Landscape photography: sharpness?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by cleanup, Dec 29, 2010.

  1. cleanup, Dec 29, 2010
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2010

    cleanup macrumors 68030


    Jun 26, 2005
    Hey folks,

    So I just got back from Taiwan. I spent a few days at a resort in Kenting, and it was gorgeous. I had purchased a new tripod in Taipei (a Manfrotto 7302YB) and was keen to test it out.

    This was my first time shooting landscapes and I really had no idea what was doing. I came out with some decent shots, and have posted a couple below, but I noticed when I brought them into the computer that they weren't very sharp.

    These weren't long exposures. 5 seconds at the maximum I believe (when it was really starting to get dark). I shot them all at ISO200 and f/22. I think perhaps my aperture was too small, but I wanted smoke-like water, but sharp clouds, so I wanted an intermediate shutter speed that would not smear the clouds but still smoke up the water a bit. Not stopping down to f/22 resulted in blown-out, overexposed photos.

    Is the sharpness issue a product of the small aperture, the lens, or the camera? The sharpness is really my only issue with the photos! Or am I expecting too much?


    Nikon D40
    Sigma 10-20 f4-5.6
    All at 10mm, f/22, ISO200, shutter speeds from 1.3s to 5s
    Used a circular polarizer (honestly not sure if it made much of a difference)

    Any tips? I really want sharper edges on the rocks and such. At full size or when blown up the sharpness isn't really all that great.

    Also, any tips for leveling the horizon properly? I had to straighten them in Photoshop! :(

    Thanks! :)

  2. ComputersaysNo, Dec 29, 2010
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2010

    ComputersaysNo macrumors 6502


    Apr 15, 2010
    How did you press the shutter? With your finger or some sort of remote?

    That lens is known for other things than sharpness. And also, F22 does not mean the lens is at its sharpest. It means the overal sharpness from corner to corner is acceptable within that pricerange. Most lenses have a sweetspot arround F11 ~ F13, beyond that diffraction becomes an issue.

    Your tripod seems to be ok, but having it on sand will not work that well, no matter what you do. Sand and wind and pressing the shutter and mirrormovement can cause unsharpness like this.

    The horizon will always be an issue with this lens as it has tons of lensdistortion. Having a range of 10-20mm cuts some corners regarding imagequality somewhere.

    The unsharpnes of your pictures is just adding up all the little imperfections of your gear.
  3. JazzCollector macrumors member

    Sep 10, 2009
    In addition to what CSno had to say, your focal point can also contribute to the softness. For these types of shots the conventional wisdom is to focus 1/3rd into the scene. While this works in most cases, I prefer to focus on the point of interest in the foreground, in your case it would be the rocks you want in focus.

    Did you shoot in Raw? Did you apply the correct input and output sharpening? Was your output sharpening applied to the final size of your image? These too contribute to sharpness.
  4. El Cabong macrumors 6502a

    Dec 1, 2008
    Diffraction will certainly be an issue at f/22. As you can see here, the sweet spot of this lens is around f/8-11. A neutral density filter would've been good to have.

    Also, if the clouds happened to be moving at a relatively fast clip, a long exposure could have smeared a bit of the details.
  5. cleanup thread starter macrumors 68030


    Jun 26, 2005
    I used my finger, as the D40 only supports IR remotes and I'd rather have a wired one. I suppose this may have caused some slight ghosting which could be mistook as "unsharpness"?

    I realise that a small aperture doesn't mean sharp. I actually find that the 10-20 is sharper at much larger apertures, where it makes for great up-close-and-personal party shots.

    Admittedly, since I was using a tripod and didn't bother to manual focus, I did simply focus on the horizon. I figured at such a small aperture and at such a wide focal length it wouldn't really matter where I focused, but next time I'll try focusing on something in the foreground.

    If I use a larger aperture, what can I do to make sure my photos aren't blown out despite the fact that I want a long exposure time? I want wispy, smokey water as the tide comes off the rocks, but I don't want to expose so long that the rocks end up being the only thing still visible. I'm not terribly interested in HDR or exposure fusion as I can't wrap my head around it. Photomatix always produces weird edges and colour fringing when I try it. I like just doing a bit of spot-correction and colour editing.

    What is input/output sharpening? I did shoot in RAW, but any sharpening I did was after I resized to 720px using the unsharp tool in PS. I didn't fiddle with the unsharp tool in the RAW processor.

