Skip to main content


Lesson 11 from: Landscape Photography

Marc Muench

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

11. Focus

Where do you focus in a landscape image? What focus modes do you use? Walk through the best focus settings for landscape photography and gain the know how to get those tack sharp photos.

Lesson Info


These are two exciting things. I'm sorry, one exciting thing. Focus is not that exciting, but I just wanna cover it because there a couple critical issues, and that's why we are here. You obviously have manual versus auto, but you do have single point versus zone. And I'm asked this often on the field, "Mark, should I use these four zone points "or just single point?" In the landscape, I typically always use single point, but I'm gonna talk about that. Then there's also single shot versus continuous. They're two totally separate things, single point, single shot, two options, and then you have back button focus, and that's something I utilize and I will show you how to do. And then you have live view, which is essentially using the back of the camera like a monitor, so that you can check critical focus. Okay, so, now all of a sudden, that whole theory that it was either in or out is erroneous. There are many ways to check focus and get focus. So, that's why I bring it up. Alright, firs...

t thing is something we did out in the field. So, focus sounds pretty simple, but they figured out a way to make it complicated, but it still is fairly simple, trust me. But you just don't want autofocus to work on the trigger. So, to do that, there's a menu item in both Canon and Nikon so that you can change that, so that this takes the picture only. The only way to focus is on the back of the camera, in this case, on this button here on the back of the D810. That helps a great deal because the camera won't start searching for focus sometimes when you're trying to take a picture. Alright, the other thing about focus is if you we look at the back of the info panel, especially on this Nikon, is there is a difference between, if we're landscape, single point, single shot. Autofocus is what I use most of the time. If I'm shooting wildlife though, I change that to continuous. That means it's gonna follow and track whatever is moving. And on the D810, I use 3D tracking. And so, that's pretty much my setting for birds in flight or anything moving really fast. This is going to center the autofocus on that dot, so you can move that around if you want, but it'll also take into consideration all the other focus points. Okay, there we have it. Live in the field, autofocus. Camera movement or focus, this is a question I get asked quite often. Is my picture out of focus? And often times no. The focus is set, but the camera moved, and it's a little bit tricky to discern in some files, but what I've come up is the danger zones, shutter speeds, okay? This is where the duration of time to settle the larger percentage of the duration is larger than the percentage of the duration of the actual exposure. So if you have a half a second, you click the shutter, for most of that time, the camera is settling down and still moving. Then it settles and there's only a tiny bit of exposure where it's still. And so you're problem is camera movement. And these shutter speeds make it more critical for camera movement. So, here's an example. F/16, ISO 50, 235 millimeter lens. The longer the focal length, the more potential movement or exaggeration of that movement. And this is what it looks like. On the right, you can see almost a little ghosting around an area of high contrast. That's a good way to tell if you had camera movement versus just simple being out of focus. And this is one of the things with longer lens as you see quite often. Some of the things you can do, number one, practice hands-free photography. So you've seen me, I use the remote. Get yourself a wireless remote, or use a self-timer, or you can use a cable trigger. Those are much less money. You plug it in to your camera, that way you're not touching it while you take that picture. Okay, last one is actually important. Give yourself a little time, because you're sitting there playing with the camera, and depending on your tripod, how high it is set up or it's windy or whatever, just give yourself a second if it's a critical shot where timing isn't an issues, and just wait, and then take the shot, because often times something is moving. You can be on a bog, and sometimes I've been standing like this, and I lean forward to set something, and I come back and take the picture, and the bog is still moving. And I've done everything right, but it's just the ground under me that's moving. Okay. Don't let any camera parts move. This is something that's