Shooting for Success: Landscape Depth of Field

Lake Oesa, bc
In the Lake O'Hara area of Yoho National Park, BC

Although this image of a small lake in Yoho National Park, in British Columbia is a perfect example of being in the right place at the right time, I’d rather use it as an example of how to maximize your depth of field in a landscape image in order to get it all in focus.

I lived in the Lake Louise/Yoho area for over 8 years and only once made it in to the Lake O’Hara area. It’s a Restricted Access area, with a reservations-only shuttle to get in or hiking. No bikes. In winter you can ski. To get to the trail head I cycled from Lake Louise. Round trip, it was 20 km. The hike in to the lake was 25 km round-trip. If you can hike in, they’ll let you ride the shuttle out for free, since they don’t want you sticking around unless you’re staying at the Lake O’Hara Lodge or the Alpine Hut. I took the shuttle out, which was just fine with me, since I’d been carrying  25 lbs of camera gear on my back the whole trip.

So, this shot was taken with a Canon EOS A2E and a Canon EF 20-35mm lens, mounted on my sturdy (but none-too-light) Manfrotto tripod. The filter is simply a 77mm UV filter. Had I used my polarizing filter I would have lost much of the reflection. Sometimes you want reflection and sometimes you don’t. For this particular shot, I did.

In order to get not only Mt. Lefroy in focus in the background and the rocky lake shore in the foreground, I used the smallest aperture I could (f22) and focused not on the mountain nor on the rocks, but on a point about 1/3 of the distance to the mountain, which in this case was the larch trees on the far shore.

Because the smaller aperture required a longer exposure (slower shutter speed), I kept the tripod low, extending the legs out only one segment and the neck at the minimum. I used the self timer to ensure that I wasn’t going to shake the camera simply with the act of pushing down on the shutter release, and the camera was set up so that the reflex mirror flipped up at the beginning of the ten-second timer rather than the end.

The reason for this is that even the movement of the mirror can create enough camera shake to take the edge off of a clear photo. By having the mirror go up at the beginning of the countdown, it gives the camera that ten seconds to stop shaking or vibrating.  The shutter speed used here was 1/4 second, which is far too slow to just snap and go. All of the precautions were necessary, especially since I used Fuji Velvia transparency (slide) film with an ASA/ISO of 50. The colours are richer, though you’re pretty much relegated to carrying a tripod any time you shoot that slow. A cable release or an infra-red remote work well, but I would still set the mirror to pop up first, if that’s an option for you.

That’s about it. Not too complicated. Of course, finding the window of opportunity when the larches have changed, the sky is blue, there’s fresh snow but the lake isn’t frozen and the trails are still open is the real trick. I got lucky.

By the way, I did manage to sell this as a postcard. I don’t know how well it sells, but I love seeing it on the racks with the pink-filtered sky shots and poor snaps of some Alpin horn player.

Ciao for now,


(Next Week: Either the perfect high-speed sport for photographers or the one photo prop no travel photographer should be without).

Words and Images are Copyright 2009 Tim Reynolds.


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