A relative newcomer to landscape photography and going on my first photo trip for landscapes. I would like to ask those more experienced, when taking photos of landscape scenes, how do you ensure the image is sharp throughout? Thank you for any advice.
The first step, long before you go on the trip, is to see if your lens and camera are even capable of taking sharp photos throughout.
I print all my landscape photos 5 to 10 feet long and everything is in focus. This is how I do it.
First, I mount on a ten foot wall five targets of sharp Word documents with type size from 8 to 72 point. The targets are set up so that one is placed in each of the top corners of the wall and the lower ones placed so that all are recorded in each corner of a photo, and one in the center. I usually start with a 50mm lens on my camera, mounted on a solid Gitzo tripod with no column and a loaded backpack slung over the tripod for weight and a solid B55 ball head. I use Live View and a cable release. The camera is mounted so that it is exactly opposite the center of the wall and parallel to the wall. I move the tripod and camera forward or back until all four corner targets are in the corners of the viewfinder. I then focus on the center of the center target, using Live View with a Zacuto magnifier, and even use the magnifier of the live view. I then shoot a photo with each f stop, refocusing each time if necessary. I always shoot in RAW. I move the tripod and camera forward for wider angle lenses, and back for longer lenses.
Then I review each photo, looking at each target on a large screen monitor, writing down the smallest typeface that is sharp and clear. In this way, I find out if there is something wrong with the mount or sensor of the camera. Some can be out of alignment, so that all the photos are soft on the left or right, top or bottom. In this case, you need to return the camera, or,if it is too late, have it repaired. Be sure to send the shop prints that show what the problem is.
Once I have confirmed that sensor and mount are aligned, I can then tell if something is wrong with a particular lens. Some can be put together incorrectly, so that one side of the photo is out of focus, while the other side is sharp. Since I test all lenses as soon as I get them, I return any that are out of focus from side to side, or corner to corner.
Once I know that the camera and lens are aligned, the f stop I am looking for is the one that produces sharp corners without blurring the center by diffraction. If the lens cannot achieve this, I return it and find one that will. As a result of this process, most of my lenses are primes made by Zeiss, although the new 24mm TS-E from Canon is stunning. Unfortunately, I am moving to Nikon D800E as Canon dropped the ball with the 5D3, so I have to start all over with my lens testing. Fortunately, many of the Zeiss lenses I bought early on came with a Nikon mount, for which I bought Canon adapters.
The next step is to repeat the tests at infinity, as lenses can function differently near and far. I usually use power lines as they are easy to see if in focus or not. If, for instance, you find a big difference in sharpness from a lens wide open to f8, then it may be that your infinity focus is off and you need to have a shop adjust your lens.
If you don't test your camera and lenses before your trip, you won't know if your equipment is even capable of taking sharp pictures.
Once you are in the field, use your solid tripod, no center column, a weight, Live View, Zacuto viewfinder, and cable release. Using my optimum aperture that that lens, I focus on the nearest element in the picture and take a shot. Then I move back in the scene to the area that looked soft, and take another sharp photo. I repeat this until I have sharp photos of the entire scene. Then I combine these using focus stacking software. In some cases, I only have to take one photo. In other cases, I have had to take up to seven photos, particularly doing macro work. I never rely on hyper-focal settings as they are completely unreliable.
If you are shooting a landscape at infinity, then you only have to take one exposure to get a sharp photo throughout.
This, of course, only makes a photo sharp. In landscapes, it's unlikely that the entire light range can be captured in one exposure. This means you may have to repeat the process, exposing for the shadows, mid-range and highlights and then combine these with HDR software.
The result will be stunning photographs that your friends will think you captured in one lucky snap.
If you are a newcomer to landscape photography, you can save yourself years of frustration by testing your lenses and camera before you shoot. You will also find the care put into testing will carry over to your photos. You won't waste your time and equipment on uninteresting photographs.