come up lately because we have this option. By that I mean you basically have, in mirrorless cameras, you have a curtain, there is not shutter flapping around. Okay, there are two different ways for the camera to work mechanically. And what's happening with a lot of these blurred pictured is it's caused by not only you touching the camera, but the camera parts moving inside. And so, some of the things to consider is you wanna prevent something moving inside, and so some of the mirrorless cameras have what's called fully silent mode, and they will actually lock up the mirror and the curtain so that nothing is moving. The DSLR, same thing, you have a curtain plus a mirror that can move. In live view, you'll Lock the mirror up. That's what happens. So that gets rid of some of it, but you still have that curtain, and that curtain can move, and that's something you can get rid of. And recently, I know in the Nikon, not 100% sure about the Canon, I think it might already have it, but this is electronic front-curtain shutter, and that is where on my D810, I actually turn it to mirror lock up. And then when I take the picture, I have to click twice. First time, the shutter. In this case, the curtain goes up, because mirror lock up locks the mirror up, and then the first click locks the shutter, and then it takes the picture without anything moving. So that's something recent to the Nikon cameras, which I highly recommend. So, electronic front-curtain shutter locks the mirror up. The live view is optional at that point, and set that mode to on. And with the wireless remote, activate it, or use a wireless remote to activate it, or you can use the exposure delay, and that's yet another feature on the Canon. I'm sorry, on the Nikon. So, essentially what you're doing is you're setting all these things up so that you don't have to touch the camera at all, the wireless remote, or you activate it with a delay. That's the same thing. It's what I'm getting at. And then of course the problem, the only thing that it requires is that you click it twice. So with electronic front-curtain shutter, you have to lock the shutter up and then take the picture. So that's just kind of a pain, but if it's one of those shots with a long lens, that's the most critical factor, keeping it stable. Focusing in the dark. So, you can actually, you don't need to use a blindfold, because it's night. It's a lot easier this way. Essentially, you wanna get that critical focus point perfect on the stars, and this is not easy. And so, one of the things our autofocus lenses do is they go beyond infinity. And so you have to find out where that mark is, that point is on your lens, so that at night, if you can't use the live view to see the stars, then you can still manually set your focus point, alright? And that's what I recommend doing, is during the day, go out, set your camera up, focus on something critically at infinity, and then look at the lens. Then you can either take some take or something and mark it where that point is, so that you know. And in the dark, you can actually turn your headlamp on and turn it to that point, and you're gonna be really close. Okay, some people tape that down, but I found that it's not as solid as you think, depending on how much duct tape you use. Often times people will shove it the pack. It's up to you, but if you tape it down, make sure that you tape it down tight, because sometimes it's a false sense of security. You think you have the tape on, and you shoot all your pictures in the next day, something bumped it when you put the tape on, and then they're all out. So, keep checking your focus when you're shooting through the night. The other one is using live view. You zoom in on live view to 100%. And then if your LCD on the back of the camera will project the star, that's the best, because then you can focus on that start. You can see it going in and out real easily on some of these cameras. And then single point versus regions. I just wanna talk about this story. This is a little... This is years ago. This harbor seal, we were just floating around in Catalina, taking some underwater shots, and this little pup just came up and surfaced right in front of us. This is a fairly unusual sighting. And I grab my camera. I only have time to whip it around and take one shot, and then he was gone. And because I had it on single point. In the middle, I missed focus on him, unfortunately. But you can see a little circle up there where I got the single point, and then of course she's out a tiny bit and that's the problem in these situations when things are happening fast. And that's why I've said, a couple of times, you wanna use regional areas or zones when shooting wildlife, except for breaching salmon. This is kind of an