in the distance along with the breakwater all appear nicely detailed, as does the foreground of the image. When I bought my initial selection of M.Zuiko lenses I specifically chose the PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 so I could take advantage of the fast aperture, but most importantly the 7 mm focal length. This lens is simply incredible for landscapes and architectural subjects.
The above photograph uses a ‘magic 7’ in its composition which helps lead a reader’s eye into the image, then pushes it off to the left once it passes the feature tree on the right hand side. I purposely used a 2 sided image bleed with the feature tree as this also helps to direct eye flow to the left. I placed my single auto-focus point on one of the rocks a bit past the small green plants in the bottom left-hand corner.
If shown this photograph without the luxury of seeing the EXIF data, many photographers would assume that an aperture of f/8 or f/11 was used, not f/2.8.
The photograph above was one of the more complicated ones to compose. I had to make a number of subtle adjustments to my camera position and the angle of my camera’s focal plane in order to get the pillars of the pergola square, as well as a straight horizon line.
The built-in level gauge on my E-M1X was critical to getting this composition framed properly. My single auto-focus point was placed on the furthest corner of the stone portion of the pillar on the right-hand side.
Our final example of photographing landscapes using f/2.8 was my favourite one created during this photo session. I used ‘rule of thirds’ composition technique. There is also a subtle, somewhat inferred, ‘magic 7’ in the composition.
We can see that even though I shot wide open at f/2.8, this entire landscape scene contains good details..,. all the way from the bottom left-hand corner out to the lighthouse far off in the distance.
This is another example of photographing landscapes using f/2.8. The technique is very simple. Get in close to a foreground element, use a very wide focal length like 7 mm, and choose an auto-focus point about 1.5 to 2 metres away from your shooting position. If you’re using Olympus gear and own the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 you’ll likely find you can shoot wide open much of the time and still achieve your desired depth-of-field.
I appreciate that not everyone is going to own a wide angle constant aperture f/2.8 zoom lens. Many wide angle variable aperture zoom lenses start at f/3.5. The same type of technique can be used. Let’s look at an example from our trip to Ireland in 2019.
The photograph above was captured handheld during a tour of Belleek Castle. I knew from experience that the slowest shutter speed I could reliably use with my Nikon 1 J5 when fitted with the 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 was 1/10th of a second. I also did not want to shoot at an ISO value higher than 3200.
As you can see from the EXIF data I used the widest focal length possible (i.e. 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm) and shot wide open at f/3.5. By using a focal length of 6.7 mm and getting in close to the large table I was able to still achieve good depth-of-field while staying within my limitations of 1/15 and ISO-3200. I ended capturing a wide array of photographs at Belleek Castle using this technique.
When purchasing a wide angle zoom it is important to remember that both aperture and focal length range are important considerations. If budget allows, choosing the widest possible focal length at the short end of a zoom lens will pay dividends down the road.
Remember that a very wide angle focal length is every bit as important as aperture in terms of dealing with low light situations. For example, the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 will achieve deeper depth-of-field at 7 mm, than the M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 will at 12 mm, when both lenses are shot at f/2.8. This can help avoid stopping a lens down, and using a higher ISO value. As we all know, higher ISO values reduce a sensor’s dynamic range performance.
It also should be noted that to achieve f/2.8 depth-of-field results like the sample images in this article, a photographer will be using their feet a lot! A wide angle zoom lens like the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm is a very powerful landscape photography tool, especially when used at 7 mm. This means that you will be moving physically to get your composition correct in camera at 7 mm, rather than simply zooming in and out.
As photographers we often fall into habitual ways of using our camera gear. Or, we simply accept what we see or read on the internet without really testing our own camera equipment to learn what is actually possible.
Prior to writing this article I did a brief scan of various online content that dealt with landscape photography, specifically searching for ‘the best aperture’ to use. Pretty much everything that I found on line during my brief search indicated that an aperture of f/8 or f/11 ‘had to be used’ to achieve deep depth-of-field.
There was almost no reference to the choice of focal length used, other than some generalized statements that 28 mm and 35 mm prime lenses were recommended for this subject matter. I have no way of knowing what camera gear that each of you own in terms of sensor format, nor would I know what specific lenses are in your kit.
If you want to get the best performance from your existing camera gear when creating landscape images it can be beneficial to research the factors that impact depth-of-field performance using an online depth-of-field calculator.
Then, get out in the field to test out your camera equipment first hand. You may discover that there are ways to use your current camera gear that will allow you to use more open apertures and still achieve the deep depth-of-field you desire in your landscape images.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. All photographs are displayed as full frame captures without any crops. This is the 1,054th article published on this website since its original inception.
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