What Aperture for Landscape Photography? That must be one of the most Googled questions when it comes to landscape photography. And it is a great question, it really is.
And so I Googled it myself and the top 3 answers:
Number 1 F8-F11
Position 2 F7.1 – F13
Position 3 F7.1-F13
Now I am not going to name and shame, because in essence they are basically correct. For most lenses, that is the “sweet spot” and will provide optimum sharpness from back to front.
I have been running landscape photography workshops in Glen Coe and Scotland for about 5 years and in that time I can probably count on one hand the amount of people who often stray from the F8-F14 range. In fact, when I suggest remove out of that range I am often countered with “but I read on the internet that….” or “on a previous workshop XYZ said….”
OK, firstly, again, they are not wrong. But if you keep yourself within that range then you are severely limiting your creativity. Let’s dive a little deeper.I took a random selection of images that I have taken this summer on my Landscape Photography workshops in Glen Coe. Nearly 30% of these images used an aperture wider than F7.1 and just over 10% over narrower than F14. So about 4 out of 10 images I took, and therefore my workshop attendees took, where outside the “normal” range. (Note that this doesn’t include Night time Landscape Images which would mainly use wide apertures)
So let us check out some of these images.
OK, so the first image is of some rocks leading in to Loch during a pretty eventful, stormy sunset. It was pretty dark. Therefore I either needed a slow shutter speed, a wide aperture or a high ISO. A slow shutter speed wasn’t an option as the camera is basically in the water and a tripod would not have worked. That left high ISO and wide aperture. Because I am shooting with a wide lens here – 18mm a wide aperture is not a big problem as there is very little lens compression. Also, the rain storm in the distance means that the furthest mountains are not very defined anyway so they can cope with a little bit of extra softness. My ISO was already at 2000 and whilst you can push the ISO higher, it wasn’t really something that I was willing to do.
So let us check out this picture of the Shipwreck at the foot of Ben Nevis. Weather conditions were fine, the light was decent and a tripod was possible. Yet I still chose to use a wide aperture and a fast shutter speed. The reason being? There was nothing in the foreground from this side of the stream (for those who know the location) that was giving any kind of interest. So I used a wide aperture and plenty of lens compression (shot on the amazing Sony 100-400 G Master lens) to blur the foreground to force the viewers eye forwards towards the boat. This is a technique I teach a lot when there is an obvious subject but very little in the way of foreground interest.
This one is easy to explain! Narrow apertures = better sunflares/startbursts – read more about this in this great article. (For most lenses, you may need to test your own lenses for this). This was one of the best sunsets that I have seen at this location and I wanted to make something of it so I waited until the sun was just hitting the top of the mountains in the distance to achieve this flare. Something that most lenses will handle reasonably well, just make sure that your sensor and lens are clear from dust, dirt and grease before attempting!
So, when you look at this scene you are probably thinking an aperture of, say, F11 is about right. Normally I would agree with you. But what if the rain is pouring down and you are doing well to be out in it, let alone attempting to photograph in it? Well this is where we get creative. I want you to try something…. get your camera out and drop a few drops of water on the front of the lens. Now shoot wide open and also closed down (Maybe 2.8 and F22 or whatever your aperture extremes are). Note the dirty spots that will appear all over your image at F22.
Now it rains a lot here in Glen Coe. A lot. If we didn’t shoot in the rain, we wouldn’t shoot much at all! The way that I get round this is to shoot as open as possible whilst still maintaining image quality and the aesthetic that I am looking for. This could mean that I shoot a waterfall scene at f2.8 or a mountain scene at f4. Ideal? No. Practical? Definitely.
Thank you for reading. Enjoyed this article? Why not check out some other blog posts including my Ultimate Guide to Photographing Glen Coe.