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.

Source: capturetheatlas.com

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.

When shoot­ing land­scapes, every­thing that is at a dis­tance from 1/2 hyper­fo­cal dis­tance to infin­i­ty gets into focus. Source: capturetheatlas.com

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.

Table of depen­dence of the GFR on the aper­ture and focal length of the lens.

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.

Esti­mat­ing hyper­fo­cal dis­tance is espe­cial­ly impor­tant when objects that are close to the cam­era need to be includ­ed in the scene. Source: photographylife.com

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.

When shoot­ing land­scapes with­out objects in the fore­ground, you don’t have to wor­ry about hyper­fo­cal dis­tance. Source: photographylife.com

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.


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