Are you struggling to determine the best aperture for landscape photography?
Picking the perfect aperture can be tough, especially in a genre like landscape photography. After all, you’re generally striving for complete sharpness throughout the scene – and achieving this requires more than a little know-how.
That’s why, in this article, I lay it all out for you:
- The best aperture to maximize depth of field
- The aperture you don’t want to go beyond
- When you might want to consider using a wide-open aperture
- Much, much more!
Let’s dive right in.
The Best Aperture for Landscape Photography
In landscape photography, the most common aperture is from f/8 to f/13. This lets you maximize the depth of field while at the same time achieving the sharpest-possible images. However, you’ll occasionally want to use an aperture outside this “ideal” aperture range; I explain further in the article below.
What Is the Sweet Spot of Your Lens?
Every lens has a so-called “sweet spot” – the aperture at which you get the sharpest images (assuming good settings and effective camera technique). And this is where most photographers start when determining the best aperture for landscape photography – after all, the goal in landscape photography is to achieve maximum sharpness.
Now, because lenses all have different internal construction, the sweet spot varies from lens to lens.
That said, lenses tend to be softest at the extremes of the aperture range (often f/2.8-f/4 and f/16-f/32) and sharpest toward the middle (around f/8).
It has to do with a combination of physics and lens construction. I explain aspects of this later on in the article – see the discussion on diffraction.
Really, I’d just recommend you test each of your lenses. Find a subject, mount your camera setup on a tripod, then capture a series of images taken at different apertures. When you view the files on a computer, zoom in to 100 percent – and identify where sharpness is best, where it’s worst, and where it’s acceptable to you as a photographer.
Ultimately, to identify the sweet spot of your lens, simply Google the query “Lens Model + Sweet Spot,” and you will find the “sweet spot” of your lens with ease.
Maximizing Depth of Field With Hyperfocal Distance
When determining the best landscape photography aperture, you’ll also want to take other factors into consideration.
Specifically, you should consider the hyperfocal distance of your scene.
The hyperfocal distance is the focus point at which you get the maximum depth of field in your scene, and it depends on both your aperture and your lens’s focal length.
Since the goal is generally to get the entire scene sharp, you’ll need to think about the closest foreground element, then you’ll need to widen your aperture until you can keep both the closest foreground element and the most distant background element sharp – while setting your focus to the hyperfocal distance.
In practical terms:
You’ll need a relatively narrow aperture, especially if you have a scene with lots of depth.
Narrow Aperture and Diffraction
After reading the previous section, you’re probably wondering:
Why can’t you just narrow your aperture all the way to f/16 or f/22? After all, wouldn’t that maximize depth of field?
And you’re right:
An aperture of f/16 has a greater depth of field than an aperture of f/8, and an aperture of f/22 has a still greater depth of field than an aperture of f/16. So by choosing the narrowest aperture, you’ll get the largest depth of field.
But in landscape photography, it’s rarely advisable to shoot at an aperture beyond f/16, for one major reason:
Diffraction is an optical phenomenon that degrades image quality. When light travels through a narrow aperture, it becomes distorted – and the narrower the aperture, the more the distortion will appear in your photos.
At wide apertures – such as f/4, f/5.6, and even f/8 – you often can’t see the effects of diffraction, even if you zoom in to 100 percent.
But as you get to f/16, f/18, and f/22, diffraction will become noticeable.
It’s the reason a lens’s sweet spot is basically always below f/13 or so – because while stopping down improves image quality, at narrower apertures, diffraction starts to work against you.
Here’s the key takeaway:
The best aperture for landscape photography is below f/16 or so. You want to avoid significant diffraction, even though a narrow aperture will increase depth of field.
Ultra-Narrow Apertures and the Sunburst Effect
If you’ve been following up until this point, you know that the best aperture maximizes depth of field while also avoiding diffraction.
But here’s another factor to throw into the mix:
The sunburst effect.
You see, as you narrow your aperture while shooting into the sun, you’ll start to see a very cool sunburst, like this:
And the narrower your aperture, the crisper the sunburst.
So if you’re after an especially beautiful effect, you may want to sacrifice sharpness and stop down past your lens’s sweet spot.
(If you want to maintain sharpness, you can always take one shot at f/16 or f/18 for the best sunburst, a second shot at f/8 or f/11 for a sharp scene, then blend the two images together in post-processing.)
When to Use Wide Apertures
Landscape photography rarely involves wide-open apertures of f/4, f/2.8, or wider.
After all, the wider the aperture, the smaller the depth of field.
There are times when a wide-open aperture does make sense. Astrophotographers, in particular, use f/2.8 apertures to keep a low ISO and fast shutter speed.
(When shooting the night sky, you generally want an ISO below 3200 to prevent excessive noise, and a shutter speed above 25s to prevent blur in the stars.)
So if you’re shooting at night, you may want to consider keeping your aperture wide, regardless of your lens’s sweet spot. Note that you may need to tweak your composition to keep the entire scene sharp – for instance, you’ll want to avoid close foreground elements unless you’re prepared to do some focus stacking.
Best F-Stop for Landscape Photography: Conclusion
Determining the best aperture for landscape photography doesn’t have to be hard – but as you now know, it does involve several competing factors.
Your goal is to strike a balance between the aperture that offers maximum depth of field and the aperture that offers maximum sharpness. Generally, this puts the perfect aperture in the f/8 to f/13 range.
(Though if you’re doing astrophotography, you’ll want to ignore this advice and keep your aperture as wide as possible!)
So the next time you’re out shooting, make sure you think carefully about depth of field, and make sure you know your lens’s sweet spot. That way, you can get consistently stellar results!