Hyperfocal Distance, Left Brain Thinking!

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Hyperfocal distance….truly one of my favorite terms related to photography. It just sounds cool doesn’t it? What is it and how does it work? Well, it’s a really cool way to get the most depth of field in your images. It will be especially useful for all of you landscape photographers.

 

I think the simplest and best way to describe hyperfocal distance is the closest point you can focus on while maintaining acceptable sharpness through your entire image. When focusing at the hyperfocal distance you can expect to get everything in focus from 1/2 that distance to infinity. For example, if your hyperfocal distance was 20 feet then everything from 10 feet to infinity would be in acceptably sharp focus. You may have heard to focus 1/3 of the way into your frame and you are good but that is not true more often than not.

 

One last thing to note before we jump into things….this is really only useful when you have a subject in the foreground and the background that you want to be acceptably sharp. If you are shooting a vast overlook with mountains waaaaayyyyy off in the distance with nothing in the foreground then forget about the rule and focus on those mountains. Conversely, if you have a subject in your foreground that you want tack sharp and you can sacrifice some background sharpness then focus on the foreground subject. If you truly needed tack sharp focus throughout the entire frame you should consider focus stacking….which is a topic for another day.

 

I’ve used the term acceptably sharp a couple of times. The reason is because when you focus on a subject then everything at that exact distance will be tack sharp. Anything in front of or behind that distance will become less and less focused as you get further away. Obviously there are some things we can adjust to help keep things sharp but they will only be acceptably sharp as they are not the true focal point. The most common setting to adjust your depth of field is your aperture. You know….the bigger the number the bigger the depth (f/16 will give you more depth than f/4). Next, your focal distance affects your depth of field. A wide angle lens will give you a closer hyperfocal distance than a telephoto lens. The last thing that affects depth of field is your sensor size. The bigger your sensor the closer your hyperfocal distance will be. Now we will get into the actual calculations.

 

To calculate your hyperfocal distance you need to know three things:
  1. The focal length you are shooting
  2. Which aperture you are using
  3. The circle of confusion number for your sensor (This is the best!)

 

Did I mention I love hyperfocal distance? Yes, we get to use something called the circle of confusion…..so good. Maybe I will write an entirely separate article about this one day. Here is the simple breakdown for circle of confusion numbers:
  • Full Frame Sensor = 0.030
  • Nikon Crop Sensor = 0.020
  • Canon Crop Sensor = 0.019
  • Micro 4/3 Sensor = 0.015

 

Now lets create a scenario….say you are shooting at 20mm at f/8 on a full frame sensor. Now that we have our three requirements for the calculation we need the equation. It goes like this: H=FxF/CxA. Spelled out that is Hyperfocal Distance equals Focal Length Squared divided by Circle of Confusion times Aperture. Phew! Here it is with the numbers: H=20×20/0.03×8; H=400/0.24; H=1,666.66.

 

Take note that our answer is in mm so the hyperfocal distance in this scenario is 1,666mm or about 16.6 meters. For my American friends that is about 55 feet. That means if you focus at 55 feet into your frame then everything from half that distance (27.5 feet) to infinity will be acceptably sharp. Get it? Pretty cool right!

 

Ok, time for some real talk. It’s not likely that you are going to be pulling out the calculator to figure out your hyperfocal distance for each shot. Knowing this we created some cheat sheets and made them available for all of our Patreon supporters. You can bet I’ll be using my calculator more in the field though.

 

-Jack

 

P.S. Remember when you thought you would never use any math after high school. Ha! Nerds Rule!!!

 

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