    Lastly, besides using a remote shutter release and opening up the lens a bit, is there anything else I can do short of getting a better wide angle? I've seen some absolutely stunning landscape shots on Flickr using my exact setup, and they're all fantastically sharp: sigma 10-20&w=all

    Thanks for the help guys! :) Still learning! (Hence the continued use of the D40)

    Edit: I just read up on the use of neutral density filters. Sounds like this is something I should have had. Presumably it would allow me to stop down to f8-11 and still use a long exposure time?
  6. fcortese macrumors demi-god


    Apr 3, 2010
    Big Sky country
    Next time rather than clicking the shutter manually, set the timer to 2 seconds and let go. There is less of a chance of micro-movement this way as opposed to manually depressing the shutter. My 2c.
  7. cleanup thread starter macrumors 68030


    Jun 26, 2005
    I think I'll go the remote route when I get a body that supports wired remotes. I wanted to catch the tide coming off the rocks so anticipating that by a few seconds is less than satisfactory. Maybe I'm just lazy. :)
  8. Doylem macrumors 68040


    Dec 30, 2006
    Wherever I hang my hat...
    There are lots of reasons why your pix may not be pin-sharp... and this is one. For landscapes I use a tripod, a cable release, and stick to f11 and the lowest ISO value on my camera, which is 100. Also, the legs of your tripod would appear to be in soft sand for these shots. Any - or all - of these things can make images a wee bit soft...
  9. TheReef, Jan 1, 2011
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2011

    TheReef macrumors 68000


    Sep 30, 2007
    NSW, Australia.
    Correct, ND filters will let you do this, you'll need a large filter size so your images don't vignette at the widest angles of your lens.
    If you want to balance the scene by darkening the sky, you could also add a graduated ND.

    As Doylem and ComputersaysNo said sinking could be a problem.
    I do a lot of shooting like this, whenever my pics come out soft 95% of the time it is sinking as the waves hit the tripod and try to drag it out so sea, try dig your tripod in (not too deep), you might have to bail if a big wave comes ;) or set up on some rocks.
    The 2 second timer may help, I don't use a cable release because I usually forget about it, and will fall in the salty water :)
    I doubt it's your lens though.

    I'm not sure if sharpening is the right fix, I try to get my images as sharp as possible from a technical perspective from the moment I press the shutter, then sometimes sharpen in post afterwards.

    For keeping your pics straight, consider a hot shoe mounted spirit level.

    Good luck! :)
  10. pukifloyd macrumors 6502a


    Jun 25, 2008
    wow...this forum is so helpful...i have learned so many things in the last 6 months from here...:)
    OP, great pictures!
  11. flosseR macrumors 6502a


    Jan 1, 2009
    the cold dark north
    also, I don't know if the D40 supports it but you can do a mirror lockup before the exposure. That means the mirror flips up, waits a second and then exposes. This reduces vibrations.
    I bought a Hähnel Radio remote instead of a cable release (just reviewed it too) and i have to say.. best investment yet... not that cheap though. But foremost for this kind of images I would get a ND 4 or even and ND8 filter for your lens. They aren't THAT expensive. I used to have the same sigma and loved it very much.. it was great and sharp....
  12. cleanup thread starter macrumors 68030


    Jun 26, 2005
    Thanks all for the help! :) Gonna look into ND filters, remotes/cable releases and a leveler. Hopefully my next landscape outing will be better!
  13. Joem48 macrumors newbie

    Jan 6, 2011
    Ft. Lauderdale, FL
    Don't know if this was mentioned, but at this size its hard to tell. I see blur over the rocks because the slow shutter needed to make this image may have the water rushing over the foreground.

    So like shooting a waterfall at slow shutter to give the illusion of falling water its not sharp. IMHO

  14. Voyd macrumors newbie

    Jan 23, 2011
  15. AxisOfBeagles macrumors 6502


    Apr 22, 2008
    East of Shangrila
    one other suggestion to add regarding keeping the horizon level - for landscape photos, I almost always put a 2-way level on to my camera. There are some very inexpensive ones that mount into your camera's hotshoe.
  16. Policar macrumors 6502a

    Nov 21, 2004
  17. Ruahrc macrumors 65816

    Jun 9, 2009

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