Hyperfocal distance

Filmmaker's Dictionary Feb 9, 2021

What is hyperfocal distance and why should you know?

Hyperfocal distance is the closest point at which you can focus your lens and still keep the furthest edge of your background acceptably sharp.

When it comes to photographing a landscape, no matter how great of a depth of field your camera captures, there’s still going to be parts of your picture that aren’t crystal clear. Lenses simply can’t keep everything in the image in focus when your background stretches to the horizon, or “infinity”.

Hyperfocal distance tells you where to focus to avoid the risk of blurring the background or foreground.

Factors to consider

Hyperfocal distance is influenced by three factors, the same three that determine the depth of field.

Aperture: The smaller the aperture you use, the closer your lens can focus while keeping the background sharp. This means that a small aperture brings the distance closer.

Focal length: A smaller focal length gives you a wider angle of view, resulting in a closer hyperfocal distance.

Sensor size: A larger digital sensor will also result in a closer hyperfocal distance.

With a standard 50mm lens at an aperture of f/16, you can expect a hyperfocal distance of approximately 5 meters.

With a wide-angle lens of 24mms at the same aperture, this distance would be barely above 1m.

Determining hyperfocal distance

There a multiple easy ways to calculate hyperfocal distance without having to do it manually.

Some free online calculators and apps give you the hyperfocal distance when you provide the data. You can try this one!

There are also already prepared charts for any sensor size. You just have to find where your lens’s focal length and chosen aperture intersect. These charts are easy to carry on the go, especially if you can’t or don’t want to pull out your phone in a shoot.

How to use it

Once you found your hyperfocal distance, you can use it to make your landscapes stay in focus. Either use manual focus with a scale on your lens, approximate the distance on your viewfinder, or set your autofocus on the determined amount.

This will help take beautiful shots with most of the image in focus, and the furthest edge still being relatively clear. Still, in case you want to have some parts of the image sharper than the rest, this technique might not be for you.

Experiment with hyperfocal distance and learn how to take the best landscape photos!

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