Find Your Lens’ Sweet Spot
One ill-advised landscape photography tip that’s floating around out there is that you should use the smallest aperture possible to maximize the depth of field. After all, if you maximize the depth of field, more of the scene will be in focus.
The problem with this strategy is that no lens – not even the most expensive professional lenses – performs at its best when shooting at its minimum aperture. In other words, though shooting at f/22 gets you the largest depth of field, it also results in diffraction, which is the loss of sharpness as the aperture gets smaller.
So, you can use a very small aperture like f/22 to increase the depth of field, but the benefits are null because the resulting images will be less sharp due to diffraction. Instead, you’ll need to determine your lens’ sweet spot, or the aperture(s) at which it produces the sharpest images. The sweet spot varies from one lens to the next, but typically, it’s in the f/8-f/11 range.
Why this works: By finding your lens’ sweet spot, you maximize the sharpness of the images you produce. So, if you find that your lens is sharpest at f/8, you know that you need to keep your aperture as close to f/8 as possible to get the best sharpness throughout the image. Note how in the image above, everything in the scene is sharp, from the sand and the waves in the foreground to the cliffs in the background. Had it been shot at f/22, the sharpness would be degraded, particularly around the edges of the frame.
To find your lens’ sweet spot, follow this procedure:
- Place your camera on a tripod and set it to aperture priority mode.
- Compose your image, taking several shots, each at a different aperture. Begin with the widest aperture available, stepping it down by one stop with each subsequent shot.
- Upload your photos to your computer and zoom in on the same point in each one, comparing each image to determine which aperture achieved the best sharpness.