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Choose the Right Lens
Sharpness has a lot more to do with lens choice than camera choice. A sharp, high-quality lens equals a sharp photo. A cheap, poorly constructed lens equals a not-so-sharp photo. It's as simple as that. Of course, you'll need to know how to use your camera settings and lighting to get the ultimate sharpness out of that lens, but at least with a high-quality lens you have a much higher threshold for sharpness.
Use a High Quality Filter (Or None)
It's a shame when a photographer invests in a $2,000 piece of glass only to slap a $12 plastic filter on the end of it. As many photographers have said, a lens is only as good as the filter you put on it. A $2,000 lens with a $12 filter is only a $12 lens. Okay, maybe that's overstating it a bit, but it's true that a poor quality filter can make a huge difference in the sharpness of you photos. If you have any of these filters, go throw them away right now! Many photographers will stay away from filters altogether, but there are some that feel that high-quality filters are good enough to use. Hoya and Tiffen are two highly reputable filter manufacturers. You might spend over $100 for a single filter, but if you really need a polarizer or ND filter, then you're better off using one that's not going to compromise the quality of your lens.
Watch Your Aperture
Choosing the right aperture is critical to getting a tack-sharp photo. Different lenses will vary in sharpness at the same apertures, but all will typically have softer corners with wide open apertures. The ultimate sharpness point for most lenses is a few stops down from the maximum aperture setting. So if you were shooting with an f/1.4, this would be f/2.8 or f/4. If you were shooting with an f/4, this would be f/8 or f/11. However, there is another problem that affects image sharpness on the other end of the aperture spectrum and that problem is diffraction. Diffraction is an unavoidable effect of using small apertures. Though there is always some diffraction present, it doesn't become noticeable until around f/11 and smaller. Diffraction simply softens the image and robs you of those nice clean edges. So you don't want to open your aperture all the way when shooting landscapes, but you also don't want to close it all the way down. This can be a problem if you need a very deep depth of field like most landscape photographers do.
Understand Hyperfocal Distance
Hyperfocal distance needs to be understood to gain the maximum depth of field with a give lens. To find hyperfocal distance, you must find the closest distance at which you can focus while keeping everything past that point acceptably sharp. Everything from half the distance of that point - the hyperfocal point - to infinity will be in focus. The hyperfocal distance will vary depending on your focal length and aperture. There are charts that will give you these numbers. Using this, you can get the greatest depth of focus while trying to avoid using the smallest aperture settings.
Use a Tilt-Shift Lens
Tilt-shift lenses are expensive, but they can solve a very common sharpness related issue with shooting landscapes. As mentioned earlier, diffraction becomes noticeable when you close down your aperture, however, you often need a small aperture setting to get a deep depth-of-field. A tilt-shift can remedy this issue because it lets you alter the focal plane of the image. Normally your focal plane is parallel with your sensor, but with a tilt-shift, you can change the plane so that it becomes diagonal to the sensor. So if you change the focal plane so that it is closer to the lay of the terrain, you'll be able to get more in focus without using a very small aperture.
For example, when you photograph a brick wall (because everyone likes to photograph walls) it's easy to get the whole thing in focus because the wall is flat and parallel to your sensor. Your focal plane lies right along the wall, so you don't need a very deep depth-of-field to get it all in focus. Now, imagine you're taking a landscape shot. There's a giant mountain miles away from you and a beautiful flower blooming at your feet. If you wanted to get both of them in focus, you would normally have to use your smallest aperture setting, since the two objects are so far apart. But using a tilt-shift lens, you could tilt the focal plane so that one end of the plane is touching the flower, and the other end is touching the mountain. You're tilting the plane so that it starts to become perpendicular to the sensor (though it won't go all the way perpendicular).
Written by Spencer Seastrom
Image credit: maridav / 123RF Stock Photo