As a photographer with a decent following on both YouTube and Instagram, you start to see certain patterns in the comments and direct messages. One question I see repeatedly is about camera settings. “What is the EXIF data of X or Y photo?”. I always wonder why people want that information.
I have no issues with sharing the EXIF data of a photo for several reasons. Firstly, I am not trying to hide anything. Secondly, you cannot copy my photo by copying my EXIF data. Thirdly, if you are an experienced photographer, the EXIF data tells you more about the conditions I was photographing in, than how I actually got the photo. Fourth, the EXIF data does not tell you why I decided to photograph a certain scene. For these reasons, the EXIF data is next to worthless for beginners.
In my latest video, I share my approach to camera settings in landscape photography and I can spoil the ending right now by saying that settings do not really matter as much as you might think they do. It all comes down to the individual scene, what you want to photograph, how you want to photograph it, if you use a tripod, and the amount of available light.
The classic “best” camera settings for full frame landscape photography is an aperture between f/8 and f/11 to get the photos as sharp as possible. However, most lenses are plenty sharp from f/5.6 all the way through to f/16, where after they start to lose sharpness due to diffraction. The ISO should also be kept as low as possible to get as clean a photo as possible, but many modern cameras can handle ISO values up to ISO1600. The shutter speed only matters if there is some kind of movement in your scene.
In this first example, the camera settings are optimized to the above statement but I could have used almost any combination to get the photo. All you need is an aperture above f/5.6 as to have the foreground grass in focus (if you so desire). Aperture and shutter speed could be anything, and you, of course, want the ISO to be as low as possible to get a clean photo.
When I got the above photo, which is a panorama of three photos, I was standing on a 2-meter tall, slippery rock with big waves coming straight at me and sporadic rain being blown around by the wind. It was rather hard conditions to photograph. I had attached a 10-stop filter to get some nice ethereal long exposures and at one point, I decided to go for a shorter long exposure to catch the streaks in the waves. In a combination of practicality and inexperience I decided against removing the 10-stop filter, and just photograph at f/2.8 instead as to get a faster shutter speed.
It lacks a little sharpness because of the wide-open aperture, but everything is in focus and the photo works. It goes to show I could have used any aperture to get this photo and just used different filters to get the desired shutter speed.
Aperture matters if you have a relatively deep depth of field in your photo. In the above photo, I had to focus stack the image to get everything in focus. When you focus stack you generally might as well use the sharpest part of your lens, so why did I use f/20? Because I did not want to fiddle around with the camera too much. This was to lessen the risk of breaking the very thin sheet of ice the tripod was resting on. Shooting at f/20, I compromised the sharpness a bit, but I needed fewer photos to get the entire scene in focus and thereby lessened the risk of destroying the scene. Yes, the aperture mattered, but not in the way, you would initially think and because of the lack of movement in the scene, the shutter speed did not matter.
The two last photos are great examples of showing how little you can deduce from EXIF data and how they might even end up confusing you. All three photos are also great examples to show how rarely you need exact settings for landscape photography. As long as the parts you want to show are in focus and the photo is sharp enough for whatever you want to accomplish with it you are fine. In the video above, I share my philosophy regarding settings and I share many different photos where I had to deviate from the “best” landscape photography settings because the scene demanded it.
Check out the video, and let me know your relation concerning settings.