usual situation, but I wish we could all go out and test our skills on breaching salmon. So one time we were up Sitka, and my friend and I, and a couple other guys were sitting around, and these suckers started coming up out of the water. We don't even know why they were feeding, or if they were just having fun. Whatever it was, it was just like a shooting gallery. So, one would pop up 10 feet away, another one would pop up 20 feet away. You never knew where they were gonna come up or how long they'd be up. So you were sitting there locked and loaded, ready to aim and fire as fast as you could, and it was a good test. Thousand pictures out of focus, a couple that were in, but it was a lot of fun and we got a lot of betting going and made some money and lost some money. Bored the heck out of the dog that was with us. He thought we were crazy, taking pictures of salmon. But in the end, it was a lot of fun. How are you gonna get a shot of breaching salmon every day? And some of the shots like this where you're further back, a lot of it was luck, because I think what happened is all the contrast of the water that was reflecting the light at that point happen to be on the same plane of focus, so therefore I got the fish in focus. Alright, so, autofocus for birds in flight. I think I mentioned this in the little video. I use Region, and 3D tracking, and Continuous. And the Continuous is just so I can keep firing while the action is happening, because when you're using in a shot like this, it's really hard to keep a single point on the beak of the eagle while he's in a dive with 400 millimeter lens and F2.8. So, the guy that reiterated or contested my teaching of using a region was a guy name Hal Schmitt when we were photographing these up in Alaska. And he was saying that you really need to use a single point for this, because once in a while, the region will pick something like that talon in the back, and then the beak goes out. And he's absolutely correct, and he's also a former F18 fighter pilot. And so he has the ability to follow and track that bird. I do not, at least at that level, so I seriously recommend giving yourself a little breathing room and setting up a region or a zone with your autofocus, but it is a lot of fun capturing birds in flight. It's a great test on timing. You can do this anywhere. There's all kinds of birds everywhere in the parks. Trust me, it is a lot of fun. You can get some great shots of silly little birds doing silly things in awkward poses. Again, you're gonna use a long focal length lens, and aperture is probably wide open or maybe one stop down for this, just to get a little bit of depth of field. So, where would you use a single point? Well, in a situation where that wildlife is in the midst of some branches or grasses that are at different focal points. Okay, so this bird was sitting there on that branch, perched for a couple minutes. And these suckers actually pluck with the end of their beak termites, and then they flip them in the air, and then they swallow them. And so, one of the fun things to do is try and get the flip shot, which is what this is, for birds. So, I'm not saying that you can get this here in the states, because I don't know any bird that does that here. But anyways, you wanna photograph with single pint in a situation where you have stuff that's gonna catch the autofocus in between your subject and the lens. Same thing here, there's a branch out of focus on the right There's a bunch of grasses. Believe it or not, as you're looking through the grasses, you don't even see them because they're so far out of focus. And the only way to get the shot was to fist manually focus it, get it close, and then get one point on his eyes are part of the pattern, because the camera was continually tracking because of all the grass in front of him, alright, so for landscape, single point, single shot. That's what you're gonna use most of the time. In the Nikon, you're gonna set back button focus, and that prevents the camera from searching when there's not enough contrast behind something that's in focus, that should be in focus. And then, single point, single shot again. I just wanna make sue you reiterate that. Tip for focus. Modify your picture control, and I think in a Canon, it's picture style, to add sharpness. There's actually a little point in there where you can modify these settings, because that's what the camera is previewing is that JPEG, and it'll take int account these settings. And so if you add sharpness to that JPEG, it makes it easier to see, see the contrast between what's in focus and what's out.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Lightroom Develop Module Tutorial
Lightroom Master Catalog Tutorial
Tips and Tricks
Equipment List

