Depth of Focus in Landscapes

One of my biggest challenges in landscape photography has been getting sufficient depth of focus from the closest foreground to the furthest background elements, usually, but not always, the horizon.

Using the movements available on 4×5 and other large format cameras, you can control the plane of sharp focus to get your entire image sharp from near to far. Unfortunately large format digital cameras are out of my price range. These kinds of techniques are also now available in the new tilt-shift lenses from both Canon and Nikon. Tilt-shift lenses are expensive, heavy and big so I don’t see myself carrying them on a hike or canoe trip.

An August 31, 2010 article in Outdoor Photographer, Control Your Depth of Field by Willard Clay, describes a how to combine focus slices (multiple exposures of a scene focused at different points) using the Photoshop layers Auto-Align feature. You can read the article yourself and look at the examples to see how it works so I won’t repeat Clay’s explanation here.

I have not tried the technique but I’d be interested in hearing feedback from anyone who has including actual before and after samples. On the surface, it seems simple and should work quite nicely. But there appear to be two major drawbacks to using it. First, it won’t work very well for moving subjects. Second, it looks time-consuming, something you would not want to do for a lot of pictures.

That second issue is a biggie for me. I prefer to capture my pictures in-camera whenever possible so I don’t need to spend a lot of time reworking them in Photoshop in order to fix problems. I’d rather be out making more pictures than slaving over a computer screen!


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