Sun rising over a field of lupines, Redwood NP, California. The focal length was 16mm, and the closest objects to the camera were the flowers at the very bottom of the frame, about two feet from the lens. I used my hyperfocal-distance shortcut to find the optimum focus distance, by doubling the distance from the closest object and focusing at four feet. Then I stopped to down to f/16 to get enough depth of field to make both the foreground and background sharp. 16mm, three bracketed exposures at f/16, ISO 100, blended with Lightroom’s HDR Merge.
In this recent post I talked about the importance of having a solid, well-practiced field routine, so that you don’t forget important steps, and you’ll be less likely to panic when the light gets interesting.
One of the steps in my routine, focusing, deserves a little more attention, so I’m going to cover that step in more detail here.
Sunbeams from Tunnel View, spring, Yosemite. Having a solid, well-practiced field routine helps me to calmly capture fleeting moments of light like this. 40mm, three auto-bracketed bracketed exposures at f/11, ISO 100.
Do you have a consistent field routine? Do you go through the same steps, in the same order, every time you take a photograph?
If you said no, you’re in good company. Most photographers I work with don’t have a solid, consistent field routine.
But I think having this routine is vital. Without one, you’re likely to forget important steps, like setting the right f-stop, or checking sharpness (and then kick yourself later when you realize your mistake). And when a rainbow suddenly appears over Yosemite Valley, or sunbeams break through the fog in a redwood forest, having a solid, consistent routine that you’ve practiced over and over will help you avoid panicking. You can just go through your normal routine and concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, knowing that you won’t forget an important step.
Lunar eclipse sequence over the Mesquite Flat Dunes, January 31st, 2018, Death Valley NP, CA, USA
In case you haven’t heard, there will be a total lunar eclipse on the night of January 20th and 21st, 2019. The totally eclipsed moon will be visible in all of North and South America, most of Europe, and western Africa. This page shows where the eclipse will be visible, as well as the timing of the event.
Here in the western U.S. the eclipse will take place on Sunday evening, January 20th. The peak eclipse occurs at 9:12 p.m. on the west coast, and the moon will be high overhead to the east-southeast. In Yosemite, for example, at peak eclipse the moon will be 47 degrees above the horizon with an azimuth of 102 degrees (just south of due east). In the eastern U.S. the peak eclipse occurs at 12:12 a.m. on the 21st, and the moon will be even higher in the sky – 69 degrees above the horizon in New York City, with an azimuth of 183 degrees (almost due south).
Swirling dogwood blossoms, Yosemite. I used a slow shutter speed (1/2 second) to deliberately blur the motion of these dogwood blossoms, but usually I’m trying to make my photos as sharp as possible.
It’s always disappointing to find out that one of your photos isn’t sharp – especially if it’s an image you like (and you weren’t trying to deliberately blur the image). Yet we all make mistakes. Even professionals like me sometimes take unintentionally blurry photos (as you’ll see below!). But after you’ve swallowed your disappointment, it’s important to figure out why the image is soft so that you don’t make the same mistake again.
There are basically five causes of blurry photos: camera movement, subject movement, missed focus, insufficient depth of field, and lens softness.
Lunar eclipse sequence, April 14th and 15th, 2014, Trona Pinnacles, CA, USA
In case you haven’t heard, there’s a total lunar eclipse coming up on January 31st. The total eclipse will be visible in central and western North America, Australia, and much of Asia. It will also be a “blue moon,” (the second full moon of the month), and a “supermoon,” (with the moon closer to the earth than normal, so it will look slightly larger). This page shows where the eclipse will be visible, as well as the timing of the event.
In North America the eclipse will occur as the moon is setting in the west just before sunrise. The further west you go, the higher the moon will be during totality, and the longer the eclipse sequence you can see. People in the mountain states should be able to see the entire one hour and sixteen minutes of totality, while those of you in the northwest could see (with clear skies) all of totality plus all of the partial eclipse phase afterwards. Unfortunately, the total eclipse will not be visible on the east coast of the U.S. and Canada.
Late-October aspens near Silver Lake, June Lake Loop, Inyo NF, CA, USA. I used f/16 to get everything in focus in this 2008 photograph from the eastern Sierra. (The shutter speed was 1/6th second, the ISO 400.)
I sometimes post my camera settings here on the blog, and I’ve had many people ask me why I often use f/16. Is that the sharpest aperture on my lens? (No.) Don’t you get diffraction at f/16? (A little bit.) Is it for depth of field? (Bingo!)
As many of you know, most lenses are sharpest at middle apertures – generally around f/5.6 to f/11, depending on the lens.
Better lenses will perform decently at wide apertures like f/2.8 or f/4, but usually the corners are softer compared to the middle apertures. On the other end of the spectrum, at smaller apertures diffraction causes all lenses to get softer over the entire image (not just the corners).