To achieve maximum depth of field (DOF) in frames, photographers close the aperture. But what if it is reduced to the limit, and the objects in the foreground and background are still not sharp enough? The easiest option is to use hyperfocal distance. What it is and how it works — let’s find out together.
What is hyperfocal distance
Hyperfocal distance is a distance that is calculated from the focal length and aperture of the lens. If you focus in the range from half this distance to infinity, all objects will be as sharp as possible. To make it clearer, let’s look at an example:
Let’s say you aim the lens at a hyperfocal distance (HFR) of 20 meters from the camera. In this case, everything will be in focus for 10 meters from this point and to infinity. Accordingly, objects located at a distance of the nearest 10 meters from the camera will not be in focus.
Using hyperfocal distance is useful when shooting landscapes with starry skies. Under such conditions, the diaphragm is open. At the same time, there is an important nuance: if you focus on an object in the foreground, the sky will become blurry. If you focus on the background, the objects closest to the camera will be blurry.
Knowing how to correctly calculate and use hyperfocal distance when focusing helps when shooting architecture, landscapes, and other scenes that require maximum depth of field. Also, experienced photographers sometimes use HFR in reportage, wedding and street photography, especially with ultra wide-angle lenses like the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM, Sony 35mm f/1.8 SAM or Nikon 28mm f/1.8G AF‑S Nikkor.
Formula for calculating hyperfocal distance
There is a formula for calculating GFR:
- H — GFR in meters;
- f is the focal length of the lens in meters;
- K is the aperture value;
- z is the scattering spot diameter in meters.
The blur spot is also called the circle of confusion. Its value is set by the manufacturer of photographic equipment, and it remains unchanged. This parameter is calculated from the matrix pixel size using the formula: z = n * 1.414, where n is the pixel size.
According to this formula, the size of the scattering spot for modern cameras varies from 0.019 to 0.03 mm. For example:
- Canon EOS 800D — 0.019 mm;
- Nikon D780 — 0.03 mm.
In order not to manually recalculate the GFR each time, you can use the table.
What determines the value of hyperfocal distance
This parameter is affected by three characteristics, depending on the camera itself and the shooting conditions:
- Matrix size. The larger the camera sensor, the closer the hyperfocal point will be.
- Diaphragm. The increased depth of field helps you focus on nearby subjects while keeping the background sharp. Therefore, the smaller the aperture value, the more light the lens lets through and the closer the hyperfocal distance.
- Focal length. This setting depends on the characteristics of the lens. The smaller the value and the wider the viewing angle, the closer the PMG point. For example, when shooting with a telephoto lens with a focal length of 200 mm, the distance to the HFR point will be at least several tens of meters.
Using this knowledge, landscape photographers get deep and detailed images with the highest sharpness in almost the entire range except for the foreground.
Which lenses are best for hyperfocal distance?
It is impossible to single out specific models or even categories of lenses with which it is easier to use the HFR. Any is suitable — from standard 50mm to wide-angle 10–24mm. They give a short hyperfocal distance at large apertures.
For example, lenses with a focal length of 17 mm at f / 16 in combination with a full-frame sensor (Canon EOS 5D Mark IV or Nikon D850) have a minimum GFFR of 0.99 m. This means that when focusing at this distance, everything will be in sharpness range from 0.5 m from the camera to the horizon.
When using a telephoto lens such as the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM at the same aperture of f/16, the hyperfocal distance will be 33.49 m. .
Accordingly, when using hyperfocal distance, it is not important which camera and lens the photographer has in their hands, but how far the focus object is from it.
How to use HFR correctly
We have covered how to calculate hyperfocal distance and what it depends on, but how to use this knowledge? It’s simple, but you need to practice. To begin with, the photographer sets the focus on the HFR, and this can be done in many ways.
For manual adjustment, the lens is switched to manual focus mode. After that, you need to scroll the ring, setting it according to the distance value on the scale applied to the surface of the lens (it is not always there).
For example, when shooting on a camera with a 35mm lens at f/11, the hyperfocal distance will be 5.6m from the camera.
If there is no scale on the lens, the distance is determined through the viewfinder. You need to focus on the selected object at a distance of about 5.6 m.
The same can be done through autofocus. In this case, you need to focus on something that is 5.6 m away from the camera.
In some shots, the foreground is more important than the background. In this case, you can not focus on the hyperfocal distance. When using a 14mm ultra-wide-angle lens with a high f/18 aperture, the HFR will be 30cm away.
How to focus beyond hyperfocal distance
The closer the foreground in the frame, the more difficult it is to keep within the depth of field and the more precisely it is necessary to calculate and set the GFR. But not every scene involves extremely close foregrounds — less than one meter from the camera.
In all other cases, it is better to focus at a distance slightly greater than the reference hyperfocal distance. For example, if it is calculated to be 1m, focusing on an object 1.5m away from the lens eliminates the possibility of blurring in the background.
For novice photographers, this will greatly simplify the task, since there is no need to manually adjust the optimal distance on the lens. It is enough to know the GFR for its focal length and aperture, and then using autofocus, you can aim at objects located at least a little further than this distance.
How important it is to determine the hyperfocal distance when shooting
From both a theoretical and practical point of view, the ability to evaluate and use hyperfocal distance plays an important role in shooting different subjects, and not just landscapes. With the help of HFR, photographers achieve maximum depth of field for a certain focal length and aperture.
In practice, focusing on hyperfocal is a simple and effective way to achieve sharpness in almost all details of the created scene. In fact, you only need to calculate this parameter once for a particular lens, and after that you can quickly adjust to the desired distance and create good compositions.