Imagine the kind of pictures you could take if everything were in focus from one foot to infinity? Here’s the inside scoop on one of the oldest secrets in photography.
Galen Rowell, one of my favorite photographers, used to create landscape compositions in which both foreground objects and distant elements appeared in perfect focus. The effect is stunning. The viewer can both study a delicate pattern of petals in a foreground flower and marvel at the beauty of outlying mountains. How did he do that?
Galen found a way to capture tremendous depth of field in his images. In other words, he could have everything in focus, from inches away to infinity. You can employ this same technique in your photography; you just have to know the hack. Three important factors come into play on these types of shots:
The focal length of your lens: The wider the better
The lens aperture: The smaller the better (f-16, f-22, etc.)
The object on which you focus in the composition: Contrary to expectation, it’s not the thing closest to you.
Once you’ve properly set these adjustments, you can create depth of field that spans from a foot in front of you to the puffy clouds drifting by.
Focal Length: The Wider the Better
Wide-angle lenses, or zoom lenses set to wide angle, are a key factor in depth-of-field photography. They help create the illusion that more things are in focus. Galen Rowell usually shot with 35mm film cameras, and often he would use a 24mm wide-angle lens for this type of landscape image. For this hack, I recommend you find a digital lens that provides a film-camera equivalent of a 28mm lens. You can go wider if you want (such as 24mm), but as you’ll see, that’s easier said than done in the digital world.
For example, if you’re shooting with an SLR, such as a Nikon D70, then you would need to use Nikon’s 17-55mm zoom lens to get roughly the same angle of view as Galen’s 24mm lens on his 35mm SLR.
Why? Well, the D70 and many other digital SLRs have image sensors that are smaller than 35mm film. That changes the relationship between lens and camera, and the result is that you often have to multiply the focal length of the lens by a factor of 1.5 to get the same angle of coverage that you would with the lens mounted on a film camera.
If you multiply the Nikon 17-55mm zoom lens by 1.5, you get the 35mm equivalent of a
25.5-82.5mm lens. You may or may not care about all of this. But what you do need to know is that you have to find a lens with a film-camera equivalent of at least a 28mm lens for this type of photography. The Nikon 17-55mm zoom on a D70 should work nicely.
If you’re shooting with a digital point and shoot, such as a Canon PowerShot A80, then your built-in zoom lens (7.8-23.4mm) has the film-camera equivalent of a 38-114mm zoom lens? not quite as wide as we’d like for this type of shooting. The good news is that Canon offers a wide converter (WC-DC52) for this camera that attaches over the built-in zoom lens. It extends your field of view to a healthy film-camera equivalent 24mm lens. Cool! In fact, many digital point and shoots accept wide-angle lens attachments. If you’re interested in this type of shooting, then you’ll want to make sure your next camera has this.