Ratings and Reviews

Jeff McPheeters

This was my first class with Creative Live and also my first exposure to landscape photographer Marc Meunch. I've been a photographer for many years, an educator in science and technical fields for more than two decades, and a lifelong learner of the craft of making photographs. I am pretty picky when it comes to educational resources and when it involves recommending something that I want to reflect my own standards of excellence. That said, I came with an open mind, with some expectation that I would learn a few tricks, but also with the understanding that after spending thousands of hours in books and online courses as well as direct workshop and tutorials from a range of photographer workshops, Adobe training, KelbyOne and other professional organizations, that some of what I'd hear would be stuff I'd already known. My first impression was positive, as I think Creative Live did a good job explaining the purpose, intent, and scope of the workshop, as well as giving me a good idea of the speaker's credentials. As the session begin on Day 1, I was immediately impressed with the quality of the technical aspects of the live feed. It was like I was there. The sound quality was outstanding. The video streamed effortlessly and I only have wireless access to the Internet. I'm not on high speed wired cable. The bandwidth can fluctuate, yet it worked extremely well. The speaker, Marc Meunch, was relaxed, engaging, professional, and possessed such a comprehensive and deep understanding of the topic that I felt extremely lucky to have been told about this workshop. I don't think I've ever been able to watch someone who was so masterful in their presentation, so thorough in their organization and outline, so enthusiastic about their work, so passionate about the craft of landscape portraiture, or so articulate and engaging with the audience; at least in the realm of Photography. I'd jump at any chance to listen to Marc Meunch again; and especially to attend one of his outdoor workshops. One of the unique aspects of this workshop was that Marc uses some video clips from his outdoor workshops to illustrate what he's talking about in the classroom. Very effective. And the slides he chooses to share are effective and easy to understand. It's very inspiring to watch Marc present ideas and illustrate them through his own work, showing before and after and alternate compositions to demonstrate the point he's making. Day 1 was so good that before it was over I'd already purchased the two day workshop. I was that certain it was worth the cost. Frankly, I'm not sure I'd find a class like this for under $100/day. This is a pretty good deal. Day 2 was equal in usefulness and inspiration as Day 1. The discussion of gear selection and scouting techniques along with the introduction to his Lightroom and Photoshop workflow was very helpful and would be especially apropos to someone getting more serious about their landscape work but not very experienced with Lightroom or Photoshop, even perhaps a little intimidated by the prospect of needing to learn those two software giants, because Marc shows the power and easy of learning them. I was pleased I was able to attend and even more pleased I can watch these over and over and study points I didn't quite grasp the first time through. I highly recommend this course. The viewer will be inspired and encouraged as a result. Marc doesn't make it look easy; rather he makes landscape photography look fun and exciting and worthy of the effort and time to find ones own style and vision, clearly imparting the practical how-to's to aid each person in their own journey to make it more enjoyable and satisfying.

a Creativelive Student

I don't like writing reviews. Seems like everyone just wants to hear that everything was... awesome. So, let me try to be specific about what I liked: I thought that the concept of the creative trinity was brilliant. I thought that Marc's presentation on composition was the best I've ever seen. His ideas on having a theme for shooting was inspiring because it was simple. He also had some great tips on light. The other thing I appreciated about Marc's presentation was the wide variety of locations shown and his knowledge of them. I also am always interested to learn more about the people that have inspired presenters. Sometimes, it feel like CL classes are aimed at the lowest experience levels. But, as someone else said in review... there is always a nugget or two and review is beneficial. I wish Marc was more animated. He's obviously very self contained and reflective -- gotta be who you are, right? I have purchased Marc's class, the Shive class, and Art Wolf's class. All have had different benefits. I wish they would do others and take complexity up a notch -- specifically, helping others understand the planning necessary... how they find reliable contacts to guide them and what those things cost. How they are transporting all the gear they carry. More specific information on permits, camping gear, dealing with adverse conditions, etc. And, more information on how they get different images of frequently photographed locations.


I happend to stumble upon the course by an email. I clicked on it and realized that Mark had come to my town (Sitka,Alaska) to do a trip with my good friend. So I thought I'd watch a bit. After awhile I realized this is good, way good. So I shot a lot of that day just eating it up. The director would come on every bit and say there was a show price. I thought well I'll just watch. Then on the second day he did some things that the announcer said he had never seen. I thought the same thing. So I bought. I have been shooting for 40 years and I still LOVE to learn. A noted psychologist said "We are happiest when we are learning" and I couldn't agree more. Thank you Creative Live for offering these courses. I live on an Island in Southeast Alaska with 14 miles of road. BUT I can be a front row student with some of the best teachers in the world. Thank You! Also a Huge thank you to Mark. It takes a ton of time to do this, and Im sure you get tired of the same questions again and again, but it truly changes the lives of us who love this type of life.

Student Work