Depth of field determines how much of an image is in focus. When it comes to getting a sharp shot, your focusing technique matters too. That’s where hyperfocal distance comes in. So what is hyperfocal distance and how do you use it?
To understand hyperfocal distance, you first need some background on depth of field. Depth of field is based on distance. If you are using a wide aperture, a few inches behind and before the subject will be sharp. If you have a narrow aperture, you’re left with a much larger range of distance from the subject that will appear sharp. Distance affects depth of field too, the closer you are to the subject, the smaller that range will be.
Of course, that’s assuming you are focusing on the subject. What happens if you move your focal point, or move the range of where objects appear sharp? And what happens if you move that range so one edge of that focal range touches the background (or infinity) and keeps it in focus, while the other edge touches your subject, so that too appears sharp? That’s the idea behind hyperfocal distance.
What exactly is hyperfocal distance? Cambridge in Colour defines hyperfocal distance this way: “Focusing your camera at the hyperfocal distance ensures maximum sharpness from half this distance all the way to infinity.” That means you calculate the distance range that will remain sharp based on your depth of field, then focus so you place the far edge of that range on infinity, and the closest edge of that distance on the subject, so that both the subject and the background appear sharp. Instead of placing the subject in the middle of that range of sharpness, hyperfocal distance makes the most of that entire range by placing the subject at the front and the background at the back.
Hyperfocal distance is a popular technique in landscape photography, but it can be useful for any image where you want to maintain a maximum level of sharpness. There are two different ways to apply hyperfocal distance.
How to Use Hyperfocal Distance: The Simple Method
You can apply the concept of hyperfocal distance without actually calculating the distance simply by adjusting where you focus. Many new landscape photographers place the focus dead center in the frame, or on the horizon.
Instead, place your focal point about a third of the way up from the bottom of the image. If you’re imagining a Rule of Thirds grid over your photo, this means placing the focal point anywhere along the bottom horizontal line.
Of course, there are many factors that influence hyperfocal distance—like how close you are to the subject and what lens you are using—so focusing one third of the way up the frame isn’t always going to get you the sharpest shot, but it will work most of the time.
How To Use Hyperfocal Distance: The Most Accurate Method
To really take advantage of the concept of hyperfocal distance, you’ll need to calculate your depth of field. Since the depth of field relies on a number of different factors like the size of your camera’s sensor, your lens, the distance between you and the subject and aperture, you’ll need a depth of field calculator. We recommend the one on our list of the best photography apps, but you can also find others online like this one (http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/dof-calculator.htm).
Input all the information about your camera and the shot you’re trying into the DoF calculator. Then, the calculator will give you a hyperfocal distance. Switch to manual focus, and adjust the focus ring until you are focused on that distance (your lens should have a guide right on it that indicates the focal distance).
Using the hyperfocal distance will help you make the most of your depth of field, leading to shots with the maximum amount of sharpness possible. Hyperfocal distance is most commonly used in landscape photography, but you can apply it to any shot where you want as much as possible in focus.
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