Understanding Hyperfocal Distance

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The subject of hyperfocal distance can seem complicated at first, even for professional photographers. But if you want the sharpest photographs possible, especially for landscape photography, it is useful to understand how it works.

This blog post will explain what hyperfocal distance is and how you can calculate it anytime you need to.

What Is Hyperfocal Distance?

In basic terms, hyperfocal distance is the focusing distance that gives your images the greatest depth of field. The foreground and background should both be acceptably sharp. Of course, this is objective, but it pretty much means  you want to have the foreground, middle ground, and background as much in focus as possible. Finding that focus point is your hyperfocal distance. 

How Do You Find Your Hyperfocal Distance?

Below is a beautiful photo of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. If the photographer had focused on the blooming purple flowers, the background would have been blurry. If they had focused on the mountains, the flowers and bridge would have been blurry. So they cleverly selected a point between the foreground and background, making both areas appear reasonably sharp. This point of focus is called hyperfocal distance. 

When Do You Need To Use Hyperfocal Distance?

You only need to use hyperfocal distance when there are elements in the image that are near and far away and you want them all in focus. If you were taking a photo of a mountain range from a bridge, you wouldn't need to use hyperfocal distance if there was nothing significant in the foreground or middle ground. You can simply focus on the mountains and take the photo.

How To Deal With Tricky Situations

Hyperfocal distance isn't foolproof. If you have a subject that is too close to your camera, you can expect it to be sharp and the background too. But there are other techniques to try if you find yourself in this tricky situation. 

Focus stacking is taking a series of images at different focal distances then merging them together during editing. This is quite time-consuming and technical but can be worth the effort if you capture a scene that is memorable and beautiful.

Another way is to move your camera further away from the subject that is too close. If you have the space to do this, we recommend trying it because it's less effort for the same result.

The Hyperfocal Chart

This chart can help you estimate the hyperfocal distance for your photos. There are also online apps that will do the same job. However, it is probably much easier to look at an app on your smartphone than to carry a printout of a chart with you, especially if you are out in the wild. On this chart, your focal length and your aperture helps calculate the hyperfocal distance. If you divide this distance in half, you get the nearest subject you can expect to be in focus.

Going Old School

If you are using an older lens, it might have a focusing scale on the side of it. You can work out the depth of field when using a certain aperture, including the near and far distances that will appear sharp. Newer lenses don't have this information. We find that they are not always accurate, and relying on a chart or app will work best for most people, although there is something charming about doing things the old-school way.

LICANCABUR: When shooting distant landscapes that don't feature foreground subjects, like this volcano in Licancabur, you don't need to use hyperfocal distance. Your focus will be set to infinity.

Taking Your Photo

Set your focus to manual and use the focus scale if you have one of those older lenses. If you are using an app or chart, you need to look through the viewfinder and focus on something that is the distance away you have calculated. This means you need to be good at estimating distances. In this case, if you prefer to use autofocus, it is fine. 

Working out the hyperfocal distance can be a handy tool if you want to have an image that is sharp in the foreground and background. You will use it mostly for landscape photography, including beaches, mountains, gardens, rivers, forests, and any natural areas you are adventuring in and photographing.

Try using hyperfocal distance next time you are photographing landscapes. Like many photography techniques, it takes time to master, and you will get better the more you practice. We find using an app or chart is the easiest way to calculate hyperfocal distance. Or, if you are shooting landscapes frequently with the same lens and camera, you might memorize the hyperfocal distance.

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